Ben Rifkin, president, Denver Cutthroats
After growing up as an accomplished athlete and then a member of the Dartmouth College alpine ski team, Ben Rifkin was trying to find a career that would meld his love of skiing and writing. That led him to an internship at Ski Magazine. After a couple other stops, Rifkin was back with Bonnier Corp.’s Ski and Skiing businesses on the sales side before working his way up to publisher. He would then move on to run marketing and operations for the USA Pro Challenge cycling race. In his latest career adventure, he recently was named president of the fledgling Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League. Rifkin spoke with staff writer Brandon McClung.
Photo by: DENVER CUTTHROATS
■ New title: President, Denver Cutthroats
■ Previous title: Senior vice president, marketing and operations, USA Pro Challenge
■ First job: Counselor at Bates College All Sports Camp
■ Education: B.A., creative writing, Dartmouth College (2000)
■ Resides: Denver, with wife Jamie, son Dylan and daughter Sadie
■ Grew up: Greene, Maine
■ Executive most admired: Samuel Palmisano, former president and chief executive officer, IBM
■ Brand most admired: Nature Valley
■ Favorite vacation spot: Jackson Hole, Wyo.
■ Last book read: “Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut
■ Last movie seen: “Wreck-It Ralph”
■ Favorite movie: “Bull Durham”
■ Favorite musician/band: OutKast
■ What will be the biggest challenge in your new position?
As just a 1-year-old franchise, our biggest challenge will be reinforcing our value propositions to the public, our community and corporate partners within the Denver market. Our customers really have a lot of choices for attending sports and family-oriented entertainment.
■ What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
Leaving the media industry as publisher of Ski and Skiing and then jumping into the sports and entertainment world with the Pro Challenge. Skiing has always been my passion … but I would also say the challenges of learning new industries and building new relationships is even more rewarding.
■ What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
Working my way up from being the intern at Ski to the publisher of Ski and Skiing. I got to see a lot of different aspects of the business that taught me a lot about humility, employee growth and how to foster it, succession planning, and then asking for responsibility and recovering quickly from mistakes. I try to build all of that into my leadership now.
■ What is your biggest professional disappointment?
I haven’t faced too many disappointments. So I’d say one recently was that I was in a charity event sponsored by Vail Resorts, and I won the ski race. But at the same time, I lost to Lindsey Vonn by two seconds (based on NASTAR rankings). I really thought I was faster than that.
■ What is one story you are continuing to watch in the sports world today?
I always keep my eye on the Olympics. …There is just so much that goes into the Olympics, so much energy, financing, thought equity, and I think there are opportunities for everyone to learn from that.
■ What is the one element you would like to see changed about the sports industry?
I would really like to see the integrity to sports become more important to everyone involved, from players to coaches to owners to corporate partners. … So many people, both kids and adults, look to professional sports for aspiration and inspiration, and it is really up to us within the industry to take responsibility for perceptions that we create.