The young leaders of the gaming industry are making themselves known. The nominations for the 2019-2020 class of the Emerging Leaders of Gaming 40 Under 40 numbered almost 200 people. Interest in the program was at a historical high, with nominations pouring in from around the world.
Produced in conjunction with The Innovation Group, founders of the ELG program, the ELG 40 Under 40 represent a slice of today’s next-generation leaders, recognizing young professionals already making significant impacts in the casino gaming industry. GGB Magazine launched the 40 Under 40 program seven years ago, and combined it with the Emerging Leaders of Gaming three years ago.
Selected from nominations driven by an open call to the industry, the newest class of honorees embodies all aspects of gaming, including commercial and tribal casinos, manufacturers, law, regulation and entertainment.
“The ELG 40 Under 40 has become the most important vehicle for recognition of rising leaders in the gaming industry,” says Roger Gros, publisher of GGB magazine. “With a record number of nominations, the list was very difficult to narrow. It’s a testament to the bright future of the industry just how competitive the process has become.”
Michael Soll, president of The Innovation Group, is encouraged by ELG’s continued growth. “For the seventh consecutive year, we’ve seen enthusiasm and interest for this program grow,” says Soll. “New leadership can serve to invigorate an industry, and we’re excited to play a key role in identifying individuals with the talent and creativity to lead gaming into the future.”
The Emerging Leaders of Gaming 40 Under 40 was honored at a cocktail event during G2E.
2019-2020 Class of Emerging Leaders of Gaming 40 Under 40
- Filippos Antonopoulos, CEO & Founder, Vermantia
- Stewart Baker, Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Inspired Entertainment, Inc.
- Phil Bernard, Vice President, Gaming Equipment, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC
- Steven Brody, Digital Compliance Manager, William Hill US
- Brian Bulko, Compliance Manager, Speaking Rock Entertainment Center
- Lucas Cai, Director, Casino Operations, Marina Bay Sands
- Shawnna Castellano, Region Director, National Indian Gaming Commission
- Amy Castro, Gaming Operations Analyst, Ocean Downs Casino
- Teri Chan Palomaki, Vice President, Financial Planning & Analysis, Scientific Games
- Dan Cherry, Vice President of Gaming Operations, Penn National Gaming
- Dan Farnon, Director, Strategic Accounts, IGT
- Jessica Feil, Senior Director, Government Relations, American Gaming Association
- Josh Ford, Chief Information Officer, Jamul Casino
- Kevin Fulmer, Vice President, Digital Sports, Caesars Entertainment
- Daniel Hanson, Executive Director, Snoqualmie Gaming Commission
- Harry Jackson III, Associate, Fox Rothschild LLP
- Lana Kotur, Vice President of Customer Success, VizExplorer
- Afshien Lashkari, Engineering Manager, New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement
- Brandon Loeschner, Partner, National Practice Leader, Gaming Services Group, RubinBrown LLP
- Meredith McEvoy, Engineering Operations Director, AGS
- Max Meltzer, Chief Commercial Officer, Kambi Group Plc.
- Bhavishi Patel, Vice President of Employee-Owner & Guest Experiences, Eureka Casino Resort
- Lukas Pesek, Vice President of Food & Beverage, Excalibur Hotel and Casino
- Samantha Powell, General Manager, GLI APAC (Australia and Macau) Region
- Guillermo Ramirez Carmona, Mechanical Engineer, Incredible Technologies
- Danielle Rankin, Director of Business Development, Konami Gaming, Inc.
- Loren Rosenberg, Vice President, Product & Market Strategy, Everi Holdings, Inc.
- Karl Rutledge, Partner, Chair-Commercial Gaming Group, Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie LLP
- Ryan Sawyer, Vice President/Project Director, Analytical Environmental Services
- Allen Schultz, Director of Slot Performance, San Manuel Casino
- Lindsay Slader, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, GeoComply
- Nicole Stewart, Vice President/Transportation Engineer, Urban Systems, Inc.
