Monday, May 20, 2024 May 20, 2024
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Meet the CEO: Tom Stephenson

The president and CEO of Rave Motion Pictures aims to make his theaters the best in the business.
photography by Nick Prendergast

In a down economy, Americans are choosing to spend their entertainment budget on a night out at the movie theater—about $10.6 billion last year—and the head of Rave Motion Pictures is thankful for that. Tom Stephenson finalized the acquisition of 35 theaters from National Amusements Inc. last December, making the company the fifth-largest chain of theaters in the United States. With 50 of its 6,000 employees based at the company’s headquarters in Dallas’ Cedar Springs area, Rave has set its sights on becoming the best in the business—one theater at a time. With 2009 revenue of $450 million, the company has more than 1,000 screens and 66 theaters nationally. It was the first movie-theater chain to utilize 3-D technology in all of its theaters, and stadium seating is standard. (So the four feet of legroom between rows lets you relax without kicking your date’s Dr Pepper and Junior Mints to the floor.)

AGE 54

TITLE/COMPANY President and CEO, Rave Motion Pictures

TENURE Rave Motion Pictures started in December of 2000. I have been here since then.

EDUCATION Undergraduate degree from the University of the South, and an MBA from the University of Virginia.
experience I came to Dallas in 1984 to work for a big real estate developer at the time, Bill Criswell [of Criswell Development].  I left there and ran a glass company called HGP Industries. I sold that, and started in the theater business. We purchased a number of theaters and sold them before opening Rave’s first movie theater in Montgomery, Ala.

FIRST JOB Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta. I was a tour director, and met a bunch of my baseball heroes. I remember taking Bobby Richardson around the park thinking, “Man, how is my life going to get better than this?”

WORST JOB When my parents moved to Indiana from Nashville, Tenn., my father got a job for me working at a plant that made bottle caps. I worked the midnight shift.

FAMILY Blake, my wife; Cate, my 2½-year-old daughter; an old cat; and a 12-week-old golden retriever.

HOBBIES I am a big golfer.

ECONOMY’S EFFECT ON THE INDUSTRY Honestly, [the down economy]helped it a little bit. The National Association of Theatre Owners recently said the movie industry has been up in the last seven of nine recessions.  People have become careful about how they spend their money, and [the movies] are sort of the dollar-for-dollar best entertainment venue you have outside of your home.

RECENT ACQUISITIONS We’d been looking at our strategy, and we’d built all the theaters we had. But the world is not in a major building cycle right now. It became clear there were opportunities to buy other screens. For a variety of reasons, the price went significantly down [on those screens]. Surprisingly, Sumner Redstone, who I thought was worth billions of dollars, was really in debt. He had to sell his [National Amusements] theaters, which we felt were very good assets. We thought we could run them better, and they were in good geographic areas. It was a perfect way for us to increase our footprint.

BOOKS Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. I’m re-reading the books my daughter might read, so I just read The Stranger by Albert Camus.
IF YOU WEREN’T CEO OF RAVE MOTION PICTURES I find health care investment interesting, both from an economic and a public policy point of view. I’d try to spend more time on that.