Michael Yackira was recently talking to his 15-year-old daughter about the meaning of the word legacy. “The measure of one’s life is leaving those you are in contact with throughout your life in a better place than they would have been otherwise,” he told her.
As a board member and founder of the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, it would be hard to argue that Yackira hasn’t done his part to leave Southern Nevada a better place than he found it.
You retired as CEO of NV Energy in 2014. Have you truly retired? And if so, how was your transition from the work-a-day world to retirement?
My wife would tell you that I enjoy work too much to ever truly retire, but retirement has allowed me to be more selective about the work I do and enabled me to transition more of my time to my involvement in community activities that keep me busy. There are days that I miss working full time, especially the camaraderie with a team of great employees, but I am truly enjoying retirement with my amazing wife, Renée, and our children.
You’ve played an integral part in the success of the Smith Center. What’s your role and what are your future plans to ensure its continued success?
I appreciate the compliment, but I have only been a small part of the success of the Smith Center, if that. I believe its success should be attributed to Board Chairman Don Snyder and the visionaries who conceived of and fulfilled the dream: the original board of directors, President and CEO Myron Martin, and his talented staff. I have been honored to serve as a board member and officer the past three years, and Renee and I are pleased to support the new Campaign to Sustain the Smith Center, the successful completion of which will sustain the venue for decades.
You were born and raised in New York. Did that influence your love for the arts?
Most certainly, and in so many ways. My love for music started when my sister took me to the Young People’s Concerts at Carnegie Hall, with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic. It provided an excellent foundation for music appreciation. I also saw amazing concerts — the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and 1966 were two that are difficult to top. Of course, being raised in New York also provided access to Broadway shows and wonderful museums.
Do you have any exciting news or upcoming events at the Smith Center you’d like to share?
It’s no secret but “Hamilton” coming to the Smith Center is a coup. For those unfamiliar with this musical, I think it is the most innovative and important theater piece in my lifetime. Some say it’s life-changing — to put it in perspective, it is as important to me now as the Beatles music was when I was a teen.
What other organizations or charitable endeavors are you involved in?
In addition to serving as a board member of the Smith Center, I also serve as a trustee for the UNLV Foundation, and I was chair from 2014 to 2016. Renée and I support both of those entities, plus many other local organizations, including Three Square, Spread the Word Nevada, Nevada Public Radio, the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, Opportunity Village and our church, Grace in the Desert.
What can Las Vegas do to diversify its economy?
Gov. Brian Sandoval has done an excellent job promoting the expansion of the economic base by attracting new business to our state and strengthening our education system. To continue to diversify, we need to remain focused on enhancing the communication and connection between higher education and the business community, and highlighting the value of institutions like the Smith Center to assure we can attract more great people to work in these businesses.
What is the best business advice you’ve received?
Never settle or accept the norm. Always strive to do better. Respect everyone. Work hard but have fun.
How do you define success?
Long-term success is achieved when you have left a company or an organization in a better position than it was when you joined it. Along the path to long-term successes, the year-to-year achievements are those that all can see and know that they were a part of and responsible for.
What’s the biggest issue facing Southern Nevada?
Assuring that we have sufficient water has always been a critical infrastructure need. When Pat Mulroy was heading Southern Nevada Water Authority, I marveled at her ability to convince people to conserve while finding ways to secure more water for Las Vegas.
If you could change one thing about Southern Nevada, what would it be?
I love our city and all that it offers, but if I could wave a magic wand, I would want our city to go from the bottom decile to the top decile of all metrics relating to our K-12 school system.
What person has had the most influence on you?
With respect to me as a person, it’s my dad. He was a Russian immigrant, having come to the United States when he was 6 years old. He was a hard-working, intelligent, self-made businessperson, and I owe so much of who I am to him. Also, I have two sisters who have always been great role models for being a good parent.
In business, for 25 years I worked either for or near Jim Broadhead. He taught me about work/life balance, how to ask hard questions with respect, and to broaden my horizons beyond my comfort zone. He gave me responsibilities in marketing, strategic planning and business development, to name a few — opportunities that stretched my skillset. He also had a great sense of humor and was never shy using it during the workday.
What is something that people might not know about you?
I have a passion for nearly all forms of music. I own an extensive, eclectic music collection (I still have all my vinyl records) and am pretty good with music trivia. I played in three rock bands when I was growing up and that was a blast. And I love watching “sportsball,” as my son Andrew calls it. Football is my favorite (I’m a New York Giants fanatic), followed closely by baseball (Renée and I both love the Yankees), and now, because of the Golden Knights, hockey.
When I was 16, I worked selling scorecards, popcorn and peanuts at Yankee Stadium.
What would you like to pass on to future generations?
I love the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” for many reasons, but it shows the main character what the world around him would be like if he had never existed — the “George Bailey Effect.” It’s impossible to know the impact you have had on those you’ve known. Each of us has a profound effect on everyone we interact with every day, for good or bad. It’s an awesome responsibility and blessing, and one I take very seriously.