Executive View: Q & A
Executive View: Q & A
Roger Wagner, COO, Resorts International
You've been named the new chief operating officer for Resorts International. How are you settling into your new role?
Well, to tell you the truth I've been on the job for 90 days now and I'm feeling pretty comfortable in the new role. As chief operating officer I report directly to Nick Ribis, who is one of the owners as well as CEO and president of the company. In my role I'm responsible for coordinating the overall operations for our six casinos, working directly with the general manager of each of the properties.
My first task at hand when I joined the company was to establish an organizational structure for our new corporate entity which is now headquartered in Las Vegas. And in my first three months I'm happy with the way we've been able to attract some great talent to assist Mr. Ribis and me in developing the corporate infrastructure that we will need to enable us to guide and monitor the activities of the six subsidiaries. So I feel good about the first 90 days.
Resorts is an affiliate of Colony Capital, which has been busy of late acquiring properties shed from Harrah's Entertainment when it merged with Caesars. Tell me of the management structure within the company and what your role will be in overseeing these properties.
We're in the process right now of rolling our six casinos under one holding company that will be named Resorts International Entertainment when it's all completed.
Tom Barrek, who is the chairman and founder of Colony Capital, serves as our chairman and Ribis serves as our vice chairman, CEO and the president of the combined companies. That's the structure. As COO, I report to Nick.
Colony Capital is the only private investment firm licensed in four gaming jurisdictions in the country, which are New Jersey, Indiana, Nevada and Mississippi. Our casinos include Resorts Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Hilton, the Las Vegas Hilton, Resorts in East Chicago which previously was known as Harrah's, Resorts in Tunica, Miss., which was also Harrah's and Bally's in Tunica.
The role of our corporate office under this new structure is to provide strategic support, common infrastructure, and to put together technology tools for our subsidiaries with the understanding that our casinos will be very decentralized and will have great latitude to deploy the tactics necessary to achieve their objectives. Both Nick and Tom were very impressed with Jack Binion's approach to corporate oversight and the two of them
instructed me to instill that kind of operating structure and culture into our new company operations.
Why the decision to move Resorts' corporate headquarters to Las Vegas? Is there interest in more Las Vegas ventures beyond the Las Vegas Hilton?
We're looking for opportunities in every destination that makes sense, but our main reason for moving our headquarters to Las Vegas is that our company went from two casinos to six casinos overnight and the owners decided that now, with what we have, being the sixth largest casino company in the industry, we should have our operating headquarters in the epicenter of gaming-which is Las Vegas. The major casino vendors are here in Las Vegas, much of the gaming industry talent, especially corporate talent resides here. Obviously this calls for a lot of time in the airplane for me and my colleagues to adequately monitor operations at the six casinos, but overall we love the idea. We also have a corporate office in New York City.
Resorts Atlantic City is the basic root of Colony Capital/Resorts International's growth. What's your outlook for that property and the Atlantic City market as a whole?
When Colony and Nick Ribis purchased Resorts in Atlantic City several years ago, I think they recognized that while Resorts was an older facility it was undervalued, it enjoyed a wonderful location on the boardwalk and it had a tremendous amount of adjoining land that could one day be developed. Right now our company has two of the four places that are approved for gaming left on the boardwalk. We have the land next to Resorts just to the west of it and we have land surrounding us in all directions around the Atlantic City Hilton.
When the new owners purchased Resorts, they undertook a major step in rejuvenating this classic facility by demolishing the old North Tower and replacing it with the newest tower and the largest room product in Atlantic City. That tower opened a year ago, but due to some structural problems we encountered during the expansion, we're just now finishing the grand lobby area and the casino connector. By New Years we'll have that all opened up. It's going to really make a big difference in how the lobbies of the new and the old part of the property flow together. In addition, by New Years we'll feature the grand opening of the famous New York steakhouse Gallagher's to complement our array of other restaurants at the property.