- Kelly Sullivan, Director of Global HR & Development, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment
- Diana Szorc, Digital Marketing Manager, Rush Street Gaming
- Rishi Tirupari, Vice President, Sustainability, Wynn Resorts (Macau)
- Simone Tyree, Assistant Casino Manager, Caesars Entertainment (Paris LV)
- Luciana Van Sickle, Global Strategic Sourcing Manager, Aristocrat Technologies
- Adam Wexler, Chief Executive Officer, Performance Predictions
- Christopher Wilcock, Executive Director of Casino Optimization, The Venetian Resort Las Vegas LLC
- Brian Wyman, Senior Vice President, Operations & Data Analytics, The Innovation Group
Shawnna Castellano, Region Director, National Indian Gaming Commission
Shawnna Castellano changed her college major more than once, searching for a degree to complement her skills.
“One of my first jobs was in revenue audit for my tribe’s casino, so I studied accounting,” says Castellano, a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in northern Wisconsin. “I quickly knew accounting wasn’t for me. I became a compliance officer at a tribal casino in Milwaukee. I ended up opening up a tattoo shop, so I changed my focus to business management courses.”
When she went to work for the National Indian Gaming Commission as a senior compliance officer, Castellano worked with federal regulations, which led to another major switch, this time as a legal studies major at Post University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree. Intrigued with leadership methods, she began studies towards a master’s degree in leadership. That’s currently on hold. “I am studying to become a certified fraud examiner.”
Through all the changes, she never lost focus on her mission to serve Indian Country. After high school, almost every job she took related to tribal casinos, either on the gaming side or the regulatory side, where she now serves as St. Paul Region director at the NIGC, which oversees 38 tribes and 100 gaming operations in six states.
“I am passionate about gaming. I had opportunities to develop training, write standards and protect assets. To know I assist in ensuring the tribes are the main beneficiaries of revenues made by their casinos adds to my job satisfaction,” says Castellano, who credits her parents for teaching her to work hard and do the best job whatever your position.
Growing up poor, Castellano saw her life change after her parents earned good-paying jobs at a tribal casino.
“I experienced the benefit that came from Indian gaming, which probably is one reason I am passionate about protecting the integrity of Indian gaming,” she says.
For Castellano, the biggest challenge has been personal.
“I was never afraid to move or take a chance, or afraid I wouldn’t succeed. The only option was to succeed. I only looked forward and took every challenge like it was part of life.”
Though in a position of authority, Castellano has had to deal with how others perceive her.
“Sometimes being the youngest person in the office, a woman with an outgoing personality, left me to ‘prove’ myself before really being heard by co-workers. I remember presenting at a conference and a man came up to me and said, ‘Wow, you really do know what you are talking about. By looking at you I would have never guessed,’” says Castellano, whose loud laughs help relax her.
Castellano worked for a few female bosses who allowed her to learn, teach and find her own job satisfaction.
“As long as I got the job done, they would let me take on as many other tasks as I wanted. My current bosses at the NIGC provide advice, encourage and support me, and listen,” she says.
Her advice to those thinking of a career in the casino industry is to build a network of passionate, supportive people, keep in contact and ask them questions.
“Choose how you spend your day, and have meaningful interactions,” Castellano says. “The projects you work on and the results you produce are a reflection of you. Focus on developing yourself, not comparing yourself to someone else’s vision of success.” —Bill Sokolic
The Dynamic Regulator
Daniel Hanson, Executive Director, Snoqualmie Gaming Commission
Some may view gaming regulations as fixed structures, unchanging as stone. Daniel Hanson, executive director of the Snoqualmie Gaming Commission in Washington state, sees it quite differently.
“In today’s environment, regulators have to be as dynamic as the businesses we regulate,” he says. “We have to be ahead of the technology curve. We have to understand all the new game offerings. People think of regulation as being very inflexible and static. Far from it.”
As executive director of the Snoqualmie Gaming Commission, the Olympia, Washington native oversees a team in charge of auditing, licensing, compliance, budgeting, risk management and other critical functions related to operations at the Snoqualmie Casino, owned and operated by the tribe of the same name.
