Jim Little, architect behind RBC's sponsorship of Canadian Open, leaves company

RBC's Jim Little. The man behind the bank's golf marketing strategy is leaving to join Shaw.

Jim Little, the marketing executive at RBC who developed the company’s golf strategy, is leaving, according to an email circulated to staff. Little ran sponsorship and marketing for Bell Canada, including the Canadian Open, and then left the telecommunications company, joining RBC in 2007. He inked a deal for the Canadian Open later that year.

RBC’s chief human resources executive sent this out to staff today:

It is with regret that I announce that Jim Little, Chief Brand and Communications Officer, will be leaving RBC at the end of April to become the Chief Marketing Officer at Shaw Communications Inc.

Over the last five years Jim and his team, working closely with the marketing groups across the enterprise, have made a significant contribution to RBC’s brand relevance in Canada and establishing its brand presence internationally.

Through the introduction of Arbie, the deepening of our ties with the Olympic movement, the creation of the RBC Blue Water Project, the use of golf as a marketing and charitable platform and the expansion of our media relations and communications capabilities, Jim has helped establish strong foundations upon which we will continue to build our business.

Over the next month, Jim and I will be working closely to ensure a proper transition and to ensure that the Brand and Communications team continue to meet our business needs  without interruption.

Jim has worked with many leaders across RBC and we will certainly miss his expertise and creativity.  Please join me in thanking Jim for his many contributions to RBC and wishing him the very best in the next chapter of his career.

Little didn’t stop with just the Canadian Open. In fact he made RBC one of the powerhouses of golf sponsorship, inking deals with numerous PGA Tour pros, including Jim Furyk, Mike Weir, Ernie Els and Luke Donald, as well as doing deals with the PGA of America and the Heritage Classic. In all, RBC spent tens of millions on golf, all led by Little, with assistance from Steve Marshman, who runs Catalyst Sponsorship in Oakville.

What does this mean for the Canadian Open and RBC’s golf properties? RBC has inked deals for the Canadian Open and Heritage through 2017, but Little often said everything came out for renewal in 2012 in case he left or the bank changed directions. Sources tell me RBC CEO Gord Nixon remains committed to the bank’s golf strategy and that nothing will change. However, RBC will soon be renegotiating deals with players and the PGA of America, so it’ll be interesting to see whether the bank cuts its marketing spend on golf with Little’s departure or whether his successor is as interested as he was in the game.

That’s not to suggest Little wasn’t pragmatic about golf. He viewed it as a marketing vehicle — not a personal passion. It provided a unique connection to financial services and wealth management clients and that’s why the bank was interested, not because Little himself played golf.

Golf Canada’s CEO Scott Simmons says he doesn’t expect RBC to change directions.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything different,” Simmons says, adding he learned of Little’s departure this morning. “Obviously that is going through your head. But I don’t think Jim’s departure really changes anything.”

In an email this afternoon, Little confirmed the bank remains focused on a golf as a marketing vehicle:

Golf has never been in better shape in Canada and RBC is long on golf at both the professional and amateur levels…its been an honor to work with the folks at GOLF Canada and the PGA tour to help strengthen the game as we used golf to enhance the RBC brand both here and internationally

Simmons wouldn’t confirm it, but Little told me for a Golf World story that he had inked a deal with Golf Canada to continue sponsoring the Canadian Open for the next five years. Expect an official release in the next month.

I’ve written about Little regularly, including this piece in Sympatico, a story in Golf Digest Canada, while Sports Business Journal quoted my Golf World story about RBC’s strategy under Little.  And a few years back when I conducted golf’s power list for the National Post, Little was ranked as the second most powerful individual in Canada golf — and the one with the most money to spend.


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Jeff Lancaster

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