Winter Park " My take on "The guy to take Intrawest to the next level"
To the Editor:
Jan. 31, 2008, will be a red-letter day in the history of Vail Mountain, as it will mark the last day of Chief Operating Officer Bill Jensen’s tenure with the organization. As reported earlier in the month, Bill Jensen will leave his post to become CEO of the company’s biggest rival, Intrawest.
Other than wading through the corporate-speak of an official press release and the positive reaction of our own Winter Park Resort hierarchy, I was asked the other day “What’s your take on the appointment itself, and the new guy in particular?” So, reading between some of the lines and trying to put my own interpretation on this change at the top, here it is.
1. Vail is pissed. Hey, all is fair in love and competition right? Or, as my son would say “easy sailor.” This was probably a huge shock to the system ” not only to lose their main man after eight years at the helm, but to lose him to the dreaded competition. Vail of course tried to put a brave face on it and give the departure some positive spin by calling it “the ultimate compliment for other companies to be interested in your people”, but this cloaks the fact that they’re probably rather annoyed.
2. Fortress Investment Group true to form. In an article I wrote in September 2006, following the Intrawest buyout by Fortress Investment Group LLC, I suggested that Fortress tended to “enhance as opposed to make drastic changes at upper management” to achieve the goals of income generation and expense control. In this swoop, they have evidenced head-hunting at its finest. They knew who they wanted, and they got their man. Ski industry insiders (who are these people?) say that Vail has “lost one of the good ones.” Bottom line, this appointment demonstrates a real commitment by Fortress and Intrawest to its mountain resort operations.
3. “The guy to take Intrawest to the next level.” So says Gary deFrange, president and chief operating officer for Winter Park Resort, and reading Mr. Jensen’s bio, I wouldn’t disagree, although a whole new discussion could center on what would constitute “the next level” for Intrawest. In his new role, Mr. Jensen will oversee the Intrawest ski resort operations as well as real estate development, hotel and property management and golf courses. “For me, it’s just the next step”, said Jensen.
4. An eye to the Winter Olympics? Mr. Jensen officially starts in his new position June 1, a little over 1-1/2 years before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver ” Jensen’s “soon-to-be” new home, corporate headquarters of Intrawest, and in Whistler Blackcomb, venue of the main showpiece events of the Games. I might be wrong, but there’s probably some strategic thinking going on here. It will be interesting to see how “public” Mr. Jensen’s role becomes over the next 12-18 months, something he’s accustomed to and does very well by all accounts.
5. Environmental Issues. It is well documented that, during his time at Vail, Mr. Jensen pushed for increased environmental initiatives, both at Vail and other ski resorts through his chairmanship of the National Ski Areas Association trade group. Every year, the Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition (a group made up of environmental nonprofits such as Colorado Wild, Friends of the Inyo and the Sierra Nevada Alliance) examines the environmental impact of 77 ski resorts in the Western United States and gives them a grade. It has to be noted that these “scores” are not necessarily welcomed, embraced, accepted, or agreed with in the ski resort community, but they’re “out there,” and many skiers do hunt out the environmentally friendly ones for their patronage. Anyway, thanks to a move toward 100 percent wind power for 2007, Vail improved to a 55.6 percent rating and a “C” Grade, improving from scores as low as D and F in the past.
I fully expect Mr. Jensen to continue in the same vein with the Intrawest resorts ” and looking at the results closer to home, there’s some work to be done. According to the same report, the “Bottom 10 ski resort scores, by score”, in ninth position our own Winter Park Resort, coming in with a “D” and 42.2 percent. This, though, is much improved from the “fifth worst” and an “F” last year, thanks primarily to the Resort’s commitment to power all future lifts with renewable energy ” the Panoramic Express lift being the latest example. However, our “twin” down the road, Copper Mountain, was declared the No. 1 “worst” resort, with a 29 percent score and an “F.” Nice little challenge, this one.
Conclusion: All in all, I think this is a real coup for Intrawest, and in turn, Winter Park. Mr. Jensen has a proven track record of dedication to customer service and will obviously bring a huge amount of industry savvy with him to his new role. I have yet to find any reference of what he’ll be doing in between his last day with Vail (Jan. 31) and his first day with Intrawest (June 1). Four months of contemplation on a beach in Mexico sounds good, but that’s just me.
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