At just 33 years of age, Hanson is already an industry veteran. But sometimes he’s surprised to have landed in gaming at all. At the University of Washington, he concentrated on business, with an eye to being a CPA. His first job out of school was in the Seattle office of global firm Protiviti, doing internal audit consulting.
“It was a great first step,” Hanson says, “but I realized something was missing for me; I didn’t see where my contribution was driving value.” When he learned that a Kingston tribe needed an internal auditor, he thought, “What a good opportunity to do something different.”
Eventually he was tapped to become executive director of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Tribal Gaming Association, where he got “lessons in leadership and an understanding of how to manage teams effectively.”
At Snoqualmie, Hanson enjoys a close collaboration with tribal leaders. “Obviously, we are independent as regulators, but with a value-added approach, you partner with the casino to make sure they’re hitting their compliance goals and doing it in the most effective and optimal way for the business. I work really closely with the executives on the operations side.”
Hanson credits wife Jacqueline and sons Caton and Camden for their continuous love and support, and thanks his parents for setting a high bar of achievement. “They taught me very early on never to settle for average,” he says. “Every day, I approach my career with purpose and passion.”
What’s his advice for those aspiring to a similar track? “On this path, you see people come from a lot of disciplines—finance, law enforcement, slots, table games. Don’t limit yourself to one discipline or one area, because at the end of the day we regulate the whole facility. We have to know a fair amount about every department and the needs of each group within the organization.
“So reach out,” says Hanson. “Network. Read. Immerse yourself in the whole industry.” —Marjorie Preston
Dan Farnon, Director of Strategic Accounts, IGT
He can do it all.
Dan Farnon, IGT’s director of strategic accounts, thrives at the heart of the gaming-industry table.
Conferring with CEOs of major properties and his own staff, Farnon blends the insight from both worlds into subsequent product rollouts. A hot issue for him this year concerns sports-betting revenue amid increased legalized operations. Rarely does the industry view potential new revenue that does not detract from another sector.
“What’s fascinating for me is watching the major decision-makers, how they perform, what is behind the scenes, what they think about and how they view market trends,” Farnon says. “It is a unique perspective about what companies feel they are doing well and where they think they can improve, coming from senior leaders.
“Normally, sales people get to understand only one market area. Here, you see the perspective of the whole country.”
Farnon, 32, also has a worldly perspective. He joined IGT in 2011, based in London, and was responsible for building a financial modeling and analysis function for the EMEA team. He has progressed in roles in finance, sales operations, business development, and with IGT’s commercial teams. He led the initiative to build out IGT’s financial analysis team in EMEA as well as the inside sales organization in North America. Farnon has worked with all IGT’s gaming markets including Europe, Africa, Latin America, North America and Asia.
Farnon’s well-rounded portfolio includes a stint as a Lloyds of London underwriter. Experience with the famed insurance company sharpened his analytical and forecasting skills.
Farnon has another vision beyond gaming. Having completed his MBA from the University of Chicago, he founded a startup called Paire Health. His access to rising health care professionals in the MBA circuit gave him easy access to top-flight medical insight. Farnon extended the concept to Paire Health, which provides a network of doctors offering second opinions on significant medical issues. Farnon says there is a strong chance that people in developing countries can be misdiagnosed on major issues.
“Unfortunately, some of my family members in the U.K. passed away in part because of limited access to high-quality care,” he recalls. “I began to wonder if there was a free-market way to help.”
Farnon led Paire Health to win the 2019 Polsky Centre’s GNVC competition, a top award for a business created by MBA graduates.
Farnon cites the importance of mentors and the courage to leave the safety net.
“My proudest achievement was the ability to come here to the United States, with no family, friends or knowledge of who I would work for,” he says. “You have to fit in quickly with a new culture and new friends, and build a career again. I had to start from scratch in the United States. And it was the best decision I ever made.”
That led to one more.
