Woodbine Entertainment CEO Jim Lawson to Step Down This Fall
Board of Directors' Succession Committee Formed to Find Next Leader
TORONTO, April 11, 2023– Woodbine Entertainment today announced that Jim Lawson will be stepping down from his role as CEO this fall.
Lawson, who has been CEO since 2015, wants to spend more time with his family and believes it’s time to hand the reins to the next leader.
“Being CEO of Woodbine Entertainment has been a great honour and passion for me,” said Lawson. “On a personal level, I have truly enjoyed my time leading the organization and I am so grateful for the incredible people that I have had the honour of working with, but it’s now time to spend more time with my family.
“On a professional level, during my time with Woodbine we have become a multi-dimensional organization, having expanded our scope and reputation as a world leader in dual-breed horse racing, while working meticulously and respectfully to drive new revenues that will continue to support the Ontario horse racing industry for decades to come. I have every confidence that Woodbine Entertainment is on a path to a very strong and sustainable future.”
Lawson, who has had a lifelong association with horse racing, took on the role of CEO in 2015 and was immediately tasked with the challenge of stabilizing an industry in the midst of great uncertainty, while also creating a viable path forward for horse racing, which included a strategic vision for property development of the nearly 700 acres of land at Woodbine Racetrack.
Since that time, Lawson has led the organization and the Ontario horse racing industry through a series of historic challenges from which Woodbine has emerged as a stronger organization with its place intact as among the most respected horse racing institutions in the world.
“On behalf of our Board of Directors, I would like to thank Jim for his strong, unwavering and impactful leadership to both Woodbine Entertainment and the Ontario horse racing industry over the last 15 years,” said Hugh Mitchell, Chair of Woodbine Entertainment’s Board of Directors. “Jim’s passion for the horse racing industry and admiration for the hardworking people has been a hallmark of his tenure as CEO. Jim has made lasting contributions that will undoubtedly benefit the organization and industry for decades. We also look forward to identifying ways for the Board of Directors and the next CEO to continue benefiting from his experience and passion in the future.
“As for Woodbine’s next leader, the Board’s Succession Committee is working diligently and is confident that we will be successful in finding the next CEO who will continue to build on our positive momentum.”
It is expected that Lawson will be associated with Woodbine in a senior role that will be defined at a later date.
Dual hall of fame trainer Mark Casse lauded Lawson’s strong leadership and unwavering commitment to ensuring the health of Canadian horse racing as his top priority.
"Obviously, I'm happy for Jim, in that he and Sue will be able to take time to do some things they'd like to do, which will be nice for them. I will miss his leadership because I think he's done so many great things for Woodbine. I like his vision. I know that there are a lot of things in the works and Woodbine is going to continue to get bigger and stronger. They have already under his leadership. I can see it as I go around. Woodbine has become much more popular in the U.S. than it was 15 to 20 years ago. I think a lot of that comes from Jim's vision,” said Casse.
Highlights during Lawson’s tenure as CEO include bringing Standardbred racing to Woodbine Mohawk Park on a year-round basis and helping establish it as the top harness racetrack in North America, the installation of the Tapeta main track and an Inner Turf course at Woodbine Racetrack, becoming a top technology racetrack operator in North America, and playing a prominent role in the organization achieving status as an industry leader in equine and horse people safety.
Other notable moments include Lawson’s efforts to protect the racing industry as single sports wagering was legalized in Canada and navigating Woodbine Entertainment and the industry through the enormous hurdles associated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Although fans were unable to attend the races, Woodbine was still able to put on a memorable Queen’s Plate event in 2020, keeping it as the longest continuously run stakes race in North America.
In 2019, Lawson led the team that worked to secure a historic funding agreement with the Ontario Government, a deal which allots up to $105 million annually to horse racing industry stakeholders over a 19-year period, providing breeders, owners and trainers with much needed stability.
Property development, a primary focus of Lawson’s from the beginning of his association with Woodbine, has yielded several exciting opportunities to attract millions of annual visitors to the expansive, nearly 700 acres of land that lies just minutes from Pearson International Airport.
The Woodbine Community Plan, unveiled last March, shared how one of the largest pieces of undeveloped land in the City of Toronto can be transformed over the coming 25 years into a large-scale urban community – connected to Toronto and the GTA through a proposed privately funded train station to be built on the southeast corner of the property. The community plan is also expected to create upwards of 17,000 jobs.
A $1 billion resort featuring a “modern Vegas-style casino” is slated to open adjacent to Woodbine Racetrack this summer and will feature a 400-room hotel (featuring a number of rooms overlooking the E.P. Taylor Turf Course), dining options, and a live entertainment venue with 5,000 seats.
Among Lawson’s most lasting accomplishments will be his leadership and commitment in creating a strong and vibrant workplace culture, while also strengthening the organization’s connection to its surrounding communities through its Woodbine Cares initiatives.
“We are extremely fortunate to have a passionate and dedicated group of people who come to work dedicated to making a difference,” said Lawson. “Every day, we operate in alignment with a set of values and beliefs which guides us as a collective group to raise the bar of excellence for Canada’s horse racing industry. To be part of the evolution of a vibrant and caring workplace has been tremendously rewarding.
“I leave knowing the industry is trending in the right direction. Through my father, Mel [a prominent Thoroughbred owner and breeder, inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2010], I grew up at Woodbine, accompanying him to the races as a young kid. I never envisioned working in this industry, but it has been an incredible journey, and I am fortunate to have been associated with the many hard-working and passionate people who are united by their love of horses and horse racing.”
Lawson, a part-owner of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the team (then known as the Hamilton Wildcats) his father led to a Grey Cup victory in 1943, is looking forward to staying involved in his passions, including horse racing and the Ticats.
“Now, it’s time for me to step down as CEO and allow the Board’s Succession Committee to find Woodbine’s next leader. There have been plenty of challenges over my 15-year association with Woodbine, but we have built a very strong foundation that positions the industry for a bright future.”
Factual Notes about Jim Lawson’s Career at Woodbine Entertainment:
Appointed WEG Director: June 2008
Appointed WEG Chair: August 2012
Appointed WEG Executive Chair: July 2013
Appointed WEG CEO: April 2015
Appointed to The Safety Committee of The Jockey Club (New York): August, 2019
Member of the Executive Committee of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (2015 – present)
Appointed Chair of the Finance Committee of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities: December 2021
Appointed Chair of the Jockey Club of Canada in June 2009 and held the position for five years