SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40

Sean Henry


By Don Muret
Staff writer

Sean Henry
Age: 38
Titles: Chief operating officer and executive vice president
Company: Palace Sports and Entertainment (St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa)
Education: B.A., history and economics, State University of New York-Stony Brook
Family: Wife, Tracey; two sons, Steven and Matthew; a daughter, Amy.
Career: Concession manager for Volume Services at the Palace of Auburn Hills and Pine Knob Music Theatre, 1990; assistant general manager, August 1991-October 1992; general manager, October 1992-July 1995; general manager, Volume Services, Trans World Dome, St. Louis, August 1995-January 1997; project manager, Volume Services at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, Landover, Md., January 1997-August 1997; co-owner of Unity Motion, August 1997-April 1999; executive VP for administration, Palace Sports and Entertainment in Tampa from April 1999-August 2000; named COO in August 2000.
Last vacation: Palm Island
Last book read: “Suburban Diva: From the Real Side of the Picket Fence” by my wife Tracey
Pet peeve: Aggressive Little League parents, weak handshakes and PowerPoint presentations
Greatest disappointment: Unity Motion going out of business
Business advice: Work for the logo on your business card, not your name. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm and do things no one else ever has.

Sean Henry remembers the day he started working in the sports and entertainment industry, March 23, 1982. Henry was only 14 years old and Volume Services, the concessionaire now known as Centerplate, hired him to work in the New York State Parks system.

Henry, Palace Sports and Entertainment's chief operating officer and executive vice president at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, started out doing "50 different things" such as busing tables, washing dishes and operating the grill at Robert Moses State Park and Jones Beach on Long Island.

Henry worked his way through college at the state park facilities, attending three State University of New York branches to earn a degree in history and economics. He spent one final summer as catering manager at Jones Beach before moving to Detroit in 1990 and entering the food service firm's management trainee program at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson had purchased Pine Knob Music Theatre, now DTE Energy Music Theatre, and the organization was in the midst of renovating the outdoor music venue. Henry was named concession manager and got immersed in that project for Volume Services.

"I was young enough and dumb enough," Henry said. "But it turned out to be a smart move because I got further entrenched with the Palace."

After stops in St. Louis and Washington to jump-start food operations for the Rams and Redskins at their new NFL facilities, Henry left Volume Services in August 1997 to become VP of sales for Unity Motion, a new company that a few Palace Sports employees started that was ahead of the curve in selling high-definition television content and equipment. Too far ahead, it turned out.

"We had the first national live sports event televised in HD, a Portland Trail Blazers game … but it was a little too early for that product," Henry said.

Palace Sports and Entertainment acquired the Tampa Bay Lightning and the leasehold rights to what was then called the Ice Palace in 1999, and Henry got back in the sports facility business, starting the long road toward transforming an underperforming building and franchise into an award-winning arena and Stanley Cup championship team.

Henry's energetic nature, his creative yet analytical mind and a strong work ethic made him a natural to work directly for Palace Sports, an organization that set the standard for teams taking control of facility operations, said Larry Hatch, former Centerplate CEO and Henry's old boss. "It was a perfect fit," Hatch said.

The organization invested many millions of dollars to renovate what was at the time only a three-year-old arena. "We turned the business around dramatically and voided [almost] every [service] contract," Henry said. "We like our hands on everything."

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