Byrne: 'Most of my job is buying other people's mistakes'

by Kashay Sanders | 10/8/07 2:21am

John Byrne '81, pictured with his two daughters, chose to purchase the Alyeska ski resort partially because he wanted to make it family-friendly.
by Courtesy of John Byrne / The Dartmouth

He bought it.

While Byrne said he initially purchased the resort in 2006 to turn a profit out of his love of skiing, making it more family-oriented was high on his list of priorities. In addition to traditional ski lifts, which can be difficult for children to use, Byrne created "magic-carpet" ski lifts that children can simply step onto. He also created a "kid camp" for ski instruction.

According to Byrne, the resort was failing when he bought it. In this month's Skiing Magazine it is now ranked sixth on its list of the best ski resorts in the country.

Byrne said that he decided to make Alyeska more welcoming to children after he first brought his two daughters, both under the age of 11, to the resort He described how his daughters tried the pizza at the hotel and hated it because the resort had the wrong kind of oven. A single father, Byrne said that the resort now has better pizza.

Byrne has made a career out of buying and selling real estate and bought Alyeska in a distress sale, an auction of properties in danger of foreclosure.

"Most of my job is buying other people's mistakes," he joked.

Byrne said that his father, John, served as a role model and helped him to think critically about business. While Byrne's father, who owned the insurance company Geico, worked his way up through the industry, Byrne said that he took a more risky approach by becoming an entrepreneur.

After working on Wall Street for four years to earn money, he became his own boss, even though he had to accept a lower income as a result.

Alyeska is owned through Byrne's Utah-based real-estate investment company, Cirque Property, LLC.

Although Byrne never went on a Dartmouth Outing Club trip when he was a student, he said that he has always loved the outdoors and was a skier and kayaker even before coming to Dartmouth. He has been skiing at Alta, Utah, where he now resides, every year since his first season skiing there with his father and brothers.

Byrne said that the Alta-Dartmouth connection is particularly strong. He lives across the street from Berry McLane, for whom the new dorm is named.

Although a building at Dartmouth bears his father's name -- Byrne II in the McLaughlin cluster -- Byrne said he prefers a more direct way to stay connected to the school by giving an undergraduate a scholarship each year.

"If I'm going to give [Dartmouth] some money, they need to use it to educate someone now," he said. In his other contribution to the College, Byrne has also brought Dartmouth ski patrol members to Alyeska.

When asked what advice he would give to Dartmouth students, he advised them to "take a breath and enjoy the humanities."

Byrne said he remembers Dartmouth students focusing too much on mathematics, sciences and more "practical" subjects during his time at the College.