Experience of a Lifetime. That mantra is what drives Vail Resorts, the world’s largest mountain resort operator, and its 55,000 employees each and every day. It is the mission of the company—and the meaning is twofold. Vail Resorts strives to create an experience of a lifetime for every guest that visits its thirty-seven mountain resorts around the globe, and the company does so by creating an experience of a lifetime for its employees.
“Passion for the mountains is what unites us,” says Lynanne Kunkel, chief human resources officer for Vail Resorts. “Our mountains are our product—but it’s our people who enable the experiences that our guests are looking for. Our employees are the secret to our success, so investing in their leadership development is paramount.”
Kunkel has a unique perspective on leadership development shaped by an early experience in her career. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1989 with a degree in chemical engineering, she accepted a management position in laundry manufacturing for Procter and Gamble, a global consumer goods leader, known for popular household brands such as Tide, Dawn, Swiffer, and Febreze. Kunkel says she was struck by the way that P&G was driving big transformation in the industry and changing the way that teams came together to do their work.
“In manufacturing at that time, we were moving away from purely supervisory-type managers and toward leader-coach roles—accountable for both the results of our operation and the development of our people,” Kunkel recalls. “I experienced firsthand how the advancement of capability and leadership drove business results and outcomes. The strong connection between the two ultimately guided my career into human resources and onto Whirlpool Corporation, which also prioritized the development of its leaders at all levels of the company.”
In May 2017, when Kunkel had the opportunity to be CHRO for Vail Resorts, she was thrilled to find that the company shared her passion for leadership development.
“At Vail Resorts, leadership development isn’t just a way to increase organizational effectiveness, it’s a cornerstone of the company’s culture,” she says. “The company’s success has been rooted in simultaneously delivering on the needs of today with a continuous eye on the future, so developing our leaders is how we’re able to continuously innovate and lead the industry.”
As CHRO, Kunkel oversees a series of leadership programs designed to develop leaders across the company, whether you’re a seasonal lift operator or a C-suite executive.
“We emphasize that everyemployee is a leader—it doesn’t matter what level or part of the organization they’re in,” Kunkel stresses. “We have several leadership programs in place that start with something as simple as ‘Basecamp,’ a one-day program aimed at understanding our leadership competencies, to our most intensive experiential program, “Camp III,” where leaders spend twelve dedicated days over seven months exploring their own leadership effectiveness and personal development.”
Adding nineteen resorts to its portfolio in just the last year, scaling leadership development is a key focus for Kunkel and the entire leadership team at Vail Resorts.
“A big part of our business model is the continued expansion of our network, which means we need to be able to quickly integrate our new employees into our culture to ensure our guests can consistently have an Experience of a Lifetime no matter which resort they visit,” Kunkel explains. “One way we do this is through our annual Leadership Summit—where we bring our top eight hundred leaders from around the world to Keystone for three days and focus solely on leadership alignment and development. These leaders come from mountain operations, human resources, marketing, etc.—ensuring that our leadership culture is fully present within every corner of our business.”
Vail Resorts’ commitment to leadership development is just one way the company stands out as a leader within the industry. Two years ago, Vail Resorts announced an initiative focused on preserving and protecting the great outdoors: Commitment to Zero. This sustainability effort commits to achieving a zero net operating footprint by 2030 through zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill, and a zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. The company has made significant progress to date, investing in a large-scale wind energy agreement and diverting over eleven million pounds of waste from landfill across its resorts just this last year.
“Our passion for the mountains comes with a responsibility to preserving the environment and the communities in which we live, work and play,” Kunkel says. “Commitment to Zero is so important to our employees and we’re constantly inspired by the grassroots ideas that come to life across our resorts – it’s truly both a top-down and bottom-up initiative.”
Commitment to Zero is one of the key elements of EpicPromise, Vail Resorts’ corporate responsibility platform. In addition to sustainability and conservation, EpicPromise also encompasses the company’s community giving initiative and the employee foundation, which provides educational grants and financial support to employees in need.
“Our employees are our most important asset,” Kunkel says. “Supporting them and investing in their development is key to our continued success.”
Advancing female leaders across all parts of Vail Resorts is a priority for the company. Lynanne Kunkel says that includes championing change across mountain operations, a historically male-dominated sector within the ski industry.
“We are proud to have women running major resorts, and in critical senior leadership roles, in every region we operate around the world. In addition, more than 40 percent of our board seats and a third of our executive committee members are women,” says Kunkel, a mom of five and sponsor of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
This past year, on International Women’s Day, Vail Resorts launched a new enterprise-wide inclusion platform, POWDER, which stands for Providing Opportunity for Women through Diversity, Equality, and Respect. As a result of its ongoing gender diversity and inclusion efforts, the company was namedone of “America’s Best Employers for Women” by Forbes.