Kathy George was named president and CEO of the Firekeepers Hotel Casino in Battle Creek, Michigan in May. She joined Firekeepers in 2012 as vice president of hotel operations, and has now taken over one of the most successful casinos in the state. She discusses improvements to the property, community involvement and the assessment of the Michigan/Indiana market.
GGB: Bruce McKee and Brian Decorah left a healthy operation with lots of customer loyalty and employee enthusiasm. What was your first goal when you took over at Firekeepers?
Kathy George: Brian and Bruce did leave a great foundation on our property, so I just wanted to continue moving forward, continue our great service we already provide and expand our revenues. We want to keep growing and take our service even to the next level.
You came from the hotel side, so how did you get up to speed on gaming?
I was a general manager for Seneca Gaming Corporation, so I had experience in that area. But even when I worked on the hotel side, we did extra projects that exposed me to the different departments in the hotel. When the position opened up, the other people asked me to apply because they didn’t want someone from the outside to come in and change things, and it all worked out.
The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi is a real example for other tribes. Casino gaming was introduced very carefully and thoughtfully from Laura Spurr to Jamie Stuck. How has it been working for the tribe?
The ownership is so good to us as employees and the community that I’m really proud to be part of the family. They work very hard to do the right thing and make the right decisions. Sometimes people might not understand our decision, but we’re not going to build or open something that’s not right for those involved.
It’s all heart-driven. Yes, we’re in business and we’re there to make money, but they also consider all the heartfelt things as well.
Brand recognition is important, and Firekeepers has done a remarkable job marketing to a wide region via the golf tournament and race sponsorship. How important is that to your success?
It’s huge. The partnership we have with Michigan International Speedway for the NASCAR race gives us millions of imprints around the world. To go in and see the tribal flag and the Firekeepers logo is incredible. And our relationship with the LPGA is just as good. It’s great to contribute to women’s golf and Battle Creek Country Club, and to see our logo and flag is just as exciting. It’s important to get our name out there.
You can have the greatest facility, but customer service is of course the most important element to success. How do you motivate your 1,700 employees to provide that great service?
My expectations about the service levels have been clear. Right after I started, we had team rallies that allowed me to get my message out. Between myself and the vice presidents, we’re out on the floor, we walk the property, they see us everyday. I think that helps a lot. They know what we expect and everyone wants to meet or exceed those expectations.
We also work for some great owners. The benefit package they provide us is very motivational. And just to have a great job in Battle Creek right now is a motivation in itself.
Everyone wants to be recognized. We have secret shoppers that identify exceptional service and we reward them with Keeper of the Month or Keeper of the Quarter. And we have programs where we can award cash, prizes or paid time off for those who give exceptional service.