Rising to the Top at Casino Del Sol: Succession Program Grooms Pascua Yaqui CEO Candidates


Smart management always grooms its successor and that’s the case at Casino Del Sol Resort in Tucson, Arizona, where the tribe has renewed its contract with its current Chief Executive Officer and put plans in motion to train her potential successors.

In the process, Kimberly Van Amburg—who has held the current CEO spot since 2014 and boasts a newly renewed three-year contract—will find herself out of this job once she trains her replacement.

“The person chosen to move into the top executive position at the end of this program will be ready, prepared, both technically and on the management side, for whatever might await them. We want our candidate to be technically adroit and heavy on management and people skills and within the next three years, we feel one or more tribal employees will be ready to climb the management ladder,” she says.


The final Pascua Yaqui candidate—or candidates—will be chosen by Tribal Council to move on up.

Sixteen candidates have expressed a willingness to undergo the grueling challenge of holding down their current positions while learning new skill sets. “It’s called multi-tasking for a reason and these candidates will be kept busy figuring out how to accomplish that. I think seeing how they manage the extra burden will be a good indicator of whether or not they’re capable of rising to the top.”

Eventually, that number will be winnowed to a manageable three-to-five finalist candidates who will settle in for the long haul to see who grabs the brass ring as the new CEO, as well as being named to other executive positions. “If we have five candidates and two of them end up as Superstars, you don’t want to tell one of those qualified candidates, sorry, you came in second. So, we’ll provide opportunity for all, and if we end up in the lucky situation where there is more than one worthy candidate, that would be great.”

The innovative STEP (Supporting Tribal Employment Partnership) program offers on-the-job training in professional development and management succession to tribal employees. Training includes on-site workshops, classes at local educational entities, personalized coaching, and shadowing of department heads.

To avoid complete tunnel vision of how things are done at Casino Del Sol, a student exchange program with other tribal gaming properties is being implemented where Pascua Yaqui candidates will see what life is like at other gaming sites, learning best practices and being exposed to other decision-making styles.

“We’ll send a candidate of ours to another casino for three to six months, and they will fill in in an area of management that that tribe has chosen—perhaps something glamorous, perhaps not so much so. They will attend directors meetings and management and budget gatherings, learning different ways to do things.”

Van Amburg, and her replacement, will have their hands full overseeing strategic direction and operation of Casino Del Sol, Casino Del Sol Resort, Casino of the Sun, AVA Amphitheater, Sewailo Golf Club, and Del Sol Marketplace.

“My goals over the next 36 months involve continuing to improve tribal development at all levels. Currently, 60 percent of the more than 1,600 employees are tribal members. Witnessing a tribal employee make upward career moves is so rewarding because not only does it improve an individual’s life, it improves entire family’s lives, and that, in turn, helps create a vibrant and prosperous future for the tribe itself.”

“We’re confident the program will be executed in a way that the individuals who move into executive management will be well-prepared for those positions,” said tribal Chairman Robert Valencia. “Ultimately, this approach will lead to the appointment of a Pascua Yaqui tribal member to the CEO role, so we’re excited to move forward with this program.”

When she assumed the top leadership role in December 2014, Van Amburg said her mission was to “Make sure the right team members were in key positions in key departments…to build a strong team to get the property where it deserves to be.”