To view original article click here
Globe and Mail Magazine
Kelly Cryderman and Jeffrey Jones
Published August 27, 2018 Updated August 27, 2018
The wealthy oil patch financier seemed to have it all. Beneath the surface, friends and family say he fought alcoholism and mental illness to the end.
When his best friend needed help, George Gosbee didn’t hesitate. He had convinced Marshall Abbott to join him on a skiing expedition to the South Pole, and now Abbott was on the brink of collapse. He was dehydrated and his heart was racing. It was all he could do to stay upright at 3,000 metres above sea level, let alone haul a sled packed with supplies.
Gosbee, the financier, and Abbott, an oilman and rancher about a decade Gosbee’s senior, had teamed up for numerous adventures over the years.
They heli-skied the Rocky Mountains and went bonefishing with U.S. Navy Seals off the coast of Molokai, Hawaii. They always managed to have fun, whether they were hanging out at a dingy pub in Scotland or killing time at a dreary train station in Jaipur, India.
But in recent years Gosbee’s adventurous side had taken a turn toward the extreme. He was determined to scale the tallest summit on each of the seven continents, including Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. Gosbee had the financial means and was physically fit. More than that, he was addicted to life on the edge. In January 2017, that addiction had brought him and Abbott to the southernmost point on Earth.
Four days in, the temperature dipped to -40C. Under their balaclavas, the members of the 10-person expedition struggled to pull 90-kilogram sleds over the snow, which had drifted into sharp, hard ripples known as sastrugi. Tall and athletic, Abbott wasn’t easily bowed, but he had reached a breaking point.
Instead of quitting at lunchtime to set up camp—and delaying the whole group’s progress—Gosbee hooked his friend’s sled to his own. For the rest of the day, he hauled 180 kilograms of provisions and equipment up an incline. That night at camp, Abbott was in a zombie-like state as Gosbee gingerly ushered him into their tent. “He tucked me in, and fed me fluids and food for the next 14 hours, and then I was fine.”
Gosbee and Abbott reached the South Pole two weeks later, and Gosbee travelled on to Antarctica’s highest group of mountains, where he scaled the 4,890-metre Mount Vinson.
Climbing the world’s tallest peaks and pushing himself to his physical and mental limits kept Gosbee grounded, but only temporarily. Months later, his heroics seemed to fade. By last fall, Gosbee—one of the best-known and most successful businessmen in Alberta—seemed overwhelmed, Abbott says. He had starting living separately from his wife, Karen, and their three children a year earlier. His serial adventures—the expedition to the South Pole, a summer trip to Africa, an August vacation in Hawaii with his sons and another climbing expedition to Indonesia—failed to bring him lasting peace of mind.
In October, Abbott offered his friend the use of his hunting stand—a metal seat fastened to a sturdy tree—at his ranch southwest of Calgary. Gosbee sat alone in the tree stand for three days, hunting deer and elk with a bow, and watching the World Series on his phone.
On Friday, Nov. 10, in another effort to help, Abbott went to Gosbee’s house and cooked him a dinner of butter-fried potatoes, asparagus and steak. They made plans to go shooting the next day. But at seven o’clock on Saturday morning, Gosbee texted to say he didn’t want to go. It was the last message Abbott would receive from him.
The following day, Karen went to check on her husband. But he was already gone—dead by suicide at the age of 48.
Marshall Abbott was a long-time friend of Gosbee’s. The pair were avid hunters and adventurers who travelled the world together.
The Globe and Mail
It’s hard to overstate how shocking Gosbee’s sudden death was to Alberta’s business community. Over the previous 25 years, he had cemented his place among its Young Turk entrepreneurs, a club that includes oil sands billionaire Murray Edwards, investor and former Dragons’ Den star Brett Wilson and pharmacy and sports magnate Daryl Katz. A salesman extraordinaire, Gosbee could tell a story to win over the toughest investors. He was a hunting partner, and bro, to some of the most powerful businessmen in Canada. He travelled on overseas shooting trips with media-shy Calgary construction, energy and real estate billionaire Fred Mannix, and he was a close friend of powerful Houston energy investor Kevin Comcowich.
