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Are You Not Entertained?

In Focus
NAME:Jerry, Lou & Charlie Jacobs
COMPANY:Delaware North
As the CEOs of entertainment and hospitality giant Delaware North, brothers Jerry, Lou and Charlie Jacobs discuss culture, a century-long legacy and why the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the catalyst for the greatest change Delaware North has seen in decades.

Delaware North has always been an enormous part of brothers Jerry, Lou and Charlie Jacobs’ lives – almost comparable to having another sibling.

“There isn’t much of a divide between our own personal existences and the company,” Jerry tells The CEO Magazine with a smile. “We’re sort of one and the same, it’s like an appendage to us. Dad always used to say he had seven kids – he actually has six, but he’d say the seventh was his company. And we’d all joke that we knew which one was his favorite.”

Delaware North is a company that has never been afraid to spread its wings and operates across multiple industries, locations and demographics. From national parks and hotels to gaming, specialty retail and restaurants in airports and stadiums, the company spans an immense number of businesses and operations.

From its humble beginnings operating theater concessions in Buffalo, New York, in 1915, the three founders, brothers Marvin, Charles and Louis Jacobs, went on to create a family owned and run empire that only continued to expand and diversify. Now, with the third generation at the helm, CEOs Jerry, Lou and Charlie Jacobs are working on ensuring the company stays fresh so that it can continue its domination for the next century or two.

“I like to think that we’re in the business of selling experiences.”

– Lou Jacobs

“The last 40 years, our company has really evolved into a hospitality business with two underlying themes. One is that we’re in the business of bringing people together, and the other is that we’re in the business of fun,” Lou says.

“So whether you think about travel, or going to a hockey game at TD Garden, or going to one of our casinos, or staying in one of our resorts, I like to think that we’re in the business of selling experiences – family oriented, outdoor, entertainment experiences – so that’s a bit of an underlying theme that you can find in any one of our subsidiaries.”

Today, Delaware North annually serves more than half a billion guests across three continents, with more than 40,000 employees. Last year its revenue tipped US$4.3 billion, which was the first time in the company’s history that it exceeded US$4 billion, and a clear example of the enormous growth it has seen over the past two years.

Major new acquisitions, including the Squire Resort at the Grand Canyon, and projects such as the Courtyard Marriott Titusville at the Kennedy Space Center, continue to grow Delaware North’s vast portfolio and prove its unbeatable versatility.

A Watershed Moment

With a century of expertise already behind it, as well as an impressive legacy to uphold, it’s understandable that Delaware North wasn’t actively looking to shake-up the business. However, as it turned out, that was precisely what the COVID-19 pandemic would do.

Within a matter of months, as the pandemic took hold of the globe, many of Delaware North’s businesses were forced to shut their doors.

“The pandemic was a real watershed time for us,” Jerry says. “Our airports were running at 10 percent of the 2019 levels. We were working hard to keep our heads above water, but as the lights started to come back on, we took that opportunity to implement a new standardized operating model.”


Over a hundred years, the company had developed disparate operating systems and models throughout our organization and, while it had always been the brothers’ intention to get back onto one operating model, one system for reporting and one system for managing the accounts, the timing had never quite been right.

“We were able to transition into that new operating model,” Jerry continues. “And it’s been dramatic for our business. It has shifted our margins significantly, and it has made our lives a lot easier.”

This means that a manager can now move from one subsidiary to another completely different one in the business and still meet the same systems and the same model.

“What I love about our company is that it has survived a hundred years by harnessing the ability to reinvent itself.”

– Jerry Jacobs Jr

“They are not learning a whole new business every time,” Jerry says.

In addition, the pandemic provided an opportunity to ensure that every position that was being rehired was absolutely essential.

“It was the ultimate exercise in zero-base cost budgeting, to make sure that we weren’t overextending ourselves,” Charlie adds. “That really helped us rebuild the business with a new, more efficient operating model and shed that historical operating model that was, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way.’”

Team Players

Something else that the pandemic highlighted was just how essential having the right partners was.

“When you’re in the bunker, thinking ‘how are we going to restart this thing?’, you really find out who your partners are, right?” Charlie muses. “Having partners that you’ve treated right for a long time truly pays back in spades when you’re in a crisis. We’re all very much a living organism.”

From such vital suppliers within the hospitality industry as the Coca-Cola Company, to technological solutions providers such as BirchStreet Systems, partners have played an integral part in shaping what Delaware North looks like today.


With a strong culture of collaboration embedded within the entire Delaware North ecosystem, a major part of the leadership mentality that Lou, Charlie and Jerry employ is of trust and transparency above all else.

“It’s about making sure that folks are as invested as we are in the outcomes,” Lou says. “I really enjoy the people I work with, and the intellectual engagement of our team. If there was a singular aspect of the company that I’m the most proud of, it’s the group of people that we’ve been able to put together on the team.”

From here, the sky is truly the limit for Delaware North, as it continues to explore different avenues, opportunities and acquisitions.

“Having partners that you’ve treated right for a long time truly pays back in spades when you’re in a crisis.”

– Charlie Jacobs

“I think for me personally, the really energizing thing, and what I love about our company, is that it has survived a hundred years by harnessing the ability to reinvent itself,” Jerry says. “And that reinvention is so much fun and so invigorating that really you get out of bed and you want to run. It’s a great feeling.

“We are so lucky that we are in a business that is about fun. And it’s not just the business. People really enjoy coming in to work, which is the key.”

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