Farnon and his fiancée, Kori Ow, will be married in 2020, and they plan to reside in the United States. —Dave Bontempo
Soaking It Up
Amy Castro, Gaming Operations Analyst, Ocean Downs Casino
Like so many others, Amy Castro stumbled into the gaming industry. She majored in marketing at Salisbury University with an idea she might go into web design. When Ocean Downs Casino opened up in Berlin, Maryland, Castro’s experience in food and beverage landed her a shift manager position.
Once she got a taste of the industry, she was hooked, says the Annapolis native. “I wanted to learn as much as possible, and transferred into marketing when I had the opportunity. I took on slot analysis duties, and that was where I really found a passion for gaming.”
As gaming operations analyst, Castro bears responsibility for performance reports for slots and table games. “In addition, I head up projects for conversions, installs, moves and other floor changes, and submit the setups to the state for approval.”
Castro has no illusions that gaming remains a male-dominated industry.
“But it is very encouraging to see more women stepping into and moving up in the gaming industry. Being a woman in this industry is becoming less of an obstacle and more of a door-opening opportunity,” she says.
Duncan McConnell inspired Castro since Churchill Downs acquired Ocean Downs. Senior director of slot strategy and performance at Churchill Downs, McConnell recognized her talents.
“He challenges me on a regular basis to fan the flames of my passion,” says Castro. “Also, Blake Lyon, the director of gaming at Ocean Downs, encourages me to learn as much as possible about gaming and continues to teach me something new every day.”
And of course, there’s Mom and Dad. “They’ve always supported me and encouraged me to go after my dreams,” Castro says.
While the main target market of slots remains older generations, it is positive to see younger generations sparking an interest in gaming, Castro says. Marketing teams have to be more creative these days to appeal to them.
“The generation brought up on video games seems to be attracted to skill-based gaming, which is an exciting newer concept because it just adds to the ever-evolving world of slots.”
Castro hopes to continue on the slot side of the industry.
“I also know that my experiences in multiple departments across a casino will open doors to a bright future in gaming. I would like to be a role model for other women entering this industry,” she says.
For those on the way up—whether male or female—Castro says it’s important to learn how to balance work with the important things that matter in life.
“I truly enjoy going into work each day to see what challenge I get to take on, but I equally enjoy coming home to my family and enjoying life’s adventures.”
Castro and her family are very close, she says, citing her two young children, Danny, 7 and Brooke, 5. “I also have a younger sister who I consider one of my closest friends. We all enjoy traveling together, playing games—and there are always plenty of laughs when we get together.” —Bill Sokolic
Location, Location, Location
Lindsay Slader, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs, GeoComply
Lindsay Slader was always obsessed with maps. Family members and friends deferred to her sense of geography in staking out vacation activities. The 34-year-old Vancouver native loves travel and knows more about United States capitals than most Americans.
How fitting for her to find GeoComply, become its vice president of regulatory affairs and help gaming regulators, operators and licensees navigate the Wire Act. Compliance status gains enormous significance with more states obtaining sports-betting legalization.
“This is an exciting time for the gaming industry, with sports betting in the age of the post-PASPA repeal spreading like wildfire,” Slader says. “It is wonderful to be involved in that evolution. Educating all stakeholders in the online gaming betting world, and showing how geolocation technology influences their markets, is going to be continually important.
“Given that there are still many states ready to introduce sports betting, my work will be providing education and expertise on how geolocation technology will impact their introduction of it. I testify at state hearings telling a particular state how geolocation technology works for them, giving them a demo.”
Her testimonies have been eye-opening presentations. They address elected officials, often at the request of a lawmaker, operator or regulator who knows geolocation’s role to ensure legal betting takes place. Stakeholders want to evaluate the viability of sports betting, potential revenue and regulatory framework.
GeoComply is an approved vendor in New Jersey, Nevada, Delaware, Mississippi, West Virginia, Oregon, Rhode Island, Georgia, New Hampshire, Virginia, Michigan, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Indiana.
The border of New York and New Jersey provides an illuminating snapshot of Slader’s role in the emerging sports-betting world. New York legislators asked her to demonstrate the workings of geolocation last spring.
