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Looking for Leaders

Looking for Leaders

What makes a great leader?

This is a question for the ages, I know, because leaders come in every size, shape and demeanor.

I just finished reading the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was clearly a visionary and a genius. But he was also a major-league jerk (I would use a harsher term here, but I’ll try to keep things more civil than he ever did). Reading about his tantrums and outbursts, the way he belittled his employees and their efforts, and his complete disregard for any human emotion, I was shocked that he could be such a successful leader.

Jobs separated people into “Type A” talented types and “Type B” run-of-the-mill employees. He had no patience for the Type B player and even made it hard on the Type A players. But it worked in his case. He assembled creative and savvy teams to build everything from the original Macintosh to the iPad.

And it clearly has worked, at least in my case, since I’m writing this article on my MacBook Pro while taking incoming calls and texts on my iPhone (but still waiting to be blown away by the iPad).

The Jobs book has caused me to reflect on the leaders in the gaming industry and how they approach the issue of inspiring people.

I guess my most dynamic boss was (big surprise!) Steve Wynn. When I worked at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City in the mid-1980s, his presence in the casino was electric. He motivated the employees to do their best because we all saw him giving maximum effort.

But like Jobs, Wynn wasn’t always the most diplomatic boss. He was kind and gracious to the line employees, but if you were on his management team, he was just as demanding as Jobs and often just as disrespectful. Nonetheless, his style worked. Just witness what he has created and the loyalty he has engendered down through the years.

I got to witness up close the relationship Donald Trump had with his executives. Like Wynn, he inspired loyalty, but also like Wynn, he has a volatile side. The same is true of Sheldon Adelson: volatile visionary.

I wonder, however, what would have happened if Jobs, Wynn, Trump or Adelson were a little more compassionate and treated people in a more humane way. Would they have accomplished even more, or is it that “edge” that contributes to their accomplishments?

My theory is that you can get away with that at the corporate level, but in the gaming industry, a leader like that at the property level would be destructive. When you’re flying at 50,000 feet and look down, you can see the big picture, make the investment in new properties or technology, and skate over personal relationships.

But when you are responsible for motivating a workforce, making sure customers feel special and delivering a product that makes everyone proud, a certain level of people skills is required.

So while “visionary” works at the corporate level, “inspirational” is more important at the property level.

One executive who had both was Dennis Gomes. His unfortunate passing in February (see page 81) caused everyone who knew him to reflect on his brilliance in motivating employees and developing properties.

Dennis worked for both Wynn and Trump. I believe he honed his vision from them, but he also understood that their sometimes-gruff way of dealing with subordinates didn’t always work.

Not that Dennis couldn’t be as demanding as Trump or Wynn. He could, and often pushed his executives to heights that they themselves didn’t know they could attain. With Dennis, a fit body went along with a quick mind, so he encouraged his executives to join him in karate classes. A black belt himself, his executives often rose to the challenge, gaining various colors of karate belts, while absorbing his philosophies of management.

Steve Jobs created a company built in his own image and, so far, Apple has endured in the few months following his death. The principles he instilled are still apparent. The loss of Dennis Gomes will be a huge hurdle for Resorts, but can the talented executives he mentored, including his son Aaron, carry Dennis’ vision forward? That will be the ultimate test of leadership.

Teaching leadership skills is the only way for a company or an industry to endure. Let’s hope gaming can accomplish that.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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