Back in the days when Matthew Dunn was a theatre prof and actor, his favourite role was that of Jack Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners The Importance of Being Ernest. There was just something about playing the straight man to Algernon Moncreiff that appealed to Dunn.

These days as

senior vice-president and CIO of Vancouver-based Intrawest Corp. — one of North America’s biggest resort and leisure real estate companies with 20,000 employees and US$1 billion in annual revenue — Dunn is playing a straight act of a different sort. This time his job is to make sure Intrawest’s 10 mountain resorts — including Whistler Blackcomb, B.C., Mont Tremblant, Que. and Mammoth, Calif. as well as the 25 golf courses, and extensive real-estate holdings can share information over a common IT backbone.

He also has to massage the reams of data collected from Intrawest’s seven million annual skier visits and 500,000 golf rounds across North America to extract pearls of wisdom that will allow the company to market itself more effectively to its customers and deliver a higher return on investment to investors. (Intrawest is publicly traded in Toronto and New York.) “”Intrawest’s biggest challenge right now is to generate free cash-flow, and pay down debt,”” says analyst Michael Smith in the Toronto office of National Bank Financial. “”The company has to slow down its acquisition strategy, and focus on squeezing more dollars out of its existing properties.””

To that end, Dunn is redefining what it takes to succeed in the alpine leisure industry, which is not known for its IT and marketing smarts. “”There is no point sending out a mailer to everyone who purchased a season’s pass,”” says Dunn. “”If the person only went skiing twice, they are not a live prospect. But in the past that’s how things were done in this business.””

It’s hard to argue with common sense. The question, however, is what’s an actor doing in the role of a CIO? “”The Web is changing the world,”” says Dunn, from his eighth-floor corner office overlooking Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet and the North-Shore mountains. “”Theatre on the other hand is static.””

After two theatre degrees, a Ph.D. in digital media and eight years at Microsoft Corp., Dunn — who was born in Durango, Colo. — jumped at the offer to work for Intrawest when a headhunter called in 1999. “”The resort business is fundamentally theatrical,”” says Dunn. “”Operating a resort for four to six months is like staging a production.””

Dunn has also found his theatre background and an ability to speak in metaphors to be an important asset in his present job. For example, shortly after being hired, Dunn sold senior management on the idea that the easiest and cheapest way to interconnect the company’s far-flung operations was with a virtual private network (VPN), rather than dedicated telco lines.

He accomplished this by drawing a clever analogy: A VPN was the equivalent of locking data into t

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