Building Tucson Businesses: Finding your true north

Building Tucson Businesses: Finding your true north

The Great Recession that started in 2008 was devastating; devastating for the economy, for industries, for regions, for companies, and for individuals and families. No one escaped unscathed. Many businesses didn’t escape at all.

The dude ranch industry is a good example of the negative impact of the recession. Prior to the recession there were 14 dude ranches in Arizona. By the time the recession waned, five of those dude ranches had not survived. One survivor was White Stallion Ranch here in Tucson.

Russell True and his family are the owners of White Stallion Ranch. I recently met with him to learn about his operation and was surprised to learn that the one business accomplishment True is most proud of is their recovery from the recession.

Before the recession, business was booming. The Ranch had a 12- to 16-month waiting list for reservations. When the recession hit, they had an immediate 40 percent cancellation of reservations. While True, the family, and their team did not have crystal balls telling them the recession was going to hit, what they did have was some clear thinking and plans. Some decisions they quickly enacted included:

  • Dropping a one-week minimum stay to a three-night minimum stay
  • Aligning their rates with the bed & breakfast industry to increase competitiveness and widen the base of potential guests
  • Expanding the activities they offered rather than cutting back on services
  • Signing up with online booking sites such as Travelocity, again to widen their reach in the market

From an immediate 40 percent drop in bookings, White Stallion recovered sufficiently in fiscal year 2008-2009 to be down only 6.5 percent in revenues at the end of the first year of the recession. They improved in fiscal year 2009-2010 to only a 2.2 percent decline in revenues. In fiscal year 2010-2011 revenues remained steady in comparison to the previous year.

Revenues and bookings have been increasing steadily every year since then. True planned for his proudest achievement with clarity of thinking and planning. Clarity is the True Family’s secret sauce.

True expanded on the lessons from the recession with a ranch manual that lays out the philosophy and best practices behind White Stallion’s success. And the first page of the manual lays out the three rules that bring to life clarity at White Stallion Ranch.

Rule 1: “The Ranch is the boss.” — Jaye Wells

“All decisions (short, middle and long term) should be made with the good of the ranch in mind. When this is done, everyone wins: guests, employees and owners. Even the horses are better off.”

One couldn’t ask for greater clarity. The ranch is everything. It is who White Stallion is, it is what White Stallion does, and it is why guests come to visit. In some industry vernaculars, this level of clarity is termed a company’s True North — the one guidepost that influences everything. Any business leader who cannot succinctly describe their own True North needs to take some time on this. The clarity will help in all aspects of the business.

Rule 2: “When times are good, plan for bad. When times are bad, plan for good.” — Tilton Newell

The Ranch’s recovery from the recession is a perfect example of clarity of thinking and planning. This clarity stabilized the business and enabled a quick recovery during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Clarity of thinking and planning won the day.

Rule 3: “First ownership/management must believe, then the staff believes and then the guests will believe.” — Russell True

True knows that it all begins with him, his wife and his brother. Their leadership sets the tone for the business. They have to believe in what they are doing. If there is some aspect of the operation they do not believe in, they fix it so they do. Clarity of leadership is one of those best practices that elevates companies above their competition.

So what did clarity get White Stallion Ranch? Consider the following:

  •  Best Family Resort 2018 — USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards
  •  The 16 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the U.S. — MSN Lifestyle December 2016
  •  Official Best Dude Ranch in Arizona 2015, 2016, 2017 —
  •  Best Historic Hotels of 2016 — CNN, Katie Hetter
  •  Historic Hotels of America New Member of the Year 2016 — Historic Hotels of America
  •  15 Best Hotels in Tucson 2017 — US News & World Report
  •  TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence 2015, 2016, 2017

Awards are earned, not given. White Stallion Ranch earns their accolades through clear thinking, planning and practices. And the leadership demonstrates that clarity every day by paying attention to their one true boss, their True North — The Ranch.

Ken Cook is the co-founder of How to Who, a program on how to build strong relationships and how to build business through those relationships. Learn more at

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