You could have seen a pin drop. One at a time. Slader unfurled a pin-drop map, illustrating the second-by-second attempted wagers being made from New York, where online betting is not legal, to New Jersey, where it is. GeoComply technology was blocking the attempted wagers. Legislators were surprised to discover how many players near the border were wagering. Translation: This is available future revenue for our state.
“When GeoComply’s live ‘pin-drop map’ of New Jersey is demo’d to a legislature, that picture is worth a thousand words,” Slader says. “For the live map of New Jersey sports betting traffic, the mass volumes hugging the New York borders are as clear as day for anyone watching.
“When I go to a hearing, I typically provide a non-technical ‘Geo 101’ crash course to start, and relish the moment when I can flip to the live map; lawmakers open their mouths with an ‘Ahh!’ and you see it all come together in their minds right in front of you. I consider this quite an accomplishment—explaining tech to elected officials is no easy feat!”
Slader says the technology extends to other uses, including help for law enforcement to pinpoint the location of someone who attempts a financial crime.
The next growth period figures to be prosperous for Slader, who loves maps so much that she’s prepared an Atlas for the gaming world. —Dave Bontempo
Steven Brody, Digital Compliance Manager, William Hill US
Some connections are magical.
Steven Brody has one more reason than most to remember the PASPA repeal enabling widespread legalized sports betting last year.
It happened on his birthday.
“It’s been a neat little trick I’ve had,” the digital compliance manager for William Hill US says with a grin. “I always remember the date PASPA was repealed, May 14, and some people think it’s amazing, like ‘How do you know the so much about this, even the date?’ It’s also the day the Supreme Court gave me a job.”
Well, this one, anyway. The effervescent 36-year-old Secaucus, New Jersey, native made several productive stops before this position beckoned last year. He had his LL.M. in gaming law and regulation from the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and his J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law. Brody also earned his bachelor’s degree in accountancy from The College of New Jersey. He is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Brody also invented a patent-pending casino table game at the UNLV Center for Gaming Innovation.
Before the William Hill era, he was a consultant for the New Jersey State Police and worked in the Meadowlands in a homeland-security, command-center role during the Super Bowl. Brody has worked for organizations that helped towns rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, and established a professional relationship with William Hill personnel prior to PASPA’s repeal.
The court decision turned his life in a new direction. Online gaming’s rapid growth, coupled with the opened floodgates of sports wagering, made compliance a key position.
Brody provides regulatory oversight for daily operations and represents the company to state regulators throughout the testing process of new digital products.
“The job has three major areas,” he says. “One is making sure promos and specials are within state regulations and clearly outlined to players. The second regards anything to do with our platform. As you can imagine, if there is any problem with functionality it’s all-hands-on-deck to get it up and running. I am the face of William Hill to the regulators.
“The third area is expansion,” he adds, regarding nuances and complexities across different states in a rapidly expanding market sector.
“Through every metric you can think of, from the head counts of employees to the number of players online, the wagering opportunities we are offering—it is absolutely through the roof,” he says. “The energy and the teamwork that comes with that has been fantastic.”
Brody loves the buzz of bettors engaged in the operation he oversees and is honored to join the Emerging Leaders group.
“I hope what this indicates is my passion for the industry and potential in the industry,” he says.
And at least on one day every year, when he blows out the candles, Brody will have a gaming milestone to celebrate. —Dave Bontempo
Dan Cherry, Corporate Vice President of Gaming, Operations, Penn National Gaming
Next April, Dan Cherry is going to run downhill in Las Vegas. That isn’t a misprint. Cherry plans to compete in the Mt. Charleston Marathon, also not a misprint. “It’s downhill with a 6,000-foot elevation drop, ending in northwest Las Vegas,” says Cherry, corporate vice president of gaming operations for Penn National Gaming.
For Cherry, the contradiction of a mountain marathon in a desert is just one of the quirks about the Baton Rouge native, whose goal is to run 50 marathons in 50 states. “I’ll be at 10 by early next year, so I’m off to a good start.”
