Vail CEO Rob Katz Gives Keynote Address at 25th Annual Community Leadership Lecture

Mar 20, 2019

Vail CEO Rob Katz talks with Myles Rademan at the 25th annual Community Leadership Lecture
Credit KPCW Radio

The last time Rob Katz stood on a Park City stage was five years ago—except then, an actor portrayed him as the villain in “An Epic Follies.” Katz says he can’t believe he went from the butt-end of the Follies to addressing the Leadership Park City Class.

“So the play ended, as I recall, with the Vailiens and the folks from Powdr Corp killing each other, lying on the stage all over the place, and then somebody came out with a big broom to clean up the mess--and that was Bob Wheaton," Katz recalled, to laughs. "But now, I'm still on the stage.”

Katz says there are many types of leadership—political, business, strategic—but his talk focused on personal leadership and building relationships. Katz says that anyone can be a leader at any level, whether you’re an executive at a resort or a first-year lift operator. But it’s helpful to have a handful of traits: to be self-aware, to be able to accept candid feedback and to be able to change.

“As a leader, everything around you is always going to be changing," Katz said. "The only question is whether you are changing with that; maybe faster than that, but certainly not slower than that, and certainly not standing still.”

Katz cited the emergence of the snowboard and the season pass as changes that the ski industry initially resisted but that ended up saving winter sports. One area of change that Vail and the rest of the industry continues to fall short, though, is engaging people of color in the sport. Katz says for the ski industry to thrive, Vail needs to lead out on this issue.

"We need to realize that our industry, and we as a company, need to embrace hiring people of color," Katz said. "Make it a priority, so when people of color come to our communities, they look around and they don't feel like they don't see anybody like them."

Katz also talked about the importance of resorts investing in their communities, as a civic responsibility and a business strategy. He says visitors come to Park City not only for the skiing but also for the vibrant community experience. Despite that, Katz says affordable housing is an issue that all the Vail resort communities are struggling with. Katz says after the 2008 recession, there was a lot of empty housing that Vail and the communities could have invested in for the workforce, but owners took advantage of them for short-term rentals.

"This was a mistake, and I think it was a mistake by us, and it was a mistake by our community partners, too," Katz said. "We're going to go through another recession at some point, and I hope that we collectively keep investing in housing through that recession, so that when we come out the other side we don't find ourselves in the same spot." 

Katz closed his remarks by encouraging the audience to enjoy their leadership journeys and remain passionate while working toward their goals.