In New Role As Keeneland President, Safety Will Be A Central Focus For Arvin

The guard at Keeneland will soon be changing, as Shannon Bishop Arvin has been named as the successor to retiring Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason. Arvin will serve as President-elect starting Sept. 1 and will take over the role officially on Jan. 1. Arvin comes to the position with a long history with the racetrack, having served as corporate counsel to Keeneland since 2008 and secretary and advisory member of the board of directors since 2015. Arvin is a partner at Stoll Keenon Ogden and has served on numerous industry boards, including the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, secretary of Horse Country, Director of Kentucky Bank and Director of The Lexington School; is Chair and Director of Bluegrass Care Navigators (formerly Hospice of the Bluegrass) and is Past President of the Thoroughbred Club of America.

Arvin will also be carrying on family tradition — her grandfather W.T. “Bish” Bishop was the track’s first general manager, and her father grew up in an apartment next to the track’s clubhouse. She is the first woman in Keeneland’s history to serve as its president.

We sat down with Arvin to find out more about her outlook on her new role. 

PR: Was your new position as president of Keeneland something you’ve always aspired to, or did it just sort of evolve organically?

SA: I have been working as a lawyer in the Thoroughbred industry for 18 years and have been lucky to work with a lot of great clients. My relationships at Keeneland have kept me close throughout my time there. I don’t know that I can say it was my aspiration, but it’s more of, ‘I wake up every day and do the best I can for this institution, for which I have so much passion.’ I couldn’t be more excited to have ended up in this spot.

You obviously have a long family tradition of working in racing, going back a couple of generations. What made you want to stay in the racing business yourself?

SA: My dad and I were very close, but it’s funny – I think he would have been just as happy if I’d been a school teacher or a chef as he was for me to be a lawyer and practice with him. He just wanted me to do the kind of work that made me happy. In fact, when I started practicing law, he suggested estate planning, because he knew I wanted a family at some point and that might be a nice area of the law where you could be a little more flexible. I did in fact pursue that as well, but the relationships just kept taking me back to the equine business. That’s such a relationship business. My friends have been my clients, and my clients have been my friends, so my personal and professional worlds have always collided in such a way it has kept me really close to the industry.

Your grandfather was the first general manager of Keeneland; does the family association with Keeneland place a unique kind of pressure on you in this new role?

SA: I think it makes me excited more than anything. My dad was always careful not to apply that pressure to me. Of course I remember my grandfather, but I was pretty young when he passed away and it was before I recognized his professional contributions.

My dad was always careful to make sure I was doing what I was doing because I was passionate about it and it’s what I wanted to do. He passed away from cancer, which is a horrible illness, but one of the benefits of it is you have a little foresight and the ability to plan. So I have all these letters from my dad which I’ll keep forever, and one of them said, ‘If this is ever too much for you or not what you want to do, please don’t feel any pressure from me or anybody else to continue.’ That’s helped me a lot since 2008, to be sure I’m doing what I am because I feel confident about my contributions and happy.

Of course, you’re the first woman to have held this position. How do you feel about being the very first?

SA: You know, I have sat in a lot of boardrooms with a lot of men over the years and I don’t feel uncomfortable at all in that position. I feel like I haven’t let that get in my way, and I’ve been fortunate to work with people through the years who haven’t let it get in the way either. I think that leading for men or women is similar in that you set a vision, you have goals and strategies, you have a great team and you have to make tough calls.

It’s not lost on me and I hope it does let women know that if you just get up every day and keep after it and be persistent, anything is possible. I have two young daughters who are nine and ten, and that’s been a really fun part of this too, watching their minds work. When I told them I was taking this job they said, ‘Mom, you already work at Keeneland.’ But as time has gone on, I think it’s evolved, especially for my 10-year-old, that this is a big deal. And I’m excited about that.

What are your long and short term visions for what you want to do in this position?