Cherry got into the casino industry almost by accident. He studied finance at Washington University in St. Louis then worked in retail.
“That wasn’t for me at all,” he says. “I came across a posting for a planning and analysis position at the local Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Missouri. I thought it sounded fun and applied on a whim.”
He got the job, and at the time considered it just the next job on the resume. A few years later, it turned into a career.
In Cherry’s current position, he aligns Penn National’s overall gaming strategy—slots, tables and poker—to ensure operations at all locations reflect a one-company philosophy. “We have the largest slot machine footprint in North America,” he says, “and I manage a great team that works closely with property gaming leaders to make sure the best product is in the right places, at the best price.”
Another priority is gaming analytics and technology for slots and table games. The industry has not done a good job leveraging the wealth of data out in gaming operations, Cherry says.
“Coupling that with amazing innovations in table games and slot hardware, there’s just so much opportunity to deliver an incredible, personalized gaming experience,” he says.
When it comes to roadblocks, Cherry says he’s had none. He credits the two organizations he’s worked for: Ameristar Casinos, and now Penn National.
“In both companies I found great cultures and sets of core values, and also leaders who were willing to take a chance on people who lacked experience but worked hard.”
A lack of obstacles doesn’t negate mentors. On the contrary.
“I’ve been fortunate because I haven’t had a single boss in this industry who wasn’t a great mentor for me in some way.”
Todd Greenberg and Bob Sobczyk at Ameristar gave him his start in gaming and taught Cherry about slots and table games. Sherri Summers, Cherry’s GM at Cactus Pete’s in Jackpot, Nevada, and George Stadler, GM at Ameristar Vicksburg, helped him make the transition to operations.
“Both drilled into me the importance of making employees and guests the top priorities in this business at all times,” he says.
The best is yet to come for Cherry.
“This is great time to be a part of the industry,” he says. “There are so many changes going on for all of us, with the growth of online gaming, developments in game design, and all kinds of new technologies coming to market to improve operating efficiencies and the gaming experience. I just want to keep learning and growing with it.”
He has some sage advice for those coming up in the industry.
“The thing I see over and over is, it’s an industry that rewards talented people who are willing to put in the work, treat people well and are passionate about learning and evolving in how they view the business,” Cherry says. “For people starting out their careers, there’s a ton of opportunity, but it’s not always an obvious career path.” —Bill Sokolic
Kelly Sullivan, Director of Global HR & Development, Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment
Kelly Sullivan has always had a passion for helping people. She obtained her bachelor’s degree while simultaneously working as an intern for the Mohegan Tribe, where she was able to experience the myriad aspects of its various business units.
When Sullivan decided to continue her formal education and pursue a master’s degree, she had proven to be such an asset that the head of the Career and Leadership Development Department, where Sullivan was interning, asked that she stay on with the team while she earned her advanced degree.
At Sacred Heart University, Sullivan started with the desire to be a marriage and family therapist. Within that first year, her experiences—and successes—working within her role led her to transition to a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology and community counseling.
Within three years, Sullivan advanced from administrator to director, working to provide meaningful employment and career advancement for tribal members. Sullivan then decided to round out her formal education with a certification in financial management from Cornell University.
In her current role as director of global HR and development for Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Sullivan is instrumental in the development efforts of MGE and its affiliates worldwide. She holds a leading role in advising executive leadership on plans to achieve standardization in human capital, guest service and operational strategic priorities both domestically and globally and assists with the execution and opening of all properties.
Sullivan is very proud to be a member of the Mohegan Tribe, which is an extremely important part of who she is, and she strives to be recognized for her dedication and hard work.
To that end, Sullivan views her success as a result of that effort and good timing. According to those she has worked with, it can also be attributed to her confident, yet humble nature. Pat LaPierre, a newly elected member of the Mohegan Tribal Council, has been a mentor to Sullivan since her days as an intern.
“Kelly’s been so successful at such an early age because she has a great personality, is curious, intelligent, mature beyond her years, and is fearless,” LaPierre observes. “She is never afraid to take on something she knows nothing about.”
