If you say the word “Vail” today most people will immediately conjure up images of the iconic ski resort nestled in the Rockies. What most don’t know is that Vail Resorts Management Company—which today manages nine ski resorts, a year-round and seasonal staff of more than 20,000, a portfolio of luxury hotels under the Rock Resorts brand, a real-estate-development company, 130 specialty retail outlets, and a transportation company—was a seedling in the mind of founder Pete Seibert a mere half century ago. Executive vice president, chief people officer, and chief sustainability officer Mark Gasta shares how he keeps this expansive staff working seamlessly, loving what they do, and creating “the experience of a lifetime” for guests—all in pursuit of Seibert’s initial dream.
How did Vail Resorts turn into one of the biggest ski operators in the world?
Mark Gasta: Our founder, Pete Seibert, member of the famed 10th Mountain Division of ski troopers during World War II, had a clear purpose: build a world-class ski resort upon his return from the war. He enlisted the help of Earl Eaton, a Coloradan employed in the ski industry. Between Seibert’s vision and passion for skiing, and Eaton’s knowledge of the area, they pinpointed the ideal location, and Vail opened for its first ski season in 1962. Now, 50 years later, Vail Resorts continues to build upon Seibert’s original vision of sharing his love of the sport and passion for the mountains with the world.
How has the corporate culture evolved over the company’s history?
Gasta: Utilizing [Kim] Cameron and [Robert] Quinn’s Competing Values Framework, I would say that we began as a clan culture—loyal, committed, familial, and passionate. As we grew, we created repeatable processes and shared best practices to scale the business, then began to reinvent our company and the industry. As a public company, we must compete in order to drive value, so the key is to maintain what has made us great while developing the range to leverage situational leadership and benefit from the strengths within each area. The result is a better-balanced culture that will allow us to reach our fullest potential.
Since you came to Vail Resorts five years ago, what initiatives have you implemented?
Gasta: One of the first things we did was to identify the need for cultural integration between all of our business units. As a result, we began to develop programs that enabled the organization to maintain local ownership and entrepreneurial spirit while simultaneously capitalizing upon synergies, sharing best practices, and understanding how each employee fits into the success of the overall organization. This transformation began with establishing a culture team, made up of a diverse group of approximately 25 employees from across the organization, which helped define our mission, develop new recognition programs, and create redefined organizational values—just to name a few of their many accomplishments.
How does having a solid, happy workforce impact your business?
Gasta: A happy employee is good business. We deliver an experience and that experience is dependent upon the engagement of our employees. The good news is that our workforce largely wants to be here, as they are passionate about our product and want to share what they love with others. Our culture is our competitive differentiation: it enables service; it enables innovation; it enables growth.
Does corporate culture impact your staffing strategy?
Gasta: Significantly. We want to hire people that share the passion for Vail Resorts and have outstanding relationship skills. As a result, we’ve created specific competencies unique to us and aligned with our culture, and we hire, promote, and reward employees based upon these competencies. We want to engage employees who will help us create the experience of a lifetime for guests, which in turn creates greater customer loyalty, which in turn creates greater stakeholder and shareholder value, which in turn allows us to reinvest more in our employees.
What’s your 30-second elevator pitch about why Vail Resorts is a great place to work?
Gasta: Work where you play and play where you work. Vail Resorts employees enjoy careers in some of the most beautiful places on the planet, and help our guests enjoy the great outdoors in exciting new ways. We embrace a true work-life balance that provides our team the environment to work hard, play hard, and live well, every single day. Whether you are part of our community for a season or a lifetime, working for Vail Resorts is the experience of a lifetime.
You’re also the head of sustainability. What does that mean for Vail Resorts?
Gasta: Sustainability for me is creating a company that can do well while also doing good. We want to make a positive, lasting difference. The outdoors is our product, and we have an obligation, a commitment, and a passion for protecting our product. We look across sustainability in all forms—people, community, and the environment. For example, from the community perspective, we have employee-volunteer days where staff go out into the community in mass and volunteer. From the environment standpoint, we work with local utility companies on initiatives to consume less energy. The ultimate goal is to create an organization that will “sustain” by creating value for all of our key stakeholders: employees, guests, shareholders, our communities, and the environment.
To that effect, describe Vail Resorts’ 20-year plan.
Gasta: We underwent a very successful strategic planning process that resulted in the development and communication of our organizational mission, values, vision, core, competitive differentiation, enterprise-wide goals, integrated/multiyear strategic plan, and metrics to measure progress. It is this planning and communication that allows us to galvanize our workforce around common goals to ensure that we are all focusing our time, energy, and resources upon the right things. This clarity serves to help everyone understand their role in the larger organization’s success and what our hard work and commitment is all adding up to.