MBQ CEO of the Year Awards, 200-1000 Employees
Troy Keeping, MBQ CEO Award Winner, 200-1000 Employees
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MBQ CEO of the Year Winner, 200-1000 Employees:
Troy Keeping, Southland Park Gaming & Racing
Don’t tell Troy Keeping that something can’t be done. He’s the head of Southland Park Gaming & Racing, and getting there wasn’t a coincidence. He built his career brick by brick, decisively picking up the right skills to be a leader in his industry during his 25-year career.
He’s held close to two pieces of advice in that time. There’s Henry Ford’s mantra: “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” The other came years ago from an industry mentor. At the time, Keeping and his wife had a new baby at home and he worried he might walk out of the office without a job. But his boss asked him: “Why are you worried about something that hasn’t happened yet?”
“Those philosophies have defined me. I’m a can-do guy,” Keep- ing says. “Don’t tell me it can’t be done.” Exhibit A in Keeping’s case is the turnaround of Southland Park. When he helmed the facility in 2007, it was perceived as “nothing more than an old, run-down dog track,” he says. The games and facility were out of date and Southland lost $7 million in Keeping’s first year — problems he inherited.
New games were installed. The building was fixed. By late 2010, Southland had won its share of the Mid-South market against Tunica. Profits hit the bottom line for the first time and cash flow started moving in the positive direction.
Keeping lives in Marion, Arkansas, and has been involved there and in West Memphis to help his community. But lately he’s seeing a larger picture and getting involved on “the other side of the river.”
“Troy Keeping’s participation in the chamber’s Chairman Circle points out the interdependence of Memphis and the region,” says Dexter Muller, interim president of the Greater Memphis Chamber.
“He and Southland Park are key assets to our region.”
Floodwaters closed Tunica’s casinos in 2011. But Southland was dry, and Keeping and his staff had to seize the moment. He ordered 150 new games and had them installed in two weeks. But even with 700 games, Southland couldn’t accommodate all the players in a market that supported about 14,000 games before the flood.
He wanted them to come but not have a bad time waiting for the buffet or to play games. He took to the media and asked players to stay away from Southland during peak times. The first weekend after the flood, the casino saw about 25,000 guests, and many of them were likely new to Southland.
“The beauty was that a lot of them said, ‘Wow, you really did [improve the facility]’,” Keeping says. “The rest is kind of history.”
Southland added 70 new employees in 2012 with an $11 million expansion. Plans now include a massive $37.4 million expansion to the facility this year that will bring a 41,000-square-foot building, about 500 new gaming machines, and a 150-seat restaurant and bar..
But Keeping isn’t done climbing, and he’ll follow his own mantra to get to the top — one that might become good advice someday for an upstart like he used to be.
“Your thoughts and beliefs are what drive your actions and the results that ultimately get you success,” he says. “We live and die by our thoughts.”