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Thursday, September 14, 2000

All's well so long as Canada knows Jack

 You could call him Jack the Giant Killer. Perhaps Jack the Wild Colonial Boy.

 But he's the Jack of All Trades to the Canadian Olympic team, a former UWO Mustangs football and wrestling star who is the eminence grise behind the Canadian team.

 It has been some year for Jack Cowin, who will march with Canada at the opening ceremonies.

 The Windsor native received an honourary doctorate from Western. He won a $70-million lawsuit against fast-food giant Burger King. And he made the Olympic team.

 As attache here, he is a facilitator. Got a problem with the telephone company? Call Jack. Transportation woes? Call Jack.

 The former Ontario-Quebec Athletic Association heavyweight wrestling champ tracks his father's six-month assignment here on behalf of a Canadian auto company to his fascinating career.

 "He came back with stories of the land of milk and honey and it sounded pretty exciting," he recalled at a reception for the Canadian team yesterday.

 Exciting? Cowin turned up with a thousand dollars to buy the rights for a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in 1968. Then he rounded up 10 investors at $30,000 each to lock up a good part of Australia.

 Last year, his Competitive Foods did $500 million in sales from 45 outlets plus 202 Hungry Jack's burger stores.

 He'll be opening 14 Hungry Jacks in Canada, along with a restaurant called Big Daddy's on Toronto's King Street in partnership with former Mustang teammate Whit Tucker.

 One of his more recent ventures is the Bridge Climb, a walk up to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everyone thought he and another backer were crazy but they got their investment back inside a year.

 The new tourist attraction did $30 million last year and the city of Sydney would dearly love to renogotiate the 20-year contract.

 Cowin says athletics had a profound effect on his business career.

 "There's no greater parallel," he said. "You never give up. When you're knocked down, you've got to get up and keep going and you'll eliminate 85 per cent of your competition."

 When Burger King wouldn't let him expand and wanted to buy his company, he fought it off and litigation began.

 "Big companies think the little guy will fold," he said. "From my point of view, whether you win, lose or draw, you have to do what's right."

 He's certainly doing what's right by the Canadian team. Since they arrived, he's smoothed out a lot of bumps through his many connections.

 "Jack works hard," his London-born wife Sharon understated.

 Maybe because he's become an employee, not one of the 13,000 he employs, for the first time since he sold insurance for London Life.

 "Oh-oh, here comes the boss," he joked as chef de mission Diane Jones Konihowski approached with a problem.

 Cowin's close friend Darwin Semotiuk, Western's chair of intercollegiate athletics, gave a glimpse of life in the fast financial lane when Cowin called once from New Brunswick, where he was meeting with the McCain food people.

 Semotiuk thought he wouldn't make it to London until the next day. He was there in a couple hours on McCain's Lear Jet.

 Not only is this Jack nimble, he's quick, too.