Robert L. Evans had left the corporate world for a life in retirement on a horse farm in Kentucky. The years as a successful entrepreneur were behind him.
At least that’s the way it went for a few years.
Looking for a CEO with business acumen, Churchill Downs Incorporated reached out to Evans. It was 2006 and the 133-year-old company had no growth, no growth prospects, no cash and no survival strategy. Though a bigger project than Evans was looking for in retirement, he saw potential in the company.
His first step as CEO was overhauling the culture and management team. Evans wanted a team that was willing to make changes with him. The organization went from 90 people in the corporate office to 60 people with the right skill sets.
The next step was to implement a vision that would grow the company and begin branching Churchill Downs into areas other than racing. Evans started with revamping the racing side of Churchill Downs and, ultimately, the sport itself. He sold two of the company’s six tracks, telecasted the events in high definition, branded the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks to expand their reach and created new events. Churchill Downs quickly became an entertainment venue that, in addition to racing, was drawing iconic music acts and multiday festivals.
While Evans’ plan was taking shape, the entertainment aspects were only a few days a year. He wanted Churchill Downs to be a daily venue. Evans true innovation was shown through the company’s investment in gaming, such as betting, poker and slot machines. Also, less than 10 percent of bets are placed at the track. By introducing a way to bet at the track through Twinspires.com, Churchill Downs capitalized on the market in the first year it entered the industry.
How to reach: Churchill Downs Incorporated, (502) 636-4400 or www.churchilldowns.com