A Gambling Man

Career transitions that put a Vegas hotshot on top

Title: President and chief operating officer of MGM Mirage’s New York-New York Hotel and Casino
Location: Las Vegas
Age: 52. Work History: Corrections officer, schoolteacher, government official, judge magistrate, president of the famed Flamingo Hilton
Name: Lorenzo Creighton

BE: How does a corrections officer from Waterloo, Iowa, end up managing one of the most popular casinos on the Vegas strip?

LC: That was my first job out of college. I needed to work, and that job was posted. I worked in a bank for a number of years. I was a part-time high school teacher, and I taught junior high school for a period of time.

BE: Was it your people skills that carried you from position to position?

LC: I really think so. All of those jobs were very focused on understanding people.

BE: Before you make a transition, do you study the industry you’re entering?

LC: I wish I could tell you that it was a great plan of mine to start out in corrections and end up running a casino on the strip, but if I had to characterize it in one phrase, it’s this: opportunity meets preparation. I got a college degree and pursued my law degree. I prepared myself to meet the opportunities that came along, and that’s what happened with the gaming industry. I also worked as a regulator, but it was like being a referee on the sidelines. The opportunity came up to get into the industry, and I jumped at it.

BE: In making your transition, what were your challenges?

LC: The biggest challenge was that I didn’t come from the industry. Traditionally, in this industry, you work your way up. I’ve never dealt cards before. I’ve never dealt blackjack or a dice game or worked in the baccarat pit. I’m an anomaly. You overcome that through performance. The one thing I’ve learned from all the jobs I’ve held is, you give respect and you’ll get respect back. Then you do it through performance. You work hard, you do the best job you can, and then hopefully you’ll get results.

BE: Executives need to generate early success in a new position. Did you do that?

LC: Yes, you have to do that. In the early days of gaming, sometimes the situation had to be pretty bad for them to put an African American in a position (he laughs), and so I had no choice but to come up with some early successes. In a casino that I ran in Natchez, Mississippi, I went in clandestinely. Before it’s announced that I’m going to run a casino, I like to go in for a week and observe. So I walked around and saw the problems — the lack of customer service, the mismanagement, the misallocation of staff — and I was able to go in and immediately make changes and have an impact on the revenues and on customer service. I fixed the problems quickly. I’ve done that with every job.

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