In his own words: Dave Zornes, CEO of Red Lion Hotel
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about the Red Lion Hotel and your position.
Dave Zornes: The Red Lion is the largest hotel and casino in Elko. It has 220 rooms, 350 slot machines and nine table games. The hotel opened in 1982, and the first 153 rooms were renovated in 2007. We currently are renovating the last 69 rooms. The casino and main restaurant, Aspen’s, were renovated in 2010. We really wanted to update the whole property and give it a new feel.
I was here in 1983 for five years as general manager. I came back to the Red Lion in 1990-91 for two years after working for IGT in the Caribbean for two years. I basically act as general manager of the Red Lion. We don’t have many layers of management so I am pretty much hands on with all the departments. I also oversee the other Play Elko Properties, and those managers answer to me.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Zornes: I started with the Red Lion Hotel chain in 1980 in Wenatchee, Wash. My first job as a general manager was in Pendleton, Ore., and I got transferred from Pendleton to Elko as a general manager.
NNBW: What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?
Zornes: We have to take care of our customers, but our employees have to come first for them to give our customers the experience they are looking for. It takes happy, well-trained employees to give good customer service.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Zornes: I grew up in the rooms, food and beverage business my dad had a restaurant and motel, and I was always around the business. I ran my own restaurant in Ephrata, Wash. when I was 21.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?
Zornes: I can’t think of anything I would enjoy doing more than running a casino.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Zornes: I am a golf addict and a homebody, so it’s either the gym, work or the golf course.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Zornes: Don’t be afraid to make your boss look good. If you make your bosses look good, they will end up knowing you are a good employee.
NNBW: Tell us about the most fun you have had on the job.
Zornes: It has to be when I was in Elko back in the 80s and started the Casino Express Airline Program and bought our first jet. It’s kind of ironic, though, that I started it and came back in Jan. 1, 2006, and ended the program.
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
Zornes: I would have definitely put my family first. The restaurant industry is a tough industry with long hours, and I wish I would have been there more for my family.
NNBW: What has been your biggest professional disappointment?
Zornes: When I was in Colorado we started a casino with a private owner. We sold it to a big Las Vegas entity, and seeing it go from private ownership was a big change. I really learned an awful lot from the Las Vegas owners, but it was so different for me to work with a private corporation versus a hands-on owner. The personal, small-owner environment really changed.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you?
Zornes: No. I wouldn’t. I have to keep busy doing something but my golf game would get better!
NNBW: What’s the last concert or sporting event you attended?
Zornes: A Denver Broncos game when I left Colorado in 2005.
NNBW: Where’s your perfect vacation spot?
Zornes: Any place that is warm and has a beach. Mexico, Hawaii and the Caribbean.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northeastern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Zornes: I have always lived in a small town, and I like the small town environment. I also really like the guys that I work for.
Dave Zornes can be reached at 775-738-2111.
Know someone whose perspective you want to share with NNBW readers? Send contact information to: email@example.com or call (775) 850-2146.
Name: Dave Zornes, chief executive officer of Red Lion Hotel and Casino in Elko and Play Elko Properties
Number of years in this job? Six
Years in this profession? I started working in gaming in Elko in 1983
Last book read? “First, Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman
Favorite flick? “Grumpy Old Men”
What’s on your iPod? Don’t have one I don’t listen to music except when I am driving
Spouse, kids or pets? Two boys, two girls, no pets
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.