Each year the WSU Center for Real Estate and the Kansas Chapter of Certified Commercial Investment Members (CCIM) present their annual Lifetime Achievement Award. The award honors local professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the commercial real estate profession, and is a great honor and a tribute to individuals who represent the finest examples of Wichita’s rich history of entrepreneurship in the real estate industry.
2016 Honoree – Phil Ruffin
Phil Ruffin is the recipient of the 2016 WSU Center for Real Estate and Kansas CCIM Chapter Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in Texas and raised in Wichita, Kansas, Ruffin accepted his first job during his high school years as an unpaid employee working for his father at Spur Market, a Wichita grocery store. Ruffin eventually quit because he wanted to earn a wage.
He attended Washburn University in Topeka and continued his education at Wichita State. After graduating in 1958, Ruffin went to Houston and interviewed for positions with S&H Green Stamps and Buick. Neither hired him. He tried San Antonio, interviewing for a senior level position at a large grocery chain. When the manager offered a regular store position, Ruffin declined.
In need of money – he had only 28 cents to his name – he convinced a banker to lend him the full value of a $100 savings bond he owned, but that had not matured. He returned to Wichita and landed a job with W.T. Grant, a mass merchandise store, as an assistant manager for $90 per week.
While there, Ruffin implemented a lawn mower sale that garnered his manager’s attention. While the manager was taking a vacation, Ruffin offered a $10 trade-in value on push mowers toward the purchase of a $49 power mower. The idea blew away the other stores with the same promotion. When the manager returned, he was very pleased – so pleased, in fact, he took credit for devising the promotion and its success. Mr. Ruffin decided right then he did not want to work for anyone else again.
About this time, Ruffin saw a gentleman drive to the store in a large Cadillac, with a beautiful redhead at his side. Ruffin said to himself, “That is who I want to be.”
Thus began his entrepreneurial success.
In 1959, he bought his first convenience store, which quickly grew to 65 stores in four states. He was instrumental in initiating self-service gasoline from its infancy and maintains a significant presence in the Kansas oil industry, owning more than 65 oil wells.
Ruffin’s diverse business career has run the gamut from owning a dairy, a bank, and more than 4 million square feet of commercial real estate, which included shopping centers, office buildings and strip centers, to expansive holdings in the hotel and gaming industries. Some of his current properties include 12 hotels in Kansas, Maryland, California, Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama, as well as a 16-acre island named Crystal Cay in Nassau, Bahamas, and 12,000 acres in Belize.
In 1981, Ruffin purchased Harper Trucks, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of two-wheel hand trucks, which makes one out of every three hand trucks sold in the United States. After acquiring Angeles Manufacturing in California, Ruffin parlayed the new multi-faceted business to supply goods through Harper’s 2,500 distributors and directly to the mass market including WalMart, Sears and Home Depot.
In the gaming arena, Ruffin purchased the Carnival Crystal Palace Hotel in the Bahamas in 1993, converting it to the Wyndham Nassau Resort and Crystal Palace Casino, which he recently sold to BahaMar Development Company for $147 million. He purchased in 1997 the 80-acre Wichita Greyhound Park in Wichita, Kansas, and the Pittsburg, Kansas Camptown greyhound park, including the gaming rights, in 2000. He hopes to have slot machines in both tracks next year.
Ruffin’s ventures expanded to the Las Vegas Strip in 1998 with the purchase of the 41-acre Frontier Hotel and Gambling Hall, which was at the center of the longest labor union strike in history. After successfully negotiating with local labor leaders, Ruffin reopened the property as The New Frontier Hotel and Casino.
In 2007, Ruffin and Donald Trump formed a joint venture to build the 1,283-room Trump International Hotel & Tower Las Vegas, which is now open. Ruffin also holds an additional 3.7 acres of undeveloped land in Las Vegas. In August 2007, he sold The New Frontier to the Elad Group for $1.24 billion, a record setting price for real estate on the Strip.
With an itch to get back into the casino business, Ruffin purchased Treasure Island in Las Vegas on March 20, 2009 from MGM Mirage for $755 million, where he continues to serve as its owner and top executive.