King of the mountain at 39
VAIL, Colo. – Industry experts say Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ new chief executive, will keep the company focused on its Wall Street well-being.
“He is a Wall Street guy, not a real estate guy, not a hospitality guy, but a stock guy,” said Jerry Jones, a longtime ski industry analyst. “The connection with Wall Street is important to the company. And the familiarity with the company is a real asset.”
Katz will replace Adam Aron, who announced his resignation in January. Originally planning to stay on board until June, the company announced that Aron resigned as chief executive and relinquished his seat on the board effective Tuesday.
Filling Aron’s spot as chairman of the board of directors will be Joe Micheletto, a boardmember since 1996 and former CEO of Ralston Resorts – the company that previously owned Keystone, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin.
Katz began working with Vail Associates in 1992, when Apollo Partners took control of Vail Associates. He’s been Vail Resorts’ lead director since 2004 and on the board since 1996.
Jones said the transition should be smooth.
“He’s young and enthusiastic, and I bet he’ll add something to the operation,” he said.
Blaise Carrig, Heavenly Mountain Resort chief operating officer, was pleased with the appointment of Katz – who he knows from their time spent working for Vail Resorts.
“He’s been involved in every instrumental decision of Vail’s over the last 14 years. There couldn’t be a more seamless transition. He was a key player, so there’s no learning curve needed,” Carrig said, calling Katz “an avid skier and bright guy.”
Carrig assured Heavenly visitors and regulars on the slopes that Katz will remain as committed to the development of the resort’s master plan improvements as Aron is.
Since it took over the resort in 2002, Vail has pledged $40 million in five years to upgrade its fifth resort. About $32 million has been spent. And by the time the planned improvements are made, $65 million is anticipated to be spent.
Evolution of Vail Resorts
Katz served as a senior partner with Apollo, and more recently was an adviser with the company. Apollo took Vail Resorts public in 1997. In 2004, Apollo gave up control of the company when it sold much of its stock.
Ivan Feinseth, managing director of Matrix USA, an investment research firm, said Katz has big shoes to fill in replacing Aron. Aron became frustrated when Apollo lost control of the board, Feinseth said.
“If (Katz) runs into the same frustration, it won’t be good,” he said.
Ralf Garrison, director of the Advisory Group, a marketing firm that focuses on the destination mountain industry, said the choice of Katz as CEO signals a progression of ski resort companies from mountain operators to a publicly traded companies.
“Vail Resorts is moving right along at the lead of that evolution,” Garrison said. “Its leadership and organizational structure is, too. I would have expected that the person who followed Adam would be consistent with that maturation.”
In making the announcement the company also disclosed that it plans to move its corporate headquarters, along with 100 employees, to Denver.
“Put this all together and you see that Katz and the move to Denver are further signs of Vail preparing itself to move into the broader financial merger and acquisition world,” he said.
With a greater emphasis on real estate, luxury properties and retail and restaurant businesses, Vail Resorts under Aron saw its stock price grow from around $20 per share to a high of over $38. Tuesday, the stock climbed about 4 percent – closing at $33.04 – following the announcements.
– Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Susan Wood contributed to this story.
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