Gosbee advised former prime minister Stephen Harper while he was in office and served on former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s economic advisory council. Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary, considered him a friend, and the Prime Minister had looked to him for critical advice on the resource sector.
In many ways, Gosbee epitomized the wealth and swagger of the Calgary oil patch boom years, taking risks and making both friends and enemies. He was a skillful deal maker who founded two mid-size independent investment banks, AltaCorp and Tristone Capital. He achieved a boyhood dream of owning a National Hockey League team by buying the Arizona Coyotes. He had a voracious appetite, whether it was for red meat, fine wines or mountaineering books. He had a hyena-like laugh, he bragged about his three children, and he revelled in the kind of rugged adventure found at the bottom of the world.
Federal Treasury Board president and friend Scott Brison says the fact that Gosbee accomplished so much in such a short life is evidence of his energy, drive and intelligence. “This guy had more ideas in the morning before he shaved than some people have their entire lifetimes,” Brison says.
Why would someone who was so successful, with a beautiful and loving family, so many important friends and so much exuberance for life, suddenly decide to end it?
George Frederick John Gosbee was born in Kingston, Ontario, on Aug. 30, 1969, the descendant of a long line of Prince Edward Island lobster fishermen. His father, John Gosbee, had left the island to attend Queen’s University and then moved the family to Calgary as he pursued a medical degree. His mother, Edna, also from PEI, worked as a bank loans officer.
Gosbee was an energetic kid—his mother nicknamed him the Tasmanian Devil, both for his favourite cartoon character and for his habit of bouncing from couch to chair to floor as he watched TV. He grew up in Varsity, a northwestern Calgary neighbourhood filled with oil industry geologists and engineers. Always, there was something different about him. His parents recall his kindergarten teacher warning the other parents not to let their children play with him too much, because he would always end up being the leader, and they would always be followers.
Jean Marks, Gosbee’s only sibling, younger by four years, first got an inkling of her brother’s flair for business when, as an 18-year-old in Calgary, he approached a popular Stephen Avenue nightclub, The Banke, with a proposition. Gosbee would be responsible for filling the bar with thirsty university students for a private party, and he would keep the proceeds from the ticket sales. ”George just had a way of selling things to you,” Marks says. ”He could just say to you, ‘I’m telling you, you should do this…this party is going to be awesome. And the most beautiful girls are going to be there, and the most handsome guys are going to be there.’ ”
When the night of the event rolled around, Marks came home to find Gosbee and his two friends watching a hockey game. ”I said, ‘What are you guys doing? You’ve got to go—your party’s tonight.’ And George started to laugh, and said, ‘Oh, Jean, I had no intention of ever going to that party. I just was trying to make five grand.’ ”
Later, that entrepreneurial prowess would win him a job at Peters & Co. Ltd., the full-service brokerage established by Rob Peters. It was 1992, and broker Mike Smith and his colleague Allan Ross wanted to hire an assistant. They put up a posting on the University of Calgary’s job board and Gosbee, just finishing up a bachelor of commerce degree, applied. At the interview he showed the unique ability to walk into a room of strangers and start a conversation with anyone. Gosbee got the job. ”As it happened, he was a very poor assistant, because he was way too ambitious,” Smith recalls.
Within three months, Gosbee persuaded his bosses and other brokers to let him develop a base of investors in New York, where Peters & Co. had virtually no presence. Gosbee immediately moved to the city, paying for three months’ accommodation in a low-rent New York apartment out of his own pocket.
”He went cold calling and door knocking. And he got a list of all the institutional energy investors in New York who might have an interest in Canadian energy stocks,” Smith says. ”It was very much an eat-what-you-kill kind of business back then.”
It was a tribute to Gosbee’s appetite for risk taking, but it was also good timing: In the early- to mid-1990s, the junior oil and gas business was booming. Wall Street was interested in what Calgary was selling. After his time in New York, Gosbee, one of the most junior people in the firm, became one of the ”top commission guys,” Smith says.
At the same time, Gosbee was on the verge of becoming a young family man. He met Karen in university, where the two bonded over a shared sense of humour and a life-changing event: At 21, he underwent major surgery for a benign brain tumour. Karen’s father is a neurologist, and Gosbee felt like he could open up to her about his condition.
