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

COMPANY: Southland Park Gaming & Racing
ADDRESS: 1550 N. Ingram Boulevard, West Memphis, AR 72301
PHONE: (870) 735-3670
SERVICES PROVIDED: Gaming, greyhound racing, dining, and enter- tainment.
EDUCATION: B.A. (Honors), Economics, University of Nevada, Reno
WORK BACKGROUND: More than 25 years in gaming industry
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Southland Park had an economic impact in 2013 of $104 million. In 2012, park saw its biggest expansion to date, with $11 million renovation. In January 2014, announced a $37.4 million project to expand gaming and hospitality amenities.
PROFESSIONAL AWARDS: Tourism Special Achievement Award 2013, Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism. Finalist for Tourism Person of the Year 2012, Delta ByWays. Large Business of the Year, West Memphis Chamber of Commerce. Paul Harris Fellow, Rotary International. Received Stars of the Industry Silver Cup Award, Arkansas Hospitality Association.
PROFESSIONAL CERTIFICATIONS/MEMBERSHIPS: Member, Greater Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle. 2nd Vice President, Arkansas Travel Council. Vice Chair, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Mid-South Community College Foundation. Former Trustee, Arkansas Teacher Housing Development Foundation. Former Chairman, Crittenden Regional Hospital Foundation. Commissioner, West Memphis Promotions and Advertising Commission. Former Board Member, Mid-South AIDS Fund. Former President, West Memphis Chamber. For- mer Vice President, Good Neighbor Love Center.
CIVIC RESPONSIBILITIES/CAUSES: In collaboration with Southland Park’s parent company, Delaware North Companies, has spearheaded a mulitmillion-dollar pledge to the Mid-South Community College to support the Jeremy M. Jacobs Hospitality Program, named after DNC’s chairman and CEO.
FAMILY/PERSONAL INFORMATION? With spouse, Maryann, has one daughter. Also has five dogs, including two blue greyhounds adopted from the Mid-South Greyhound Adoption Option.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD CEO? “In one word: Depth. A CEO has to surround him or herself with good people, have a clear vision, be a good communicator and leader. At its core, company culture is really the collection of individual behaviors, and it is the CEO’s job to align those behaviors of the workforce with the mission, vision, and values of the company.”

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.”


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