Business mogul to deliver E-Day address

George Gillett, Jr.
George Gillett, Jr.

Phil Castle, The Business Times

A Colorado business mogul who’s bought and sold over the course of his career such varied ventures as professional sports franchises, meat processing companies and ski resorts will share his experiences during an upcoming event celebrating entrepreneurship.

George Gillett Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of Booth Creek Management,  is
scheduled to deliver the keynote address at Colorado Mesa University Entrepreneurship Day luncheons scheduled for April 27 in Grand Junction and April 28 in
Montrose. The events serve as fund-raisers for scholarships for business students at CMU.

The Entrepreneurship Day luncheon in Grand Junction also will include the finals of a competition in which CMU students will pitch their ideas for new products and services.

In addition, the annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award will be presented to a local entrepreneur who’s started or expanded a venture, contributed to economic development and exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Liz Meyer, chief executive officer of the CMU Foundation, said the Grand Junction luncheon typically sells out with more than 500 people in attendance, making it one of the largest annual gatherings of business and community leaders in the Grand Valley.

Gillett’s presentation will continue a tradition of bringing in well-known entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurship Day. Past speakers have included John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Communications; Hap Klopp, founder of North Face; and Jerry Greenfield, co-counder of Ben & Jerry’s.

Gillett, who lives in Vail, has visited CMU before and interacted with students. Meyer said she expects Gillett to deliver an inspiring presentation at the Entrepreneurship Day luncheons based on his varied business ventures. “He has done all kinds of things.”

Gillett was born in Wisconsin and graduated in 1961 from Domincan College in Racine. He worked as a regional sales manager with Crown Zellerbach, a paper and packaging manufacturer, before moving into marketing and management consulting with McKinsey & Co.

In 1966, Gillett made his first foray into professional sports as business manager and part owner of the Miami Dolphins National Football League franchise. Gillette subsequently purchased the Harlem Globetrotters and reinvigorated the basketball team with a marketing effort that included a popular cartoon series on television. Gillette went to purchase an 80 percent share in the Montreal Canadiens National Hockey League team and their arena, Molson Centre, as well as controlling interest in an automotive racing team and a share of a professional soccer team in England.

Gillett’s diversified business holdings also have included over the years the Packerland meat packing company and a string of radio and television stations. At one time, Gillett was the largest private owner of television stations in the country.

In 1985, Gillett became president of Vail Associates, which at the time owned the Vail ski resort. Three years later, he purchased the resort.

Gillett’s business empire suffered a setback when interest rates on bond financing increased and he defaulted on almost $1 billion in debt. In 1991, he also declared personal bankruptcy.

Gillett rebounded, though, in buying back Packerland and in 1996 founding Booth Creek Ski Holdings and acquiring small and medium-sized ski resorts. Within four years, Booth Creek became one of the largest ski resort operators in the country.

Gillett also extended his holdings in the meat business by building Corporate Brand Foods America, which was purchased by Iowa Beef Processors in 1999. Gillett subsequently joined in the purchase of Swift & Co. in 2000 for $1.4 billion. JBS S.A., the largest beef processor in South America, acquired Swift in 2007 for $1.5 billion to become the largest beef processor in the world.

Entrepreneurship Day luncheons are set for noon April 27 at the Colorado Mesa University Center in Grand Junction and noon April 28 at the Bridges Golf Club in Montrose. Tickets to the Grand Junction event sell for $50 for individuals and $500 for a table of eight. Major sponsorships sell for $2,500. Tickets to the Montrose event sell for $40 for individuals and $400 for a table for eight. Major sponsorships sell for $1,000. For tickets or more information, visit the Web site located at www.supportingcmu.com/EDay.