Back in those days, Gosbee partied and drank, heavily sometimes, Karen says. He had also been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as an adult and was prescribed a Ritalin-like medication. She says he didn’t always take the medication because he worried about it slowing him down in the business world.
In 1994, Karen and Gosbee married, and their son John was born that year. John was followed four years later by a second son, Carter, and then three years after that, a daughter, Isla.
When Bryan Dutt, chair of Ironman Energy Capital LP in Houston, met Gosbee in 1995, he didn’t realize the young executive was still in his 20s. After all, Gosbee was already on first-name terms with the CEOs of oil-service companies and producers. He displayed a dazzling energy and a penchant for entertaining in an era when work and pleasure were intertwined. ”Back before cellphones had cameras, I think everybody in that male-dominated energy-finance industry—90%—partied hard, drank too hard and really burnt the candle at both ends. And that was George to a T,” Dutt says.
After Gosbee left Peters, he worked a three-year stint as managing director at Calgary’s Newcrest Capital and then took his first big step as an entrepreneur. In 2000, he formed a new investment firm to finance private-equity deals in the oil patch. Two years later, Gosbee turned the venture into a full-service brokerage under the Tristone Capital banner.
Gosbee’s plan was to set it apart with a new twist: In addition to the bread-and-butter services of investment banking, trading and equity research, he decided a big opportunity lay in advising oil and gas companies on the business of buying and selling oil-producing properties. Tristone hired in-house professionals to evaluate the geology, geophysics and engineering of the assets to determine production potential and value. He couldn’t have planned it better—it was the heyday of the income trusts and the tax-advantaged investment vehicles proliferated, paying top dollar for oil and gas assets and the companies that owned them. That generated a gusher of deals for Tristone.
To lure in top candidates as partners, Gosbee put his salesmanship to work. He told prospective coventurers, all of whom were up-and-comers with established firms, that he had his pick of the best people. He showed each of them a blank organizational chart and pointed to the leadership position they would have in the enterprise. Before a candidate could find out who else was coming aboard, they had to sign on. Partners had to pony up an investment of at least $1 million, which gave Tristone its seed money.
Tristone had a work-hard, play-hard culture, with much of that energy emanating from Gosbee himself, says Chris Theal, who co-headed the research department. The founder assembled just the right group of partners, each bringing an essential area of expertise to the table, says Theal, now chief financial officer at Velvet Energy Ltd.
The firm won some big-time advisory mandates that would normally go to top U.S. or Canadian banks. Case in point: They handled Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum’s sale of its Canadian assets to Murray Edwards’s Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. Tristone also marketed several Anadarko assets in the United States and Qatar. The total price tag on the deals, done in 2006 and 2007, was more than $8 billion, which meant big fees and international credibility for Tristone.
In 2004, Gosbee made his first big mistake, striking a deal to sell Tristone to Denver-based Petroleum Place Energy Advisors Inc. for $101 million. Gosbee stayed on, but his new U.S. partner became increasingly uncomfortable with how Canadian capital markets operate, especially the fact that brokerages risk their own money in most stock issues. After two years, Petroleum Place and Tristone split up. Once the deal was unwound, Gosbee declared publicly, ”I got my firm back,” to the annoyance of some of his Tristone colleagues, who felt they were equally vital to the firm.
Over the next few years, Gosbee and his partners scouted for a new deal to kick-start growth, seeking potential buyers in Canada and the Middle East. In July 2008, Australia’s Macquarie Group Ltd. came calling with a strong proposal. But Tristone was already evaluating potential offers from the Middle East, and negotiations had to wait a few weeks until the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which fell in September. The timing could not have been worse. By the middle of that month, Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the global crisis set in, and a deal for Tristone was off the table.
By the final months of 2008, oil companies could no longer secure financing for major projects, and the mergers and acquisition business stalled. Tristone faced the possibility of having to lay off staff and shut down its foreign offices.
But as the financial world started to slog out of the credit crunch in 2009, Gosbee got a rare second chance: Macquarie called back with an offer. The $130-million sale was announced at the end of May.
Gosbee wasn’t yet 40 years old.
