‘The soul is what happens on the mountain’ – Vail Resorts’ new CEO Rob Katz
VAIL ” Vail Resorts chief exec Rob Katz is only a month into his new job, but he’s already delivered some big news.
First, he announced Vail Resorts would be move its corporate headquarters to the Denver area. Then, he announced record second-quarter earnings for the company.
The Vail Daily sat down with Katz and Vail Resorts Co-President Bill Jensen on Tuesday to talk about what’s next for the company. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:
Katz: “Actually, I think my biggest challenge is that it’s a great thing to come in as a CEO of a company with a lot of success. It’s also hard to figure out how to make sure you can maintain that success, both in terms of the product that we provide to the guests, which I think is bar-none the best in the industry, and also being financially successful. Those are going to be my key challenges.”
Katz: “I understand that because I live in Boulder this move seems to be something that’s about me, but that’s not the case at all. I think what’s important is to try and step back and say, where is the right location for the headquarters? Forget about where I live, or anybody. Forget about all of the personal issues. …
“We had that discussion and the answer came very clear from a lot of different directions that being around a metro area was much more important. …
“You start thinking about what do the corporate people do versus the mountain people, and I think it’s a really important distinction. We have a peak employment at the peak of the season of 14,000, year-round employment of around 5,000. We’re really talking about affecting 100 people. That’s an important context. The question is, what do those 100 people do that’s different from the other 13,900? The difference is Bill (Jensen) and (the other co-president) Roger (McCarthy) and their groups are focused on running the mountains.
“The corporate job isn’t the same. It’s about making sure that we’re counting our revenue and expenses correctly. Talking with Wall Street in the right way. It’s talking to the media, all the media outlets, not just the Vail Daily. It’s managing all the legal and safety issues across all of our resorts. And quite frankly it’s about marketing and making sure we’re in the right media outlets.”
On leaving Avon:
Katz: “What I said to all of the employees that I met with on the first day was that if you put up a map and said, where should we put the pin for the corporate headquarters, I don’t think people would pick Avon. There’s nothing wrong with Avon ” it’s a terrific place, it’s going to be a new portal for Beaver Creek Mountain. It’s going to be exciting. … That’s fabulous, but is that the right place for a New York Stock Exchange public company?”
Katz: “My two cents is that the key person who’s holding the soul of the company is Bill (Jensen). Whether these 100 folks are here or not here, I don’t think that’s the soul. That would be a mistake, no offense to any of the corporate employees. The soul is what happens on the mountain, and I think that in some respects I feel like the company is trusting that job to Bill and to Roger. …
“I don’t know how to run a ski mountain. It’s not the job that I’m hired to do. Actually, I learned a long time ago that just because I ski around the mountain doesn’t mean I should go to Bill and say, ‘Oh, you have to change that and do this, and this slope is not good.'”
Katz: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Heavenly. That’s what it’s focused on, the mountain resort business, which I was think was its strength back (when Katz joined the company in 1991). It is true that Vail trades. It’s a New York Stock Exchange public company, and there’s stuff that comes with that. But the only way for Vail to be a successful New York Stock Exchange public company is for us to do our job well on the mountain. … The rest of it is paperwork.”
Katz: “I think acquisitions are definitely a key part of the strategy. I think that any opportunity for us to acquire something that’s within our core strategy and that we can take our management talent and skills and upgrade what we’re buying I think is a terrific opportunity both for the vibrancy of the company and for shareholders. And I think that’s what happened with Keystone and Breckenridge and that’s what happened with Heavenly. At the same time, I mentioned three ski resorts that we’ve acquired in the last 10 years. We may acquire one or two in the next few years, we may not. … There are certainly resorts that Intrawest has that are terrific resorts and would certainly fit our profile.”
Jensen: “(Skiing with Katz, Vice President of Mountain Operations Brian McCartney and Ski School Director Dee Byrne) we got on Chair 5 and we were riding up 5, and Rob rode up with (Byrne). I just looked and said, for Dee as a ski school director, she got 12 minutes with Rob, not in a meeting, not in an office, not via e-mail. She got 12 minutes of face time with the CEO of the company. I enjoyed working for Adam. There was no problem there, and Adam did a lot of great things for our resorts and for us individually. But the one thing my people never got was the chance to ride a chairlift with Adam. … I know Rob loves to ski and Rob will be up, and Rob will get a perspective of those people out on the mountain in their element.”
Jensen: “I don’t see any more terrain expansion at Vail. … Chair 5 still has 7-10 years of ‘useful life’ left in its existence, so certainly when we get seven or eight years out, there’s more of an obligation to replace the lift than a decision about replacing the lift. Chair 10 still has five more years. The reality for me is, what’s the right catalyst to upgrade those lifts prior to the end of their useful life? Growing skier days because of all the new hotel base? Maybe that catalyst is something I have to come to Rob with and then he has to talk to the board. I will probably look further down the road, even 10 years, and start to say, what should the Vista Bahn be when the Front Door is done? And what should Chair 4 be and what should Chair 11 be?”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14623, or firstname.lastname@example.org.