Fred Harmon, President and CEO, Harmon Resources
Fred Harmon, President and CEO, Harmon Resources
Youâ€™ve all but grown up in the gaming industry, and have used what youâ€™ve learned to form your own human resources company. Take us through the path of your gaming industry journey.
I started out as a 17-year-old bus boy at Samâ€™s Town (Hotel & Gambling Hall in Las Vegas), where I came to love customer service and the energy of the casino. From there, I worked my way through various positions and hotels until, at the age of 22, I was hired to open the MGM Grand (on the Las Vegas Strip) as a supervisor in hotel operations.
I learned more than I could have ever imagined as part of an opening team. It was intense, and I loved it. I immediately wanted another challenge, so I transferred into MGMâ€™s human resources department to learn something new.
My work at the MGM led me to become the assistant director of human resources for the Rio All-Suite Hotel-Casino, and, eventually, to direct the pre-opening and hiring campaign for the Aladdin Resort Casino in 1999. From the Aladdin, I was hired to head the human resources department for The Palms prior to its opening. It was my ideal job, with the ideal company. However, once again, after opening I found myself wondering what big challenge was next. Harmon Resources was my solution.
Just two days after I made the decision to start my own company, I was recruited back into the gaming industry to open a Venetian hotel in Macau, China. Only this time, the Venetian was a client of Harmon Resourcesâ€”my chance to be involved in as many openings as I want.
When you went into HR at MGM Grand, what did you learn there that factored into you becoming an HR professional today?
The opening of the MGM Grand was the epitome of human resources at its best in Las Vegas. It was there that I learned that human resources plays an integral part in the success of the business, that it is key in developing the culture of the company and that it is a crucial partnership with the operation. It was at MGM Grand that I realized my true passion.
When considering starting Harmon Resources, did you see a significant need for such a venture in Southern Nevada?
I have had many friends who were either small business owners or managers. I was the HR expert among my friends, so I was constantly receiving calls asking for help in addressing employee issues, needing a handbook, job descriptions, policies/procedures and benefits packages. I didnâ€™t have a lot of extra time, so I looked for alternatives to help them. The only choices were labor attorneys charging $300 per hour. There was not an affordable solution in Las Vegas. I started Harmon Resources knowing that in addition to consulting, this was a niche we would offer.
Harmon Resources focuses largely on small- to medium-sized businesses. From an HR perspective, are smaller businesses easier to manage? Or are HR issues magnified?
Our small business division is basically an HR department for smaller businesses with as few as four employees. Things tend to be more difficult for smaller businesses because they have limited resources. However, the issues are pretty much the same as those of our gaming clientsâ€”just not as easy to resolve.
Youâ€™ve noted helping to open a number of significant gaming properties. Whatâ€™s the hardest part about having to hire an entire workforce at once?
Staffing a property opening is a tremendous challenge. It is a monster to organize, but the hardest part is identifying the best of the best, or, what a mentor of mine refers to as â€œthe 9s and 10s.â€� I have seen as many as 120,000 applicants to fill 1,800 positions, and even with that large of a ratio, it is still a challenge to find the right people. At the same time, it is sometimes easy to forget that itâ€™s a two-way interview. You have to find the right people, but it is also important to make every applicant want to work for your organization even if they donâ€™t get the job the first time. It is too easy to make it a cattle call and miss the opportunity to start building relationships with potentially future employees.
What would you say are the biggest mistakes that gaming companiesâ€™ human resources departments make, and how can you help correct them?
Â I wouldnâ€™t say they are doing anything wrong, but I donâ€™t believe they are changing with the times as quickly as they should. Career paths and formalized succession planning are critical necessities in the gaming world today, and I havenâ€™t seen a formalized program in gaming yet that I believe will address what is going to occur in the next five years. It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit skilled people at all levels, in Las Vegas in particular. The talent pool is much smaller than needed, and it is only going to become more challenging. Most companies see this as a recruitment issue, when it is often a retention and employee development issue. As a member of our team always says, â€œif you canâ€™t find it, create it.â€� All companies must focus on retaining their employees and developing from within.
We all know that wages and healthcare are among the top issues for employees, but what other issues are prevalent in todayâ€™s gaming industry?
Balanced work/life programs are taking shape throughout the United States in many forms. We are just beginning to see the efforts to accommodate this need in the gaming industry, and I believe we will see a big push in the future when it comes to flexible scheduling and job sharing.
How well would you say employee unions are doing their jobsâ€”both for their employee members and for the productivity of casinos that have collective bargaining agreements?
The role of the union is to represent the employees and bargain on their behalf. I would say unions have done a good job representing their membership. As for the productivity of the casinos, I would say there are pros and cons.
How much stock should casino HR departments put into new technologies that help streamline their business?
Technology is not the only answer for streamlining business, but it definitely has its place in the HR world. Technology provides companies with a way to better communicate with its employees and applicants, expand its recruitment market and better serve its employees. Techno-logical advancements over the last 10 years have been amazing, and it is hard to imagine how significantly it will impact our workplaces in the next 10 years.
Do you have plans to significantly expand your business beyond Nevada?
Through our gaming consulting and professional search divisions, we already conduct business all over the world. We have done work throughout the United States from coast to coast as well as overseas. Our most recent project was assisting with the pre-opening staffing and training of Philadelphia Park Casino in Bensalem, Pa. As for our small business division, we will expand to Northern Nevada and Arizona within the next five years.
What advice would you have for a gaming market such as the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in which labor issuesâ€”specifically finding good labor and having to pay more for itâ€”are impacting business?
Spend your dollars in training and developing your current employees. Foreseeable career paths and formal succession planning are your best retention tool. You could be one of the lower paying employers in town, but if you invest in your employeesâ€™ development, it will build loyalty, and in the customer service business, employee loyalty means customer loyalty.
Fred Harmon is president and CEO of Harmon Resources. His ground-floor-up experience in casino customer service has given him insight to the ins and outs of successful staffing and employee relations. He has been responsible for helping to open large casino resorts such as The Palms, and his company, in 2003 worked with The Venetian in Macau. Harmon recently took time with Casino Journal contributing writing Regina Lafay to discuss the importance of running a successful human resources department.