The room was gaudy. The walls were covered with red velvet. The table was long and imposing. It was 2006, and the careers of both Gosbee and Abbott were on a roll. By this time, the two were close business associates, and they had come to Beijing to negotiate with Chinese officials for permission to drill in Bohai Bay, an active offshore oil field. Getting to know their potential partners included several days of talks that concluded with an elaborate dinner in the private room of a large Beijing restaurant complex.
The Chinese hosts invited Gosbee, Abbott and another Canadian businessman to sit. Before long, a large covered wicker basket was placed on the table for the 15 diners. The waiters then set down a pot of boiling oil. One lifted the lid off the basket to reveal a bundle of wriggling baby mice cocooned together—each with a fine layer of newborn fuzz. The dish was presented as a ”lively delicacy,” and the hosts told their guests to spear the live mice with long forks and cook them in the oil, fondue style.
”We kind of looked at each other, and George dove right in, so we all had to have one,” Abbott says. ”It was a test. George passed,” Abbott says, adding, ”it tasted like a Timbit.”
To Abbott, this story is classic Gosbee—the man who set the tone for the room and rose to the challenge when the occasion demanded. But Gosbee’s behaviour could sometimes be more extreme.
He had always been a big social drinker, but when the financial crisis hit in 2008, Karen says Gosbee began to drink every day. Sometimes it was just a Scotch after work, she says, but several times a week, he would go on a binge.
The crisis and the Macquarie deal put Gosbee under tremendous stress. At times, he would combine booze and sleeping pills. His eldest son, John, says his father would sometimes sleep too much, then hardly sleep at all. His behaviour could be erratic. He would doze off at the dinner table or go a whole day without eating, Karen says. His family was on alert, looking for signs that Gosbee was in a bad place. ”The family was all working around it.”
John, now heading into his last year as a chemical engineering student at Northeastern University in Boston, recalls summers ”filled with month-long global adventures that took us to several different countries over the span of our youth.”
But the kindly and supportive father he had known when he was younger now seemed to be slipping away. ”He gave us everything. And later, he kind of became a recluse.”
Gosbee continued to hide his problems, and to many friends everything seemed under control. Bill Turnbull was one of Gosbee’s hunting and fishing buddies, joining him on numerous trips over the years. ”I’ve been over this a million times. And I’ve talked to a lot of people who were close to him,” says Turnbull, a Calgary real estate developer. ”The word coming out is that he abused alcohol. I never saw that—I never saw him around pills or drugs or anything like that. And I was with him lots of times 24-7.”
The drinking didn’t stop when markets improved. In fact, despite Gosbee’s increasing substance abuse, the next few years were arguably his most productive in the business world. In 2008, Gosbee helped establish the Alberta Investment Management Corp. A year later, then prime minister Stephen Harper supported his appointment to the board of Chrysler Group LLC, as steward of the government’s financial crisis bailout money.
Then, in 2010, Gosbee developed a new brokerage. The concept behind AltaCorp Capital Inc. was to create an investment dealer tailor-made for a western resource industry on the cusp of a new era. It would serve other industries beyond oil and gas production, such as agri-food and energy technology. To compete head-on with Bay Street’s biggest lenders, AltaCorp teamed up with ATB Financial—the banking institution owned by the Province of Alberta—giving it unique lending capability for such a small shop. For its 19.9% stake, the Crown corporation got a window into investment banking and equity capital markets.
Dave Mowat, then CEO of ATB Financial, says he and Gosbee believed they could help drive and diversify Alberta’s economy by supporting emerging technology—and Gosbee was adept at getting others to buy into the idea. Early in their business relationship, Mowat experienced what it was like to be in a room where Gosbee, the salesman, turned board of director skeptics into true believers. ”We got George in to explain what he saw as the opportunity, and you could just see the table light up. It went from being a pretty good deal to one that was kind of a vision.”
The operation quickly scaled up, and Gosbee was a fountain of ideas for new business, including seeking a presence in Asia. The partnership with ATB worked well, giving AltaCorp access to big deals it would otherwise have been shut out of, such as a $2.5-billion stock issuance by Suncor Energy Inc. in 2016. (ATB now has even greater ownership and influence at AltaCorp, and one of its executives, Jon Horsman, has been appointed as its chair.)
