VEGAS INC archives
Marilyn Winn had planned to change her legal name to Marilyn Spiegel three years ago after she got married.
Spiegel, one of the top women in the gaming industry, said her boss, chairman Steve Wynn, didn’t give her homophonic name a second thought.
“Men are so smart,” she said. “They figured out how to never change their names.”
Spiegel joined Harrah’s, now Caesars Entertainment, in 1988 after answering a newspaper advertisement for a training manager. Learning from mentors, the former college professor moved up the management ladder and got her first opportunity to manage a casino in 1997 at Harrah’s Shreveport in Louisiana.
Former Harrah’s CEO Phil Satre chose her as his senior vice president of human resources a year and a half later, and she eventually became a company regional president, overseeing the Bally’s, Paris and Planet Hollywood properties. Wynn hired her in November 2010 to succeed Andrew Pascal, who had held the position since 2005 and is a nephew of Steve Wynn’s ex-wife, Elaine.
Spiegel discussed Wynn Las Vegas, her rapport with Steve Wynn and the state of the gaming industry and the economy with VEGAS INC:
How did you prepare yourself for an executive position that traditionally has fallen primarily to men?
I think that any career growth is a combination of some preparation and some luck. My education is in marketing and my master’s was in education. I had the chance, early in my career, to teach and lead college students. I taught at what is now Weber State University (in Ogden, Utah). That education, as well as skills you develop along the way to understand business and leadership, were some of my foundations. I had six years that I also worked in human resource functions and leadership in a department store, so I learned the hospitality business. How does a business run? How do you lead people? How do you think about hospitality? And then, I had the wonderful good fortune of answering an ad in the newspaper to work for Harrah’s as the training manager in 1988. At that time, it was the Holiday Casino and I learned from some great folks there. At that time, Steve Greathouse was the general manager and gave me my first break. I had the opportunity to run human resources, which I had known, and worked in cashiering. Every position I had was an opportunity to learn something. I was thrilled to be given opportunities to learn new things every day and work with fabulous people. Harrah’s employed some wonderful people.
In 1997, I got my first big break and I moved to Shreveport, La., and was the general manager for Harrah’s Shreveport. I was the second general manager at that property, and the CEO of Pinnacle (Entertainment Inc.), Anthony Sanfilippo, was my boss. Anthony and I had been colleagues at Harrah’s at Holiday Casino. You always have a special place in your heart for the people who take you to the dance. I was there 18 months and Phil Satre, the CEO of Harrah’s, invited me to be the senior vice president of human resources for the company. When I think of people who gave me a break, that’s so important in life. You can be as prepared as anyone much smarter than me, but if you don’t have nice folks who give you the chance to go in and perform by opening the door, you’ll never be noticed.
Claudine Williams: 1921-2009:
Have you had any female mentors or peers in the gaming industry who you’ve looked up to and said, “I want to be like her.” Or male mentors or peers?
The two men I mentioned, Anthony (Sanfilippo) and Phil (Satre), taught me a lot of important lessons. Both of them had a common theme: They taught me how to treat people. It proved my seeing the world through somebody else’s eyes and both Phil and Anthony I will always be grateful to. When I have a hard problem to solve, I think, “I wonder how they would solve that?” In terms of women, I think there was only one and that was (Las Vegas gaming icon) Claudine Williams. I had her office at the Holiday Casino. We grew closer and closer through the years. I probably met Claudine in 1990. She was born and raised 10 miles from where our property was in Shreveport. We would invite her out and she christened the boat. As Claudine was getting older and older, we’d go to dinner, I’d go to her house, she’d come to mine. At the end, I planned her memorial for Harrah’s. The most important lesson she taught me was it doesn’t matter that you’re a woman. She never thought that way. It mattered that you were a person and that you shouldn’t get any lucky breaks because you’re a woman and you shouldn’t get any lucky breaks because you’re a guy. You should go in, work hard and treat people right. If you follow that and you’re lucky, good stuff is going to happen to you.
What are your responsibilities at Wynn?
I’m president of the property, so I have both Wynn and Encore. I have a senior team that reports up to me in a variety of ways. I have a chief operating officer who handles all the non-gaming functions, and he’s wonderful. His name is Maurice Wooden. Hotel, food and beverage, security and nightclubs report up through Maurice, and I have all the other functions reporting up through me: financing resources, marketing, gaming. Our responsibilities are three-fold. We have a responsibility to shareholders to produce our cash flow plan. We have a responsibility to our guests to provide a five-star experience. Wynn is the only casino that’s ever achieved five-star status. We have four five-star designations. Both of our tower suites and Wynn and Encore and both of our spas are five-star. It’s an important designation, and we work hard to maintain it. Guests can really see the difference when they come here. Our third responsibility is to our employees. I want this to be a great place for people to work. There is a quality and a performance expectation. When you work at Wynn, you’re going to deliver great service and you are going to work in a place that, frankly, the physical assets are second to none. So those are the three — shareholders, guests and employees — and if you think about that every day, you’ll stay the course.
