Getting to Know: Bob Wheaton
Long a highly regarded force in the Utah hospitality and ski industries, Bob Wheaton is currently transitioning from his role as President and Chief Operating Officer of Deer Valley Resort, which he joined in 1980, to that of an advisor for Alterra Mountain Company, which owns the resort. A ski instructor since the age of 15, Wheaton says the transition does not mean he will have more time to ski, because, “In season, I have always skied every day anyway.”
Q: Which job requires more understanding of human nature: ski instructor or Chief Operating Officer?
A: I don’t know if there is a big difference, except for the scope. A ski instructor needs to assess the athletic, verbal, and non-verbal attributes of one person who is looking for guidance. A COO basically needs to do the same, except, as is the case at Deer Valley, for a staff of 3,000.
Q: What skill would you most like to possess that you don’t currently?
A: If I could have a do-over, I would focus on being able to speak a couple of different languages. When I’m communicating with international guests and people I meet when traveling in connection with the Ski World Cup, or Winter Olympics, or World Ski Championships, I wish I could speak with them in their home language. I have, however, gotten pretty good at hand signals.
Q: What skill that you do have would most surprise your friends?
A: My friends know me pretty well, so few surprises there. But professionally every once in a while I get raised eyebrows from engineers who think I’m a ski bum and COO who couldn’t possibly know anything about electrical, structural, and mechanical design, which I have a background in.
Q: Do you feel most accomplished on the slopes or sitting behind your desk?
A: I kind of have two offices. One is maybe 8 by 12 feet with a chair for me and two more for visitors. The other one is all of the outdoors. That’s where I talk with guests, so much so that I almost feel sorry for them. When I’m skiing alone I always go through the singles line, not the authorized one, which puts me on the chair with guests for at least six minutes and allows me to ask a thousand questions.
Q: Who in Park City do you think of as a superhero?
A: If I had to pick one it would be the late Bob Wells. He was our VP of Real Estate and Resort Planning at Deer Valley, and had an influence on just about everything that happened in Park City. He never called attention to himself. But once he’d identified a situation, he’d give just a slight nod of his head, and you could walk away knowing that things would start happening.
Q: Of your four decades of memories in Park City, which one has remained most vivid?
A: There are two that stand out. One is the first time I met Deer Valley founders Edgar and Polly Stern, back in 1980. That left an indelible stamp on me. We were doing a walkthrough of the lodges: all the bigwigs on the project, and me, the low man on the totem pole, carrying a clipboard and making notes. And on every question Edgar and Polly would ask me what I thought. What I thought was, “Holy smokes, they really do care what I think.” The other was working with auto racing legend and Deer Valley partner Roger Penske. He believed in listening to the people who turned the wrenches and got the grease on their hands.
Q: If you could tweet only 140-characters of advice to Todd Shallan, your successor, what would they be?
A: Be kind. Be humble. Understand the guests and the staff, not necessarily in that order.
Q: What is your greatest extravagance?
A. I have two. The time my family and I spend on our ranch, and my love of fast cars, tractors, and pretty much anything else with a motor in it. Currently, among the vehicles you can find in my shop are seven tractors, a 1930 Model A pickup truck, and a rare 1970 ZR1 Corvette.
Q: What is the most enduring legacy the 2002 Winter Olympics left in Park City?
A: A sense of community, displayed in the way everybody came together to welcome the world. The level of camaraderie and municipal pride was incredible, and it has endured over the years.
Q: Family aside, what in your life has given you the most pleasure?
A: The honor of working side-by-side with the people on staff here at Deer Valley, and to get to know guests as I have.