Not all of Gosbee’s deals paid off, however, and he was not universally loved. He could rub colleagues the wrong way with his propensity to hog the limelight. A few former associates say he elbowed them out of their place in deals. Once in a while, there would be unexplained absences. Although enthusiastic at first, he had a tendency to grow bored of his role in ventures, leaving others to scramble to take over.
”He had a very fertile mind and could dissect a deal in minutes. But if discussions were taking longer than that, he was checking out and already thinking about the next deal,” Abbott says.
Gosbee’s friends describe him as an old-school gentleman, but others were wary of his motives. Some former partners and colleagues talk about a man who could be hostile and vindictive to anyone who questioned how he ran his businesses, including racking up big bills for junkets with clients. Privately, some say he could also manoeuvre opportunities so he would end up with more in some deals than those who cast their lot alongside him.
But Abbott speaks in Gosbee’s defence. ”Were there guys in town that didn’t like George? For sure…there’s a lot of guys jealous of success too,” he says. ”And some of his deals—you can’t hit every deal out of the park, right?”
About two years after Gosbee started AltaCorp, his focus began to drift to other pursuits. AltaCorp’s employees noticed he was in the office less, his interest in running the business appearing to wane. From Mowat’s perspective, this was not unusual, given the capable team he had assembled to concentrate on the day-to-day operations. ”He had kind of that job as a rainmaker. It’s not like he’s punching the clock from seven till five or something,” Mowat says.
But that shift in attention also coincided with a sharp downturn in the boutique investment dealer world, especially in Calgary, where small firms were hammered by a collapse in oil prices in late 2014. The number of companies tapping the market for equity financing tailed off, and fees from trading shares shrunk. Many competitors either closed their oil patch branch offices or shut down completely. AltaCorp trudged through some lean years during the oil bust, and staff turnover increased.
In 2013, Gosbee became distracted by his biggest side project to date: He decided to buy an NHL team. It had been his dream since childhood, but the reality of the deal took a terrible toll.
He persuaded a roster of business leaders to join him in a bid to buy the struggling Phoenix Coyotes, but the negotiation was difficult and complex. It involved a lot of debt and inheriting a long-running battle with the Phoenix bedroom community of Glendale over the arena. A major puzzle was aligning the interests of the bidders. ”It was tortuous—a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” says Scott Saxberg, former CEO of Crescent Point Energy and one of the Coyotes partners. ”It was a very complicated deal—a highly levered transaction, mixed with a multitude of personalities in a large group.”
At the last minute—just before the deal to purchase the Coyotes was to be announced—a key investor backed out. Gosbee was devastated. Former NHL goaltender Mike Vernon, another good friend who had helped Gosbee assemble the ownership group, realized how sensitive he could be and how much he dreaded letting people down.
”He said, ‘Vernie, I can’t—this is going to taint my reputation,’ and this and that,” Vernon says. ”I was like, Holy shit. He really feels this way about it. And I was kind of shocked. He hated failure. He really did.”
Despite the investor withdrawal, the Gosbee group succeeded in buying the team from the NHL for $170 million (U.S.). And for a while, Gosbee seemed to relish his role as the face of the Coyotes, beaming with his partners during the puck-dropping ceremony on opening night. He bought a house in Phoenix and often entertained friends and family there, and hosted them at games. His kids teased him about his eternally bronzed skin.
Over time, however, his initial excitement for the project faded, and he seemed to disappear when it came time to buckle down and run the operation. As with some previous projects, his partners had to scramble to take up the slack. ”He would have been a great politician,” Saxburg says. ”That’s what you need—you need to motivate, push it off the dock, then move to the next thing. I think that was his strength. He told me himself.”
Before long, Gosbee and his partners sold. Philadelphia hedge fund manager Andrew Barroway bought a controlling interest in the team—by then called the Arizona Coyotes—in 2014. Gosbee relinquished his titles as team chair and governor. Barroway eventually bought out the other partners, who ended up making money on their initial investments. But during final negotiations in early 2017, Gosbee went AWOL.
”He had disappeared for a period of time—went radio silent for, like, a month. I talked to him about it,” Saxberg says. ”But I didn’t think it was as dark as what unfolded.”