Describe a typical day.
For those people who report to me, some of the day is spent in one-on-one meetings where we take a look at their financials or their service goals or things that are going on with the employee population so that we can continue to improve it. We have a number of new things that we are trying to implement. Yesterday, for example, we launched our new Red Card program. Our loyalty card was evaluated, and we have improved the point-earning capability of the Red Card. The loyalty program for most casinos is the way you earn points and comps. It’s a large, multidisciplinary effort. How do you make sure everybody is working in the same way?
Yesterday, I also spoke to a group of housekeeping supervisors. My messages to employees tend to be about how important it is to maintain our service standard, the quality of our guest interaction and what we expect. I try to thank them for the excellent job that they do all the time. And then, Q&A. A lot of times when you’re at different levels in the organization, you don’t know why we do what we do. So it gives them a chance to ask the boss what goes on. If I can tell them, I do.We strategize all the time about how do we improve. We have customer events that I attend. In so many ways, it’s a full day. Seldom is it an early day. We’ve also implemented some new programs to try to expand the number of people who are recognized. There are 12,000 employees at Wynn and that is such a large number that you want as many people as possible who are going a great job to know it. That’s important.
What is the next big undertaking at Wynn Las Vegas and Encore?
We are in the process of a number of construction projects. Wynn and Encore are the home to four extremely successful nightclubs. Part of the success of a nightclub is that you have many thousands of people come to your property to enjoy the nightclub scene. In the Encore Esplanade, we will be beginning a construction project to make the wait in line for a nightclub nicer and more orderly. That hallway has two theaters and the XS nightclub and the passageway from the Wynn garage to Surrender and Encore Beach Club and from the Encore garage to Wynn for Tryst and XS, so it’s a major thoroughfare. That project is just under way. We are also taking our high-limit slot room and we are creating a new high-limit room on the casino floor so that our slot customers will enjoy it. We are reinventing our slot floor in terms of its layout. Slots don’t have the same revenue stream as table games because of our international connection with Wynn and Encore Macau and the excellent leadership of Linda Chen, our executive vice president of marketing, we have many international visitors from China. So slots are often taking a second seat to that, but nevertheless is a very important revenue stream. So we’re examining that. Every day, we’re trying to improve the assets that we have. We’re fortunate to have Garth Brooks, so every Garth Brooks weekend is a very special weekend. Typically, our newness tends to come from our construction projects so you’ll see major construction in our high-limit slot area and also in the Encore Esplanade.
How are your responsibilities at Wynn different than what they were when you were with Caesars Entertainment?
A: The decision-making is much more simplified. The opportunity to work, if I wanted, on a daily basis with Mr. Wynn, or our chief operating officer, Marc Schorr, is much more frequent than ever having the opportunity to work with (Caesars CEO) Gary Loveman. If I want to change a program, if I have an observation, if I want to embark on a new strategy, I include them. They’re my partners. You call them up and you have easy access to them within the hour. That’s not how Harrah’s was arranged because of its wide distribution. If you take a look at our first half cash flow, it was over $260 million. If you take a look at all the Harrah’s properties here, it’s a different system. If you had 51 properties for Harrah’s, there is a desire to centralize strategies. So the direct-mail strategy, the advertising strategy and the slot strategy could all come out of corporate. For me to make my mark on a property was a much greater partnership between me and the corporate office. So I didn’t always get my chance to vet what I thought was right. I certainly had the right to voice my opinion, but it doesn’t always go your way. It doesn’t always go my way here, but it is an opportunity to sit down. Here, there’s so much more focus on serving the guest and keeping the asset fresh and clean. That’s been delightful. I feel like I have more control and more say and I truly have a much broader set of responsibilities today.
Everyone knows who Steve Wynn is. How closely do you work with him?
A: I work very closely with Steve. That’s one of the coolest parts of the job. Steve designs. I mean, he does the work. If you are seeing a new slot area or if you’re going to see a new Encore lobby or walkway, Steve’s thought that through. He sits in the chairs, he touches the fabrics, and I’m there. He is a visionary in all that. If I have a change in a strategy, I will share that change with Marc Schorr, but typically Marc will say, “That’s Steve’s decision.” So I sit down with Steve and we talk about everything about the property. He has enormously high standards and so if you are really good at what you do, this is a fabulous place to work because he expects the best.
