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Q&A: Richard Duchossois
Chairman of Arlington Park and The Duchossois Group, a privately held, family-owned company with holdings valued in excess of $2 billion dollars. Duchossois, 88, is the largest stockholder in Churchill Downs Inc., with which Arlington merged in 2000. This interview was conducted June 6.
Birthdate: Oct. 7, 1921, in Chicago, Ill.
Family: Married with four children, eight grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren
When did you first get involved in horse racing? "My youngest son, Bruce (60), was always in the hunters and jumpers, and Mom and Dad would stand and watch the kids go over the jumps. Somebody said, 'Why don't we get a syndicate together and buy a horse?' So I ended up with a horse. That was in the late 1960's.
"I never really intended to get into a racetrack ownership. After my wife died, in 1983, I was down in Kentucky, and I ran into Joe Joyce and Sheldon Robbins, and they were trying to put together a syndicate to buy the old Arlington Park. I told them I didn't want any part of it, but finally, I agreed that I'd take no more than 10 percent of the syndicate when they got all their money put together. Well, it ended up I had to buy the whole thing. Between 1983 [the year Duchossois purchased the track] and the time it burned down, in '85, I think I was at the track five times. I'm not a racetrack person."
What was your first business venture? "When I got back from the service, just before Christmas of '45, I started Jan. 2 working for my father-in-law, who had a little shop in Chicago Heights, where they sold second-hand and rebuilt freight car parts and did repair. We had 38 men at the time. It was basically out in a field. That was my first job -- and it's the same job I have now."
What exactly does the business consist of now? "We're in a lot of different things. We aren't in the railroad business anymore. I guess you'd call it access control, light control, electronic access. Do you have a garage door opener? We make about 80 percent of the garage door openers in the world. Do you ever watch the president? He's at the podium, and he's got two things beside him that he's reading from, they say AMX on the bottom of them? That's us. We make those types of controls.
"Our major plant is down in Mexico, and down there we have close to 5,000 people. We have plants in China - that we're closing down - Australia, New Zealand, and we're basically out of Europe because we're making here and shipping over there now. We're in Minnesota. You know the TV's mounted on walls? We make most of the brackets for them. We've got a plant in Kentucky. You know the sensors that make the lights go on when you go up a driveway? We're fairly large in that."
How much of CDI do you own? "I'm not sure right now. When we got Youbet.com, there were 2 million shares of stock that were part of the purchase price, so that would have diluted the stock. Prior to that we had around 27 percent. With Arlington's merger (with CDI in 2000) the agreement was we would have three seats on the board."
What is racing's greatest problem today? "Marketing and the lack of coordination of not having one central control. Every major sport has somewhat of a league that controls everything, and it has to have that to be successful. In racing, every state has its own racing board, different rules, different regulations. When you have something spread out like that, you necessarily have many individual tracks fighting for their own business.
"The casinos came along in Illinois - and wherever else they are in the country, too - and anywhere a riverboat came in, horse racing dropped anywhere from 38 to 42 percent. What we have to do is, we have to have a level playing field with the casinos. We have to get our act together on marketing our entire industry, not the individual tracks. The next thing that is going to come along − and economics is going to straighten that out − we have far too many racing dates and far too many inexpensive horses. We're not giving the major customer the quality product he should have. The biggest problem is getting organized. No one wants to give up control."
What will horse racing in this country look like in 10 years? "I don't know about 10 years. I'd be foolish to guess. I could guess a little closer, say, five years. In five years, I don't think there will be 25 real tracks left in America. I can count 17, but I'm saying around 25 because I don't know which states are going to get slot machines and that sort of stuff.
"I look at it as we will reinvent ourselves. We won't go out of the picture, but we will be smaller, stronger, and more profitable, and I think that's all going to happen within five years."
Will Arlington be one of the survivors? "I certainly hope so. I don't think we're going to close. No, we're a strong track, and we've got solid money behind us."
What kinds of hobbies and toys do you enjoy? "I really don't have any hobbies but work. I've really always worked. I'd say in my lifetime, if you throw in vacation, which I don't take too often, it's been six days a week, and I'd say the average working day would be 10 hours."
How did you become that sort of person? "I was in high school at a military academy, and that's a six-day week. I was at college for a year and a half before I got called into the service, and then that was six or seven days a week. Training was six days a week, and then combat [Duchossois served during World War II, in the European theater], that was seven days a week, and the hours, you don't count them. It's just been a way of life."
Have you ever been at the racetrack not wearing a suit? "Sure. On our off days, I don't always wear a necktie when there's no one really in the office. All my life I've worn a suit and a necktie. In high school and in college you wore sport coats and neckties. That was the dress code. In the military, after five o'clock, officers always wore a necktie. In combat, you didn't wear a necktie."
What's your favorite kind of food? "I'd say McDonald's. I'm a meat-and-potatoes type guy."