07/19/2006 12:00AM

Robert Evans new CEO


Churchill Downs Inc. has named Robert L. Evans, a former senior executive at a variety of manufacturing and private-equity companies, to replace Tom Meeker as its president and chief executive, the company announced Wednesday.

Evans, 53, who is also the owner of a 260-acre commercial breeding operation called Tenlane Farm near Versailles, Ky., will start in his new positions on Aug. 14. Meeker will resign on that date, but continue to serve in an "advisory role" through the end of his employment contract in March of 2007, Churchill said.

Evans, a native of Cincinnati, was most recently the co-founder and managing director of the Symphony Technology Group, a private equity firm based in Palo Alto, Calif., after holding senior positions at Andersen Consulting, Mazda Motor of America, and Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment company.

Meeker, 62, has been the president and chief executive officer of Churchill Downs for the past 22 years. A former Marine and corporate counsel to Churchill, Meeker took the reins in 1984 and guided the company through the simulcast era in the 1990's and the company's acquisition phase over the past 10 years. In 2004, Meeker informed Churchill's board that he intended to retire when his three-year-employment contract expired in 2007, and the company began a search to replace him early this year.

Churchill, which is considered a leader in the racing industry, owns Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Arlington Park near Chicago, Calder Race Course in Miami, Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Hoosier Park in Indiana, and Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky. Earlier this week, the company announced that it had reached a deal to sell Ellis, a track that was consistently losing money, to a Louisville businessman.

Evans declined to comment on many specific aspects of his leadership of Churchill during a conference call on Wednesday, but he did say that Churchill would focus on developing technologies that would allow the company to "reach out" to new customers and improve services to existing customers.

"I'm pretty confident technology will play a leading role in everything we do," Evans said.

Evans has owned and bred Thoroughbred for 20 years. His brother, Tom Evans, runs Trackside Farm near Versailles, Ky., a commercial breeding operation, and he also runs Robert Evans's operation at Tenlane.

Evans said that while he was managing partner at Symphony Technologies, the company sought to invest in new software and technology companies. He left the company at the end of 2004 and moved to Kentucky.

"I hadn't made a conscious decision to retire," Evans said. "I was hoping something interesting would come along, and it did."

Churchill has been in something of a transition phase for the past two years. In addition to unloading Ellis Park, Churchill sold Hollywood Park in Southern California for $260 million to a real-estate development company last year. The transaction allowed Churchill essentially to eliminate its debt, and gave the company the opportunity to reinvest in Hollywood if slot machines were legalized.

Over the past several years, Churchill has been aggressively seeking slot machines and casino games at its tracks, but the company has had little success. A local referendum to legalize slots at Calder failed last year, and efforts this year to get slots approved in Kentucky were ultimately unsuccessful, although some progress was made.

Churchill is also one of 16 companies that notified a state committee in New York last month that it intended to issue a response to the committee's request for proposals to operate the franchise held by the New York Racing Association. Under the request for proposals, the winning bidder would be allowed to operate Aqueduct, Belmont, and Saratoga Racecourse, along with a casino at Aqueduct, for the next 20 years.

Though he declined to comment on specifics about Churchill's strategies, Evans said he hopes to keep Churchill at the forefront of the racing industry.

"Clearly I think Churchill is a leader in the racing industry, and we hope to continue that leadership role," Evans said.