How much decision-making do you get to do? Is it more of a collaborative decision with Steve Wynn and Marc Schorr, or do you get to call the shots on a lot of things?
A: I call the shots on a lot of things. There are a lot of things that happen in a property on a daily basis. Six years ago, they may have been strategic decisions. Our retail strategy is an example. When I first came here and was reviewing all the financials, our retail strategy was that we mostly had company-owned retail stores and we had some leased stores. When you take a look at your leased revenue, it was very high and your retail-owned store revenue could be high, but by the time you paid all your expenses and the cost to consult and everything else, it wasn’t always as lucrative as going with fashion retailers. In this particular economic time, the fashion-branded stores have outpaced moderate stores. So people are willing to spend for big names — Louis Vuitton, Dior, Cartier, Graf — those are stores we happen to have here, but that we don’t necessarily run ourselves. To move that strategy to something that is less than our own stores. We still want to own stores, but not every store. I would take that to Steve and say, in these times, it makes sense. And we would talk about it. This is a pretty major strategy change. He’d ask some questions and then we would collaborate on it. I don’t perceive this as it was my decision or it was his decision. I think that we collectively came together and it’s the right decision. But Mr. Wynn’s name is on the building so he has the right to know about all these changes.
Is it intimidating to work with someone who is often credited with changing Las Vegas into what it is today?
A: It’s not intimidating. I’ve been in the business many years, and so I don’t have that much more running room. If you have a life cycle, in my next five years, I want to work with the best. I think that’s fascinating. So having the opportunity to work with Steve … he never ceases to amaze me on the things he remembers from the Golden Nugget, from the Mirage. Sometimes, he’s in a storytelling mood and it’s fascinating.
From the archives:
Steve Wynn recently has said Wynn Resorts has become more of a Chinese company that happens to have holdings in Las Vegas and once indicated the headquarters could move to Macau some day. How do you see it?
In fact, he’s in China this week. Our financial results have a really big emphasis in Macau and, of course, we just got approval (to build a resort on the Cotai Strip). To me, this is such an important part about being in Las Vegas. I don’t compete with Macau. I think he loves living in Las Vegas. I think one of the points that was somewhat missed — and he said it in our second-quarter earnings call — during the tough times in Las Vegas, 2009 and 2010, by having a very big business in Macau, that helped us here. When you think about we have $5 billion in assets between Wynn and Encore and we have debt on those assets, it makes you feel a lot more comfortable when your cash flow is so solid coming from China that, frankly, the security that our employees here knew that they had another property over there and we all have the same culture. I think that story hasn’t been told as clearly as it should. There was something in the newspaper recently about how GE had $3 billion in sales that are everyplace else, Brazil, the Middle East and Jeff Immelt (chairman and CEO of GE) is in charge of President Obama’s job-creation program. The world is a place for global business. It’s either your politics or your economics, the belief that by being open to fair trade like that is a good thing. Some people may think it’s not a good thing, but it really has helped our company.
So I guess what you’re telling me is that you’re not moving to Macau or learning Mandarin anytime soon.
Not me. But actually, Mr. Wynn took some lessons in speaking Chinese and he has a great relationship with the Chinese government and Beijing.
You recently were appointed to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. What do you see to be the biggest tourism issues on the city’s horizon?
When the city is unable to attract citywide conventions because of a variety of different reasons — it could be the CNBC news guys who keep on telling us we’re in a recession, which scares everybody to death. They need to talk about something, I suppose, but I wish they wouldn’t talk about that. We sometimes lose big groups to the East Coast. Our ability to sell Las Vegas for citywides is important and it’s especially important for Wynn. Groups brought in by the LVCVA didn’t always help us here, even though they could walk to the Convention Center from here if you really wanted to. So the citywides are important. If you look at the occupancy holes on our calendar, especially in the summer, it’s critical to get people here. There are holes right after every major holiday. The National Finals Rodeo has changed December. For 10 days during NFR, instead of closing hotel towers and laying people off, we’re able to have a base. We need more of that base. One event, the Electric Daisy Carnival, was a surprise to just about everyone, I think. We were 100 percent sold out and (average daily room rate) grew in that time frame. We almost sold out for the I Heart Radio music festival and a lot of radio stations were bringing performers here. We need that kind of event and more catalysts to fill our holes. The convention business has come back, not to the level it was in 2007, which I think will be a goal to get back to. But for those other times, how do we create something? The last weekend in June – the weekend before the Fourth of July holiday – has always been dead before and pretty much that way afterward. It’s a crescendo and then the waves go away. That’s the kind of stuff we need. I think R&R (Partners, the LVCVA’s marketing and advertising consultants) has done a great job with what it does for the city. There’s high awareness and clearly the city has something for everybody. With 150,000 hotel rooms, that’s a lot of occupancy that has to come into this market. The important piece for us is that we have a lot of customers coming in from the East Coast. It’s not so inexpensive to come in from the East Coast any more. Our reliance on air lift is really important.
