As the search for his successor continues, Churchill Downs Inc. president and chief executive officer Tom Meeker presided over his 22nd and final shareholders' meeting Thursday, painting a positive picture of the racetrack operating company's future while also accepting plaudits from fellow directors and company employees.
"Over the next several months there will be dramatic changes in this company under the leadership of a new person," Meeker said as he opened the meeting.
As the CDI executive search committee continues its work in choosing his successor, Meeker said he would like to see a new president and CEO who is a "proven leader with a sense of risk-taking who also understands technology and new products it will create."
Meeker reiterated observations he has made in recent months that the horse industry needs to change the business model under which it operates by obtaining more revenues from simulcasting ventures.
"We must restructure the economic model that currently exists in the United States as it relates to simulcasting," Meeker said.
He also cited CDI's expansion into European wagering markets, in conjunction with Magna Entertainment, as a positive move that will fuel industry growth.
As a result of these developments, the company will be in a position to take its simulcast signal "to the four corners of the world.
Richard Duchossois, CDI's largest shareholder, would not provide specifics of the search for Meeker's successor because he is not on the search committee. But he said he believed the company is on the right course to position itself for future growth.
As part of the Meeker sendoff, a video tribute recounting progress the company has made under Meeker and accolades from employees was played.
Following the video, an emotional CDI board chairman Carl Pollard said that Meeker credited his employees when things went well, but took responsibility for mistakes.
"Those of you who know Tom, know that when things go well, it's because of his troops," Pollard said. "When things go south, there's only one man standing."
Judging by the positive financial condition of the company as indicated by the 2005 financial results, Meeker could be taking a lot of credit.
"2005 was a remarkable year," Meeker said. "We have gotten ourselves into a position in which we are as strong financially as we have ever been. We are well-positioned to execute on various strategies both in the short-term and long-term."
Recounting the two hurricanes, one tornado, and an outbreak of equine herpesvirus at CDI-owned tracks during 2005 that impacted the company's business, Meeker said those negative developments were more than offset by the benefit from the sale of Hollywood Park in California and other corporate decisions that led to an overall good year financially.
(CDI previously reported 2005 earnings totaled $78.9 million, compared to net earnings of $8.9 million during 2004. Net earnings per diluted share for 2005 totaled $5.86, which included net earnings per diluted share from continuing operations of $0.96 and net earnings per diluted share from discontinued operations of $4.90. In 2004, net earnings per diluted share equaled $0.67, which was comprised of net earnings per diluted share from continuing operations of $0.73 and a net loss per diluted share from discontinued operations of $0.06.
Net revenues from continuing operations, which included a full-year of revenues from the company's Louisiana operations, totaled $408.8 million in 2005, a 13.2% increase over net revenues from continuing operations of $361.2 million generated during 2004. Net revenues from continuing operations during the fourth quarter of 2005 totaled $81.7 million, a 4.9% decrease from the net revenues of $85.9 million generated by the company's continuing operations during the fourth quarter of 2004.)
During the business part of the meeting, shareholders re-elected Meeker, Leonard Coleman, G. Watts Humphrey, and Craig Duchossois to three-year terms as Class I directors.
Meeker said CDI is on schedule to resume racing at Fair Grounds for a winter meet to begin Nov. 23, but that installation of 700 VLTs at the New Orleans track will be delayed by a year and would likely not begin operating until 2008.