Holding Keeneland’s reins
When Shannon Bishop Arvin became Keeneland’s eighth president and CEO on January 1, 2021, she was the first woman to lead the historic thoroughbred racing and sales operation. But she was not the first in her family to serve Keeneland.
Her grandfather, William T. Bishop, was Keeneland’s first track superintendent. Her father, W.T. (Buddy) Bishop, served as Keeneland’s general counsel.
Arvin’s first memory of Keeneland is working at the horse sales when she was in high school. After graduating from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she worked for two years in Washington, D.C., followed by law school at the University of Kentucky.
She joined the same law firm as her father, handling estate and succession planning for horse farms and other businesses, as well as other equine law. Then she became Keeneland’s general counsel, a position she says helped her better understand Keeneland’s culture. “It gave me an inside view of some of the details and intricacies, and the opportunity for developing relationships,” she says.
Despite her familiarity with Keeneland, Arvin still finds surprises in her job. “Every day is different. We’re like our own little city. One day (I might focus on) some aspect of the grounds, another on federal racing legislation.”
Arvin says those many aspects make her job challenging. “Keeneland is like multiple business lines under one umbrella—racing, sales, track and buildings maintenance, a retail gift shop, hospitality and catering, wagering, the library, the foundation, our operation at the Red Mile. (I want) to perpetuate the best in each one.”
Another challenge, she says, is using technology, including for gaming and wagering, “in a forward direction.”
Time with her husband, Will, and their two daughters help her cope with the long hours of her demanding job. Exercise is another outlet she says helps alleviate stress.
“I spend as much time as possible with my family and I exercise an hour every day I possibly can. My husband says he can tell from my voice if I’ve gotten some exercise in that day or not,” she says.
Arvin relies on an exercise bike, treadmill and occasional Pure Barre classes, along with walks around her family’s Jessamine County farm.
Arvin says she enjoys just being on Keeneland’s grounds and walking through the barns. “We have 1,300 acres and I’m always exploring, driving in a golf cart or walking. Mr. Bassett (Ted Bassett, former Keeneland president) told me, ‘Don’t sit behind your desk all day,’” she says.
Bill Thomason, her immediate predecessor, gave her more good advice, she adds: “not to feel like I had to do things the way they had always been done.”
Two hundred year-round employees help Arvin keep Keeneland running smoothly. That number swells to 2,000- plus during the races.
“It’s most rewarding to be building and working with them,” she says. “We all want to leave Keeneland better than we found it.”