Few knew, but the face of the Coyotes ownership team was facing some of his darkest periods. Gosbee was a pal of billionaires, NHL players and politicians, but he could be as selfcritical as any ordinary person—parsing his performance in front of the media to family members, or brooding when he didn’t get invited out for beers with friends. He was also a perfectionist: His clothes, his cupboards, his place setting and his public persona all had to be meticulously ordered.
By this point, Gosbee was being treated for depression. He also explored treatments for other conditions, including borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. ”All I know is that there was a mental health component and there was substance abuse,” Karen says. ”I can’t determine what came first.”
In December 2014, Gosbee attempted suicide, ending up in Calgary’s Foothills hospital. Afterward, as Karen was laying out her plans to get him into an addiction treatment facility, a blunt-speaking psychiatrist at the hospital told her to stop—that Gosbee would only get help when he decided for himself that he wanted to act. ”He leaned over, and he’s like, ‘Hon, it doesn’t matter what rehab place he goes to. He needs to decide to get better.’ ”
That conversation helped Karen realize that the problems were Gosbee’s, not hers, to handle. Already, she had been attending Al-Anon, a support program for people who have been affected by the drinking of someone close to them. Soon she would dive into addiction studies courses at Mount Royal University, working through many of her own issues in the process. She had come from a family that struggled with addiction, and then she had married into it—not an uncommon occurrence.
Karen says she decided to stop trying to keep tabs on Gosbee, stop nagging and hiding his issues. She realized she could not control or save him, and started to detach ”with love.”
”It was like a light bulb went on,” Karen says. ”That’s when I decided I needed to be healthy for my kids.”
Gosbee checked into a rehab facility in Arizona early in 2015, and then again in 2016. He went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, though his attendance was often disrupted by an increasingly hectic worldwide climbing schedule. Sometimes, Karen says, he believed he was a ”superman” who could conquer all of his demons through force of will.
”A lot of people know him only as that public figure—the one that’s always smiling,” says his son John. ”They don’t see really what’s underneath the surface, or what he was battling with the majority of his life. With the social stigma, he thought maybe he could beat it by himself.”
Gosbee’s struggles put a strain on the marriage and, in 2016, the pair decided to live apart. Karen says Gosbee needed the space and the time to chart his own path to recovery. He rented a suite at Le Germain, a luxury condominium and hotel complex across from the Calgary Tower. He later moved back into the family’s riverfront home in Elbow Park, while Karen and the kids lived in another family home in Calgary.
The couple did not legally separate, says Karen. They were going to counselling together. She and the children remained in constant contact with Gosbee up until he died.
Theal, Gosbee’s partner from the Tristone days, clearly remembers his last conversation with the troubled businessman, a few months before the end. Theal bumped into him in May 2017, after not seeing him for many years. They set a date to go for lunch a few weeks later at Cucina, a downtown Calgary bistro that was a frequent haunt for Gosbee.
”We didn’t talk about business—about how AltaCorp was doing,” Theal says. ”It was all personal. He and I were going through parallel paths of separation or divorce. And so we talked a lot about that. He talked about wanting to make it work [with Karen]. But at the same time, we talked about dating, and we had a lot of laughs about that—the dating world of the 40-somethings. And then we talked about our kids.”
Theal is grateful for the encounter with the man he credits as being a big part of his own success, even if the two had their differences at times about how to run the business. ”In hindsight, I’m glad I settled with him. It’s closure. I’m glad I had the conversation with him. I wouldn’t have wanted it to end any other way.”
Prem Singh, a Calgary-based adviser who brokers deals for Indian companies—and a frequent social media commentator with a hard-core conservative bent—was a long-time friend of Gosbee’s. One of their first meetings was in 2005, ”the year that Tristone had this fabulous energy conference in Paris.” He invited her to bring a group of Indian investors and bureaucrats.
They became closer years later, as Gosbee’s personal life began to unravel. Singh says he functioned at such a high level, she didn’t realize how much he drank until she met up with him during a trip to India in 2015 with his son. ”I had done some arranging for them, and their trip overlapped by a day, so we all hung out. And the guy was drinking all day. I was like, ‘This is weird,’’’ she says. ”When I came back, I was like, ‘What the hell?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I know. I’m trying to stop.’’’
