Vail Daily column: Are you ready to take the lead?
As a participant in the Vail Valley Partnership’s Next Vail Valley program, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some of the Vail Valley’s most recognized and established business leaders. What did we talk about? You guessed it, leadership. Well, leadership and their secret to success (the secret sauce that any over-achieving professional wants to know), as well as their commitment to, vision for, and involvement in shaping the Vail Valley.
Each meeting has been a unique experience. Each of the local leaders had their own personal style and approach to answering questions and providing leadership, friendship and mentoring.
At our last meeting, we met with Andy Daly, former chief operating officer of Vail Resorts and former town of Vail mayor, in a beautiful residence at the Four Seasons. Fire aglow and large, sink-in-the middle lounge chairs created a wonderful atmosphere for a warm and open conversation with Andy on a rainy evening in Vail.
So what sets Vail leaders apart? Their sense of adventure, of course. And one of my favorite and relatable adventure stories was Andy’s. Through “circumstance,” as he put it, Andy Daly ended up at the bottom of Copper Mountain almost 50 years ago.
According to Andy, at that time, you had to drive to Vail or Leadville to get groceries. Sans interstate, this drive alone would have been enough to send me home.
Like most, Andy was only planning to be in the mountains for a short period of time. For him, one month in Aspen led to a trip to Alaska flying in small planes delivering mail. A few years later, he settled into work at Copper Mountain in 1972. It wasn’t long before he was running the show at Copper.
In addition to Andy, we’ve met with Beth Slifer, creative director, Slifer Designs; Harry Frampton, founder and chairman, East West Partners; and Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, president and CEO, Colorado Mountain College.
Interestingly, they all spoke of the need for the next generation of leaders to take the reins. Beyond adventure, several themes on leadership played out throughout the course of the meetings. Here is a few worth sharing.
• They trust the universe and fuel this trust with drive and commitment.
We heard several inspiring stories that demonstrated this approach.
As one example, Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser, “decided” that she wanted to run Colorado Mountain College. She admittedly knew little about the school at the time, but just “knew” that was where she wanted to be. Several years later she accepted the job as CEO and has made great strides, including implementing four-year degree programs at the college.
• They have vision.
In every case, these leaders saw something bigger and more important than short-term gain and had something to say about the Next Vail Valley.
Andy Daly talked about the need to bury I-70 — which he thinks will happen in our lifetime. Beyond founding Slifer Designs, Beth Slifer has been a founding board member of several nonprofits including the Roundup River Ranch as well as the Vail Valley Partnership. Harry Frampton discussed the continued requirement to focus on alternative transportation in the valley including more buses, bike and trail systems.
• They are resourceful.
Leaving behind a high-powered career on the East Coast, the move to the Valley in the early ’80s made Beth Slifer nervous about what her next step would be. A year into her stay, she was asked to help a businessman from Texas sell his property at the Lodge at Vail. It had been on the market for too long. Having no experience in design, she worked with her mother — an interior designer from Florida — over the phone, to make it happen. She redecorated … the property sold in a matter of days, and Slifer Designs was born.
• They believe in knowing your customer.
Several leaders mentioned the importance of knowing your customer. Not a skier himself, when Harry Frampton took over as president of Vail Associates, he visited ski resorts around the world to understand who was serving the customer best.
Andy Daly learned this lesson the hard way during his tenure at Eldora. Assuming Boulder residents were health food nuts, he made the mistake of implementing a menu of more health food and less French fries and burgers. As a result, he ran out of French fries before the end of the season and had to deal with many angry customers.
• They involve (and are involved in) the community.
Andy Daly shared the story about when Two Elk burned down which demonstrated his commitment to the community. He was CEO of Vail Associates at the time.
Andy heard about the fire in the early hours of October 18, 1998. “Look out your window,” the caller implored. He pulled the curtain to reveal a glow on top of the mountain. “Two Elk is burning down.” Chair 5 was also destroyed and several other chairlifts sustained damage.
In shock, Andy went to work immediately. He decided to call a town meeting and invited locals to understand their concerns and assure them Vail Mountain would be open for the season.
Andy was noticeably emotional as he talked about the hundreds of town members that attended the meeting and their determination to open Two Elk in a temporary structure just in time for Christmas. Together, Vail Associates and the town succeeded.
• They have a love for building strong, smart teams and are aware of their own weakness.
Team building and commitment to the right culture was a constant theme in all of the discussions. All mentioned several times how proud they were of their management teams and the incredible talents they had the opportunity to work with.
Importantly, understanding your own strengths and weaknesses was also seen as a critical component of leadership. Andy was quick to comment not being as financially strong as he would like and pointed out the importance for him to hire individuals with high financial acumen as well as generally those that support your weaknesses.
• They take action.
At the end of the meeting with Andy, Next participant Owen Hutchinson, development manager at Vail Jazz, shared his dream and need for an entertainment facility in Vail that was suited for music performances and other events. When the meeting concluded, Andy, having been a huge proponent of the unsuccessful bid for a conference center during his tenure as mayor of Vail, jumped out of his seat, walked straight up to Owen and asked, “So tell me more about this music venue. How many seats do you need?”
Elyssa Nager is owner of Resort Books.
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