Still Setting the Bar High – Tom Wilson Says Listening to Customers is Key

    Tom Wilson, CEO of Palace Sports & Entertainment, isn’t someone who’s afraid of change. Rather, it’s something he welcomes as he and his staff look at the business with a fresh perspective every year. And Wilson believes in the future of Michigan, a state with many available resources.

    Neil Diamond and PS&E President and CEO Tom Wilson.
    Photo by Steve Galli

    Corp!: The Palace of Auburn Hills just celebrated its 20th anniversary. To what do you attribute its success?
    Wilson: Because we are privately financed we were able to approach things differently. We designed the building differently, we offered more sponsorship opportunities for advertisers and more choices for our customers. We were able to reinvent this business.

    Corp!: What do you think the Palace will look like 20 years from now?
    Wilson: Every year we make improvements. We listen to our customers and they tell us what to do. Twenty years from now we will still be listening to them. Right now we are exploring building a performing arts theatre in Oakland County.

    Corp!: You have had to work with the highs and lows of Michigan’s economy. What positive factors do you see for future business in Michigan?
    Wilson: We have been going through a painful process with the right-sizing of the auto companies. If we can get through to the other side, we will have three vibrant auto companies that will offer new opportunities for other businesses. We will be leaner, meaner and stronger.

    Corp!: Palace Sports & Entertainment has been called a business model of the future. What are some of the business strategies that you have put into practice?
    Wilson: We take a fresh look at every aspect of the business every year. We do a lot of surveys here. We ask our customers and our staff how we can improve. Then we implement solutions to the suggestions or problems that they reveal. We have set the bar high in everything we do.

    Corp!: You have a lot of personalities to manage from the hot dog vendor to the stars on the court. How do you motivate them?
    Wilson: We have 40 original employees from when we first opened 20 years ago. We have a culture where a lot of people set examples. They have the philosophy that “this is our building and we are going to work hard at keeping it a high quality place.” I’d love to take credit for them, but it is my staff that gets the credit.

    Corp!: You have probably met a lot of famous people. Any highlights?
    Wilson: I really don’t spend a lot of time with the performers, but I really wanted to meet Paul McCartney. Meeting him was a true highlight.

    Corp!: If you had to start all over again, would you choose the same career?
    Wilson: I don’t know if my career chose me or I chose my career. All I know is that I have been amazingly blessed and I can’t imagine a more satisfying business to be in.

    Corp!: Tell us your top three favorite shows you have experienced.
    Wilson: Barbra Streisand, the Eagles and Paul McCartney.

    Corp!: What is the best advice you can offer to others?
    Wilson: Find your passion and find your fun. Everything you do at your job will impact your happiness for the rest of your life.