Ken Leavitt, who has been in the spot light recently for his proposed team building camp on Pheeny's Island, sent Norton Patch a list of questions and answers about his past. The following is the exact copy of what he sent, and has not been edited in any way.
What Happened at Powder Ridge in CT?
We developed a highly viable plan to tightly integrate water park and ski area technology and features, using the topography, and sharing pump systems, lifts, buildings and other infrastructure. The expanded business with summer features was the only way to justify the massive investment needed to renovate a 40 year old ski area (at the time). This was before the word “sustainability” became popular. We purchased the ski area in good faith after the owner died, in order to keep the business going, thinking our summer permits were right around the corner. The Wetland Commission approved our plans and even indicated that we were improving the wetlands (eliminating severe erosion problems). We also took out numerous underground fuel tanks and cleaned up other environmental problems from the historical operation. We would go on to run the ski area for not 1, 2, 3, 5, 7… but ten seasons. We developed southern New England’s first tubing area - a big success - but initially hated by the skiers. We also opened a summer day camp which gained national accreditation. We hosted exclusively the CT Winter Special Olympics. Each year the infrastructure got older although we renovated buildings, and put in a new lift for safety purposes. A new lift today is $1.3 million. Up north and out west ski areas have stayed updated via real estate development and that was not a real option here. We always knew that without a multi season operation it was not viable. Without that, we eventually closed. The rub came when a property appraised at $6.5 million was then held back from realizing many options – none of them involving building houses - by certain players. The Town had the chance to purchase the development rights for fair market value which would have allowed the multi-season activities and the continuation of the ski area, but at the last minute the plan was vetoed, and now, to date, it has cost the town much more money and the place is closed, vandalized, with no jobs or tax revenues. There are a lot of big talkers and negative people who criticize me today who have never run anything, or even tried, but no one else stepped up and put their lives on the line and met those $1 million dollar payrolls year after year (300 employees). It was an invaluable experience, painful, but with many lessons.
What Happened at CGX Corp?
My brother and I started CGX in 1982, in Acton, MA, with a new computer aided design workstation product. We bootstrapped for many months before raising venture capital. I was the President & CEO. Miraculously, we got our products developed on time and within budget, they actually worked, we made sales, we actually hit our numbers, and grew from nothing to $14M in annual sales within 3 years of funding. GE was our main investor, and the State of MA also invested. We sold many workstations to General Motors, Daimler, Audi, Northrop, Lockheed, Grumman, etc. and in Europe, Brazil, and Japan. The company subsequently got acquired.
There were other early stage companies, including SoundWalls, where we turned Apple Computer’s Board Room into a state of the art surround sound theater.
My first “venture” was a rock band in Rio de Janeiro when I attended the American School there and we got the house contract for the biggest entertainment venue in the city, the Canecao (still the main venue today), played in the Copacabana Palace Gold Room, on TV, and also opened for Herman’s Hermits, the number one group in the world at that time. We were kind of considered our school “band”. The school even held all-school assemblies twice during the school day where we played. We were playing all the nightclubs in Rio on Friday and Saturday nights and surfing after school everyday on Ipanema Beach. Brazil is incredible. It was “Heaven on Earth”. After that, the rest was…..well…downhill.
Actually, the key to a successful start-up – of any kind - is the teambuilding that takes place, leading us up to…….the Norton Teambuilding Camp.
What Was Your Biggest Failure?
I failed to live up to my mother’s expectations in at least one area. I proposed to my wife at the ridiculous age of 18, and we got married shortly after I turned 19. I was attending Dartmouth College in NH. At the wedding, my mother in law overheard my mother telling my aunt that there was no way it would last. That was 43 years ago and we are still married, with 3 grown children.