MGM taps Silicon Valley star to helm digital transformation

Atif Rafiq

Looking to better leverage data to grow its business, MGM Resorts International has turned to a Silicon Valley notable.

Atif Rafiq, who led a recent digital transformation for McDonald’s Corp., will begin as MGM’s new president of commercial and growth in May.

Rafiq comes to MGM from Volvo Cars, where he has worked as the company’s chief digital and information officer since early 2017. From 2013 until early 2017, he served as chief digital officer for McDonald’s. He has also worked for Amazon, Yahoo! and AOL during nearly 20 years in the industry.

“Looking at the guest experience, MGM has a lot of assets,” Rafiq said. “It has accommodations, restaurants and, of course, gaming. For me, it’s going to be about going over all those options and making life easier and more convenient for the customer.”

Rafiq will be tasked with the development of tech offerings and brand management. He will also help shape customer behavior and grow revenues. His role is a newly created position at MGM.

“We’re going to be talking about pricing and loyalty and the convention business,” Rafiq said. “How do we smooth out the peaks and valleys of customer visits? MGM sits at a unique intersection between hospitality and huge customer appetite for experiences. That’s a big part of what attracted me to MGM.”

Rafiq pointed to digitally based companies like Airbnb, WeWork and Uber as examples of organizations that have used technology to appeal to a broad range of customers.

“The building blocks of digitization — user experience, design and technology — have been harnessed by these companies to revolutionize their spaces. We need to obsess over changing consumer behaviors within our sights and use these same building blocks to grow in new ways,” he said.

Rafiq said millennials are much more focused on experiences than previous generations of consumers. Having a memorable experience — and telling others about it on social media — is important to a large swath of today’s consumer base. Rafiq has a large following on social media as a leader in the tech space. On Twitter alone, he has more than 100,000 followers.

“The experience economy is a great place to play,” Rafiq said. “It’s very significant — we’re talking many trillions of dollars globally. Millennials are a leading indicator of consumer behavior. That behavior is moving more toward experiences rather than possessions.”

Rafiq’s job description will be unique to the Las Vegas resort industry as he will launch new digital businesses for MGM, officials said in a statement.

“We believe there are incremental opportunities to enhance the guest experience by leveraging technology and data to drive personalization,” said Lili Tomovich, chief experience and marketing officer for MGM. “Atif joining MGM Resorts reinforces our commitment to digital transformation and elevates our ability to fuel change in an evolving market that must be nimble in responding to ever-changing customer expectations.”

The hire, according to MGM officials, fits with MGM 2020, the company’s business optimization effort that was announced earlier this year. MGM hopes to realize $300 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by the end of 2021 through its digital transformation.

“Atif is the right leader at the right time,” CEO Jim Murren said in a statement. “I have no doubt that he will harness technology and utilize the greatest assets and employees in the business to maximize revenue and evolve the guest experience.”

Rafiq — a self-described wellness freak, foodie and sports fan — said he’s looking forward to working in Las Vegas.

“This is going to be a wonderful opportunity to help rewire a company to have a really deep digital core,” Rafiq said. “I have a lot to learn about Las Vegas and about MGM, so my first six months, I’m sure, will be a steep learning curve. I need to come in and be a sponge, but I’m really looking forward to it.”