SA: Short term, we have got to operate in a way that protects the health of the industry during a global pandemic and that means working as hard as we can and doing all things possible to have safe sales this fall, a safe race meet, a safe Breeders’ Cup. We need to protect the health of our athletes and our industry participants.

Keeneland is such a unique organization because we’ve had the same mission for 80 plus years. We’re a model racetrack, a leading auction company, and we’re guided by the best of the traditions of our sport. I think a really important part of that that will be a challenge is maintaining the best of those traditions and innovating in a way that enhances safety and integrity and attracts new owners and fans.

What areas of racing and sales do you think Keeneland has done really well to this point, and where are the areas of improvement you’re hoping to work on?

SA: On the racing side, it’s hard to think of anything more important than safety and integrity. I think Keeneland has done a great job of being a leader on that front, as a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, and even before that. We put so many resources into making this the absolute safest track that it can be. Certainly, as you’ve seen, we haven’t done that perfectly. There’s room for improvement on that and we’ll continue to do that.

Sales, there are some silver linings of the pandemic and one of them is speeding up some projects that we already had underway, in terms of permitting online bidding promoting digital sales. We’ve got areas of bidding for those who are physically on the grounds so they can be socially distanced and safe. We’ve working on that innovation in the sales arena.

Hospitality has been such an important part of the way Keeneland has advanced in the last few years and I think that’s going to look different, too. We’re not going to be having big parties for a while, we’re going to be having smaller, more intimate get-togethers and find creative ways to let people feel a part of what we have here and be energized by that.

Do you have a vision for how to attract new owners once we get beyond COVID?

SA: I think it’s conducting our sport well, and that goes back to innovation. I don’t have the magic answer that’s going to attract new fans, but I think we can do things that will make our sport more attractive to the general public – have broadcasting conducted in a way that shows the inside of the business. Horse Country, I think, has been a great advancement in terms of letting people see the horse at an early age. There’s no animal more majestic than the horse and I’m sure you feel the same way. Working to find ways to connect owners better with the horse. If you’re in Ireland and you’re sitting in a pub, it feels like everyone owns the leg of a racehorse. That’s a great way to expose people to the excitement of our sport, let them catch the fever and have the fun of owning a leg or an ear of a horse in a way that shows them it’s not just for the uber wealthy. There are all kinds of ways to be involved in our sport and I think we have to do a better job of bringing people to that.

Even if they just own a whisker and aren’t in a position to be an owner for a period of time, we still want them to be fans.

How do you plan to address the ethical environment at sales? We hear sometimes about kickbacks and other arrangements that take place at the sales grounds; how do you envision addressing those kinds of things?

SA: I think it’s education. I think sometimes in the horse business we’ve seen situations where really successful people come into the business and they don’t necessarily do the same due diligence in the horse business that they have in their other businesses. I think it’s education and getting to know the people they’re doing business with and making sure they’re comfortable with them. I’m a lawyer by training and I know horsemen and horsewomen tend not to like agreements but here are ways you can have agreements that are short and concise and don’t bog down a transaction and still protects people.

Diversity has been a big topic in racing, and something Keeneland has committed itself to improving. Do you have an idea of how you will go about improving the diversity of your company?

SA: I think not just our industry, but our world, and particularly our country, are struggling right now to find a better balance. I think a silver lining in some of the strife we’re seeing is that people are more cognizant and working harder to achieve better diversity. We all have work to do; our company has work to do, our community has work to do, and we’re committed to doing that. And that’s the first step.

We’re going to do an assessment of where we are and where we need to go. I’ve been involved in hiring for a number of years too, and I’ve learned that to improve diversity it’s not enough to say, ‘Well the candidates aren’t there.’ You need to do outreach and work with the community to find diverse candidates, and work to attract diverse candidates to our company and to our industry. We’re definitely committed to doing that.

The post In New Role As Keeneland President, Safety Will Be A Central Focus For Arvin appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

DYFD Winter - 300x90

Comments are closed.