Skico grooms Kaplan for top post
July 5, 2005
Any questions about whom the Aspen Skiing Co. views as an eventual successor to President and Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell were removed Tuesday.O’Donnell announced that Mike Kaplan was promoted to chief operating officer, a position that clearly establishes Kaplan as second within the Skico hierarchy. Kaplan oversaw skiing operations at the Skico’s four ski areas as a senior vice president before the promotion. Now he takes over supervision of all human resources duties and retail operations from O’Donnell.Kaplan, 40, has been with the Skico for 12 years. He started by running the ski school and has regularly had responsibilities added.”I think the strategy there speaks for itself,” O’Donnell said. He said it would be fair to say that Kaplan is being given a chance to prove he can run the company. However, O’Donnell said the Crown family, the owners, ultimately makes the decision of who runs the company.O’Donnell started with the Skico as chief operating officer in June 1994 and rose to the top post as president and chief executive officer a little more than two years later. He took over for Bob Maynard.
O’Donnell said he plans to stay at the helm of the Skico for longer than one more season, but he acknowledged that at age 66 he is “looking toward the future.””I don’t have an exact date, but it’s sooner rather than later,” he said of his retirement.O’Donnell said he has accomplished several of his major goals, including the creation of an environmental affairs director and an environmental program recognized as a leader in the ski industry.The creation of an “A-team” of senior executives is another of his major accomplishments, he said. In addition to Kaplan, that team included senior vice president of marketing and sales David Perry, director of planning Bill Kane, attorney Dave Bellack and Don Schuster, who operates and plans the Skico’s off-mountain facilities.Perry had been considered by some outsiders as a possible successor to O’Donnell because of his success directing the company’s marketing efforts. The Skico has logged increases in the number of skiers and snowboard riders visiting its slopes in each of the last three seasons. It’s also changed its image as a stodgy resort exclusively for wealthy old folks by landing the ESPN Winter X Games.
Kaplan was credited by O’Donnell with taking “the quality of our product and service to their highest levels in our history.” He said Kaplan “is ready for a bigger challenge.”Kaplan said the promotion was flattering and rewarding “after I’ve put my shoulder to the wheel” and worked hard as the senior vice president of mountain operations for the last six years.Adding the human resources and retail operation responsibilities under his umbrella will improve communications by making the company “a little tighter,” he said.When asked if he viewed the promotion as an audition to see if he can be O’Donnell’s successor, Kaplan said, “I think it presents that opportunity.”Kaplan has kept a low profile outside the Skico. He’s rarely the face of the company at public events, and he avoided the fray over the Base Village proposal in Snowmass Village. Nevertheless, Kaplan has a reputation for being open and honest, and he is respected by people who know him.
Kaplan received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado in 1986 and his MBA from the University of Denver in 1993. He learned the ropes in the ski industry while spending six years at Taos Ski Valley in a variety of positions.Kaplan vowed to stay on the slopes despite the promotion. He estimated he skied or snowboarded 100 days last season.”My goal is not to get struck in the office more,” he said.O’Donnell, on the other hand, hopes to spend even more time on the slopes now that some duties have been transferred from him to Kaplan. He walked up Snowmass and snowboarded down twice a week last season. Perhaps that will increase to three times per week next season, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org