Our plans for 2006 for Resorts are pretty ambitious. They call for a full renovation of the Ocean Tower, and in addition we're going to construct a new 24,000-square-foot coffee shop and buffet facility, very upscale, in the new mezzanine at the north end of the expanded casino floor. Next summer we hope to open that. We also hope to feature the highly acclaimed Nicky Beach Bar out on the ocean. We're also going to rebuild the boardwalk façade of the original podium of the facility that will update but preserve the historical ambience and class of the original architecture of the property. I think that's going to be a really nice addition out on the boardwalk. For the thousands and thousands of people that pass by there everyday it will be a new experience.
As a company we see the Atlantic City market as one that will have mildly constant, increasing organic growth even in the face of new competition in nearby states. The new entertainment and shopping opportunities that have been developed recently and will be opening next summer by our competitors and other developers are all leading to a long overdue evolution towards making Atlantic City a true resort destination. We're anxious to be part of that.
What needs to be accomplished internally or from a management perspective to maintain or expand on the company's recent growth?
With growth in our company occurring so rapidly, there was a need to establish a central leadership and control structure that the new acquisitions could be assimilated under one umbrella. We believe the key to our future success will be how well we market and how well we service our customers. We have much work to do, but we have the will and the patience to do it right. Our goal over time is to develop a marketing and operating
format that will enable our company to make future acquisitions and assimilate them into our portfolio of casinos in short order through well developed employee service standards, creating database and promotional programs, and with the agility to move quickly and react to competitive pressures that occur daily in this industry.
You previously served as chief operating officer of Horseshoe Gaming from 1998 to 2004. Tell me about your experiences there and what you learned that you'll carry over to Resorts International.
When I went to work for Horseshoe I had 32 years in the business. I thought I knew a lot about it. Wrong. At age 50 I started my casino education by having the privilege to work for Jack Binion. While I've always valued customers and employees throughout my career wherever I worked, Jack brought the way to do it to a new level for me. And while we won't have Jack Binion around in our company as what I believe to be the greatest casino host in history, we'll borrow what we've learned from him to help set a gambling culture of service and fun at our casinos. This will take time and resources to accomplish, but I think being a private company allows us to do some things with our owners' blessings that may not be great for earnings in the short run, but which will pay off handsomely for our company's financial future. Nick and Tom have given me the resources to go out and attract the best talent and acquire some of the best technology, and in only 90 days we're well under way. I've been able to attract just about one half of Jack Binion's old Horseshoe corporate team and have brought them into our company.
The gaming industry has changed a lot since the 'old days.' What can do you need to do to make it more like it was then?
We believe technology is real important, but you have to balance high tech with high touch. We hope to be able to take technology and build tools that we can put in the hands of the front- line employees so that they can give more customer service by knowing more about our customers, and
not send everybody to a kiosk or a computer to answer their questions or pick up their comps and so on. People come to these places because they want to be serviced by human beings. We want to keep that human touch in our company wherever we can. And we need high technology to be able to do it.
What would you say is the best piece of advice you've learned during your management history with casino properties-advice that you'd pass on to others looking to someday fill your shoes?
You've got to treat your employees like gold. That's the best advice I could give. Employees are the greatest untapped source of energy in our business. And leaders who can tap this source are invaluable to the company. You can't always pay employees as much as they're worth, you can't always give them the benefits that they believe they deserve, but you have to respect each of them individually and treat them fairly. They deserve recognition for doing the great job most of them do. That's where praise comes in.
None of us likes to have our work taken for granted. Yet it can easily happen these days under the pressure of everyday business, especially when the employees' everyday contributions get blurred up in the company's overall efforts. When people get the impression that their jobs and their work efforts don't really matter, the quality of those efforts tends to slump. I say recognize their work, make them feel like holding their heads up because their jobs and the way they do them count for something. What I've learned best is that they usually give the best when you do. CJ