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My Mistake

Taking responsibility is often the first step to success

My Mistake

In 1984, it was my honor to join the employment of Golden Nugget, Inc., a company chaired by Mr. Stephen A. Wynn. At this time, the company had two locations—one in Downtown Las Vegas and the other on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. My position was not of significance in the organization, and I was generally known as “Clyde’s Boy.”

The “Clyde” referred to Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Clyde Turner, and the “Boy” to my being at his beck and call to do just whatever it was that he wanted me to do. And what he generally wanted me to do was to perform some fairly complex analyses to prove whatever it was that he wanted me to prove.

In fact, my friend, the late Jerry Anderson, actually had Golden Nugget business cards printed for me that stated my position as “Clyde’s Boy.” That went well with the notepads he had printed for me, which said “From the Box of Richard Schuetz.” This was because I was always on the move, and rather than commit my stuff to a desk, I just kept everything in a box that I could immediately grab to follow Clyde to wherever he might be heading, and he was always heading somewhere.

While most of my work for Clyde involved the Atlantic City Golden Nugget, my office was located in Las Vegas, and when I was in Las Vegas I generally hung out with the guys who managed that property, namely the operations/administrative guy Jerry Anderson, the finance guy, John Miner, and the marketing guy (who actually was running the property), Bob Baldwin. And in 1984, the property was going through an expansion, known as the Spa Tower expansion, and it was basically a big deal to Mr. Wynn.

And since it was a big deal to Mr. Wynn, it basically became a big deal to anyone who wanted to keep Mr. Wynn in a good mood.

One of the components of the expansion was a restaurant on the second floor, and as is the custom of opening new restaurants, it was given a soft opening where we had several days of having the employees as the guests. On the last night of the test openings, I was invited to join the table of Jerry, John and Bob, and our wives at that time.

During that dinner, Mr. Wynn entered the room, walked about a bit, and then approached our table, asking Bob to step away from the table to visit with him for a minute. What we learned later was that Mr. Wynn was not happy with the restaurant. He put it on the endangered species list, and he went back to the drawing board to create something amazing. The rest of us worked to figure out how to explain a rather substantial abandonment loss on the financials.

About a decade later, I had the honor of working for Lyle Berman, chairman of Grand Casinos, Inc. In this environment I actually had a substantial position, and even had business cards to match (and my note pads read from the desk of). I was truly rising.

During my tenure with Lyle, he had an idea about how we should use some space in one of our Mississippi casinos, and I thought it was a horrible idea. At each and every staff meeting we would bicker about his plan, and the other executives would sit back, roll their eyes, and generally accept that this little banter would waste the next five or 10 minutes. After several months of this verbal judo, we did it Lyle’s way (which was generally right), and in this case, he missed. And what was amazing about this miss is that he walked into the staff meeting right after the launch, said he missed, and we needed to figure out another plan for the space.

I bring these two stories up because these are two incredible people who have helped shape the industry of gambling, and they both admitted that they made mistakes, and admitted it quickly.

This was not a trait that I found in many of the other people I worked with in my many years in the business. The others would blame the market, blame the execution of the staff, blame the economy, or something other than their own judgment. They would talk about how they would expect the project to “ramp up,” how they would “dial it in,” or whatever other term they could think of to tell the market and its analysts that whatever failure they had launched really wasn’t failing.

I think this ability to admit a mistake, and admit it quickly, is something that sets off the great from the rest of us. These two men knew that failure was an aspect of business, and if there was to be a failure to make sure they failed fast, and acknowledged it.

Making a mistake is bad. Forcing an organization to live with a mistake compounds it immeasurably.

Richard Schuetz entered the gaming industry working nights as a blackjack and dice dealer while attending college, and has since served in many capacities within the industry, including operations, finance, and marketing. He has held senior executive positions up to and including CEO in jurisdictions across the United States, and served as a member of the California Gambling Control Commission and as executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.

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