How do you feel about the LVCVA’s marketing campaigns? Too conservative? Too racy? What would you change?
I love their campaign. I actually think they’re very cute. The one I was most aware of because I was on the board was “Summer’s Short.” Those certainly weren’t racy. I mean, you saw bananas spoiling because the folks were gone and you saw the bubbles that were so excited about being bubbles and then, pop! You know, summer is short, get going. Las Vegas really is a lot like a carnival that has something for everyone. If you are very conservative, you can come here and see phenomenal entertainment and you can eat at the best restaurants and it’s all within such a short distance. You could be from the Bible belt and absolutely have a wonderful vacation. You could read all the nightclub journals and know where you can party hearty and you can come here for that. The beauty of Las Vegas is that we have something for everyone — except kids. And I absolutely think we shouldn’t be marketing to children. This is adult entertainment. It’s a great place for adults to come. So I think R&R has done a fine job. I always stop and think “What would I do?” It tempers anyone’s criticism if you say, “What would you do?”
In your opinion, how does the U.S. economy stand and what has to happen for Las Vegas to get over the hump?
If you could talk to those CNBC or MSNBC folks and say, “Let’s stop talking about the recession,” I think that would be very helpful. There was a piece in the paper recently that said we were able to attract people with much higher discretionary income. Here’s what I told people when I came here: The Wynn has the most beautiful assets. All of our rooms are only three years old. All the Wynn rooms have been redone. The Encore opened in 2008. We need confidence to lead our market in what we have to offer. There are consumers that are recession-fatigued. That’s what was in the article. We are here for those consumers, and we have separated ourselves somewhat from visitors who are looking for a price discount. You don’t come to the Wynn if you’re looking for a price discount. I do think you come to the Wynn if you’re looking for value. Today, for people who are recession-fatigued who really need a vacation, you’ll look to us. When you get a few days off, you don’t want to go to a place that’s not going to be great. I think that is our opportunity. We’re all trying to figure out what to do about the unemployment issue because until people start going back to work, we’re not going to see the thousands of people who used to come here. We still have weekends that we’re sold out and I think we have to be clear about who we are and what we offer. Hopefully, consumers are going to be inclined to want to come here. The folks who used to go to Europe? They don’t come here and they don’t go to Europe as much as they come here now. We’re a resort and for us, I think we’re in a little different spot than if I had been working at a more moderate property like I had been. I think that’s a more challenging issue for both the low-end properties and the moderate properties. If the guy at the top starts lowering room rates, then they crush the guys at the bottom. We have to differentiate ourselves well in this market and appeal to guests who want to have a fabulous service experience.
So have the media overplayed the recession?
People spend money when they’re in a good mood and it is sometimes hard to watch the news and be in a good mood. Our world is a complicated, challenging place and we have a war that’s going on and we have a deficit and have lost our AAA rating. We have a lot of things to feel lousy about. I don’t think we want to live our lives that way. I would hope there are as many feel-good stories or at least some feel-good stories because you can go through the whole newspaper and it’s hard to find one, isn’t it?
What is the biggest problem Las Vegas must overcome to be prosperous again? Is it lack of confidence?
I do think we need to be confident and we need to tap into those markets that are still willing to spend. International markets are very important to us. If you travel abroad, that’s a big commitment. You usually stay longer and take more money with you. If we are capable of attracting those individuals, we should. Clearly, South America is an opportunity. Brazil has received tons of publicity regarding the growth of that market. And Australia. There are lots of places where the recession hasn’t damaged things. Not everybody is going to be from Italy or Greece. If only we can focus on those parts of the world. Las Vegas is an international destination and yet our lift is not always international. It’s increasing. But from Brazil, I don’t believe there are any direct flights. We have to do better. The people from there splinter into Houston or Miami. Whether they come here is not a sure deal. How do we get those international travelers to come in? I think international guests are very influenced by a property’s rating.