For Boys & Girls Club exec, every day’s a chance to help kids

Ken Rubeli didn’t want to forge his identity as the son of a casino boss.

His father, Paul, is a former chief executive officer of Aztar Corp., which once owned the Tropicana hotel-casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas and riverboats in Indiana and Missouri. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Rubeli pursued a different career.

With a business administration degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Rubeli cut his own lucrative path in the corporate world, working for an investment bank in New York, trading stocks on Wall Street and managing energy industry risk in Houston.

He came to Las Vegas in 2005, after his father had retired, for a management career with Caesars Entertainment and Station Casinos, becoming assistant general manager at Sunset Station.

Taking interest in the community, Rubeli served on the board of directors for the Henderson Boys & Girls Club. When the nonprofit organization’s chief executive officer retired in 2010, Rubeli jumped at the opportunity to leave his six-day, 72-hour workweeks for a warm and fuzzy position working with kids.

Rubeli, a member of the Boys & Girls Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., when he was 11, said he wants to help kids fulfill their potential to be productive, responsible and caring citizens.

It’s a great organization and one of the best-kept secrets in town, especially for working parents with latchkey kids, Rubeli said.

Annual membership at most clubs is $20, with additional charges for after-school programs that include picking children up from school, taking them to the club, feeding them a snack and setting aside time for homework and time for fun. Some fees can be waived for low-income families.

Question: How is working for a corporation different than working for a nonprofit organization?

Answer: I believe the pressure to perform at a nonprofit is greater during these times because we don’t have the luxury of refinancing our balance sheet to solve underperforming leverage bets, nor do we have the option of stretching payables or squeezing vendors. I no longer live in a three-strikes-and-you’re-out world. Ultimately, our donors and the public trust us to be good stewards of their investment and we can’t afford to make mistakes. It’s not like Joe the Public Shareholder loses when we make a mistake. It’s the kids who lose.

Question: Has your stress level dropped now that you’re running a nonprofit, as opposed to the days when you worked for companies like Bear Stearns, Enron Corp. and Station Casinos?

Answer: Not at all. I now operate in a true cash flow business where bills and staff don’t get paid if we fail to meet our financial projections. Leaning on financial leverage — as for-profit businesses routinely do — is simply not an option in our organization. We only do things if we can afford to pay for them up front. You won’t find a company credit card in my wallet.

Question: How is the financial health of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Henderson?

Answer: My predecessor, Mike Meyer, spent the last six years building a very strong board of directors. … Under (its) leadership our balance sheet has remained squeaky clean and we’ve continued to grow the revenue side of our business while maintaining a tight control on expenses.

Question: Do you miss the casino industry?

Answer: I miss the camaraderie of having a thousand team members, but I don’t miss working six days a week and smelling like smoke. The casino industry is by far our biggest supporter and I have nothing but respect for the industry. While I enjoyed my time in the casino world and certainly miss interacting with team members, I sleep better at night now knowing I’ve made a difference in the life of a kid as opposed to increasing slot hold five basis points.

Question: You opened a $6 million Boys & Girls Club in Southern Highlands. Aren’t you supposed to serve underprivileged children in lower-income neighborhoods?

Answer: We actually have about 70 kids on financial assistance. Last I checked, most parents in Southern Nevada are struggling with record-high unemployment, negative home equity and are simply struggling to make ends meet. These issues are prevalent across all ZIP codes in Southern Nevada, including Southern Highlands. It’s one of the highest foreclosure rates here.

It just blows up the myth that you don’t need a Boys & Girls Club in affluent areas. There are 6,500 homes and a lot of starter families out here. We operate seven locations, and while our name pays homage to our first club, which was founded in Henderson in 1954, we now operate all across Southern Nevada with locations in Henderson, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Southern Highlands.

Question: Was it risky opening new clubs during these brutal economic times?

Answer: Absolutely. Like with a new casino, not only do you need folks to come to your new facility, you need to make sure the project cash-flows (work) and your investors receive an appropriate return. We opened at the end of June and after eight weeks … we have 725 members and average 240 a day. This place is jam-packed every day, all day. I’m 41 and this is the most successful opening I’ve ever seen. All you need to do is walk into the building and it becomes obvious we have a 10-bagger return on investment in the making.

Question: Are you looking at other locations around the Las Vegas Valley?

Answer: We are actively exploring opportunities in the west and northwest parts of town and hope to have new locations running by next summer.

Question: What childhood issue has you the most concerned these days?

Answer: In a world where kids are tethered to their hand-held game devices several hours a day, I’m very worried about childhood obesity and the alarming rise in diabetes in young kids. Kids simply don’t exercise enough these days. This issue is personal for me as I was slightly overweight as a kid and remained so until I was 38. Three years ago I decided to take up running as a way to drop weight and get healthy.

Question: Now you’re an ultramarathon runner, competing in 100-mile races. What do the kids think about that?

Answer: The kids at my clubs all know that three years ago I couldn’t even run one mile without stopping. Through hard work, I was eventually able to run farther and farther. I have this saying, “Go beyond your limits.” I never thought I’d be able to run a marathon. That was my limit. Then I ran 50 miles and 100 miles and now my goal is to run 250 miles in 72 hours. That, for me, seems beyond my limits. I tell kids to push beyond their perceived limits and remove the word “can’t” from their vocabulary.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at or 702-383-0491.

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