The two started a romantic relationship, she says, as he was living on his own in 2016. She was there for many of his later moments of distress. Singh says that shortly before they got together, he stopped drinking and focused more on climbing, cooking and yoga. She would chide him for not taking his antidepressants.
Like Abbott, Singh grew concerned about Gosbee in his final months. She says she was worried about his stress levels and learned he was taking an increasing number of sleeping pills. She was in India for work when the end came, but she could tell by their conversations and his texts that he was distraught.
Karen was worried too, when she stopped hearing from Gosbee on that Friday in mid-November. She usually didn’t go more than a few hours during the day without getting a message from him, but then suddenly, the texts ended. And there was silence.
Downtown Calgary is noticeably quieter these days. Much of that stems from the oil patch downturn that began four years ago, the acres of vacant office space and a worry that the investment dollars that used to gush in are now directed elsewhere. But a part of what’s missing is Gosbee.
Even with the recent recovery in oil prices and the economy, there are precious few oil patch denizens taking big risks, come what may, like Gosbee did, bringing together just the right combination of people to buttress the efforts.
Gosbee’s death has put a brighter spotlight on dealing with mental illness, especially in the testosterone-fuelled world of deal making. His family has heard from several friends and business associates who shared stories of their own psychological struggles. Gosbee’s family says they went public with his story to shed light on addiction and mental health issues in the hope that it will spur others—including those in powerful positions—to speak more openly and seek help in dealing with their darkest thoughts.
John and Edna, Gosbee’s now-retired parents, have his photo displayed in their living room. They speak proudly of his business accomplishments, his respectful, old-fashioned punctuality, his friendships with people from all walks of life. John, formerly a physician, spells out a difficult conundrum facing mental health professionals and their ability to effectively treat patients that are suffering: ”Just because your disease has been diagnosed and you’re getting help doesn’t mean we’re going to cure you.”
A number of friends and acquaintances have said to Gosbee’s father that ”with all the resources George could afford and was able to access without success, what hope is there for me?”
Gosbee’s death isn’t the only recent headline-making suicide. American fashion designer Kate Spade, and then celebrity chef and author Anthony Bourdain took their own lives this year, dumbfounding fans the world over, who knew them as among the most accomplished in their fields.
In May 2017, Antoine Paquin, a serial entrepreneur who played a major role in establishing Ottawa as a high-tech hub, killed himself. He had been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. As with Gosbee, Paquin’s friends and colleagues were left with troubling questions about how he could have suffered so privately amid all his achievements.
In fact, research shows that stellar career and business success and mental health struggles can be closely linked. A 2018 University of California study shows entrepreneurs report higher incidences of conditions that can lead to suicide. The study of 242 entrepreneurs and 93 comparison participants (who were not entrepreneurs) showed those who thrived on starting up businesses reported experiencing 15% more depression, 24% more attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, 8% more substance use and 10% more bipolar disorder than the comparison group.
There is solid science behind the connection, says the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael Freeman, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of California San Francisco who specializes in mental health and entrepreneurship. He says aspects of those conditions actually help give entrepreneurs the singular focus, desire to take risks and ability to form powerful networks that are needed to make businesses successful. It’s a provocative statement, but Freeman asserts that society owes much of its prosperity to people with mental health conditions.
”These traits can be positive. Creativity can be positive. Extraversion can be positive. Motivation can be positive. Impulsivity can be positive,” Freeman says. ”But if you have too much of a good thing, it can add up to be a bad thing. It becomes more extreme, and it can be lethal.”
It’s feasible that the mania that fuelled Gosbee’s success and the depression that killed him were two sides of the same coin—that it was impossible to have one without the other. His challenge was to ride out the crushing darkness as long as he could, while making the most of his energy and intellect. His family, including his sister, Jean Marks, is proud of how long he fought and how much he accomplished along the way.
”I decided I am not going to think of George as this awesome guy who passed away,” Marks says. ”I think of George as this awesome, awesome guy who for 48 years, two months and 10 days fought to live—because he fought hard.”
If you think there is an imminent risk someone will harm themselves, take them to your local emergency room or call 911. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also visit www.crisisservicescanada.ca or www.kidshelpphone.ca.
Follow Kelly Cryderman and Jeffrey Jones on Twitter @KellyCryderman @the_Jeff_Jones