Like the Thoroughbreds racing on his tracks, Chris Kay is driven. As CEO of the New York Racing Association (NYRA), the Purchase, NY, resident oversees four parks, including the Saratoga Race Course, and one of the most storied horse races on the U.S. circuit today, the Belmont Stakes. Taking the reins in 2012, Kay has been charged with transforming the experience for customers, both loyal and new, steering NYRA to a profit in 2014—its first in 13 years. The former COO of Toys “R” Us and The Trust for Public Land attributes his success less to strategy and more to earning the trust of others.
What are your rules for success?
You need to have a real thirst for learning new things—that my dad installed in me. You need to have a real commitment to serve others, and to help them solve their problems or realize their dreams—something my mother instilled in me. And you have to have a high degree of integrity. To earn the trust of others is integral. You can’t do it alone. It’s a team effort, and you have to have others believe in you.
What’s the best business advice you’ve
When I was still practicing law I went to a golf event with a friend who was president of Universal Studios Theme Parks. I watched him analyze every little thing being done. I realized then how important it was to [pay attention to] every little detail. You have to think strategically, but that doesn’t mean anything if you are not operating effectively and executing properly.
What is unique about this area for horse racing—and for NYRA?
If you look at all the horse races we run, it represents only five percent of all races in America. But the amount of money bet on our races is almost 10.5 percent of all money bet in America. Studies from back in 2012 show that the horse racing industry in New York is responsible for $2.1 billion of annual economic impact and 17,000 jobs. We at the NYRA are clearly the largest player and the cornerstone of that industry.
What lesson did you learn the hard way?
Never think you’re as great as you might think you are. You have to constantly de- liver at the top of your game each and every day, and don’t assume for a moment that someone will say, as a result of that day, “Great work.” You have to earn it every day.