Earlier this year, Sullivan was offered the opportunity to relocate to Seoul, Korea, to assist with the development of Mohegan’s Inspire Entertainment Resort, opening in 2022. While on assignment, Sullivan is working with business leaders to implement the gaming and operations business strategies, align the organizational culture, negotiate and manage strategic partnership business terms and interface with government agencies on key issues.
“It was not so much what we saw in Kelly that made us want to invest in her as a future leader, as much as it was what she did and continues to do to make herself essential and indispensable to our success,” says Mario Kontomerkos, chief executive officer of Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment. “It is her always positive attitude that consistently generates positive outcomes, which has led and will continue to lead to her continued success.”
When asked for her advice to future emerging leaders, Sullivan recommends never saying no to an opportunity. While you may not like or want that opportunity, she feels you learn the most from what you dislike doing. It’s OK to admit you don’t know—just work to learn and educate yourself. Finally, she embodies her belief to always be kind, and advocates that you do not have to “have the title” to be a leader.
As for the future? Sullivan has proven that she is wide open to whatever door is the next to open in her path. Her only challenge may be choosing from the many doors that will definitely be opening for her. —Allison McCoy, Vice President of Business Development, The Innovation Group
In With the New
Diana Szorc, Digital Marketing Manager, Rush Street Gaming
How to describe career woman Diana Szorc in one word?
Szorc has made a career out of forsaking old traditions for new trends in the gaming industry, all without so much as flinching. Her colleagues describe her as “poised and professional, with a fresh outlook,” citing moments when she presented bold ideas to rooms full of industry veterans with the confidence of a seasoned pro. With a talent for effectively communicating with executives of all ages, experiences and backgrounds, Szorc is more than deserving of the high level of respect that she has earned from her business associates throughout the industry.
While acquiring her bachelor of business administration in marketing at Loyola University Chicago’s Quinlan School of Business, Szorc’s gaming industry career began in 2014 when Rush Street Gaming hired her to be a summer intern.
The renowned conglomerate named after Chicago’s iconic north-south roadway, Rush Street, was known for running everything from casinos, restaurants and hotels to internet gaming and television production, with business units universally themed with destination-based gaming, recreation and entertainment.
Szorc’s first order of business was the daunting task of assessing the casino’s social media presence and convincing senior-level executives to jump on the social media train. But her persistence paid off, and after her educating and encouraging her peers, Rush Street Gaming crossed over to the powerful marketing tool that is social media, and continues to reap the benefits across all of its properties nationwide.
Szorc achieved her ongoing growth by building relationships with Rush Street executives and attending educational seminars and conferences that helped her to stay ahead on trends in the industry. Finding creative ways to acquire her own resources gained her company-wide attention, at which point she was assigned as project lead on several vast corporate initiatives.
Now as a digital marketing manager for Rush Street Gaming, Szorc continues to challenge the status quo of the gaming industry by seeking marketing tactics that appeal to the generation of gamers currently emerging. “Our industry is long overdue for a wakeup call,” says Szorc. “Conventional strategies will no longer work with this up-and-coming demographic, and we have to be open to new technologies, new methods, and new ideas.”
With her propensity for taking action, it’s no shock that Szorc sits on several ambitious boards, including Board39, Northwestern Hospital’s oncology advisory board of cancer survivors who aid the hospital’s adolescent and young adult program through their own experiences, and the Loyola University Chicago Alumni Board.
And in her spare time when she’s out running the Chicago Lakefront Trail, you can bet she’s thinking up ideas on how to move the industry toward the next evolution of the gaming experience. —Marie Casias, Manager of Marketing and Administration, The Innovation Group
Engineered for Advancement
Samantha Powell, General Manager, GLI Australia
In the not-so-distant past, women entering the technology sector needed an extra measure of stick-to-it-iveness—along with a glass-cutter—to bust through gender-based preconceptions. According to Samantha Powell, Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) Australia not only welcomed a green college grad with no experience, but pointed her toward open doors and then pushed her through.
Powell started in 2001 as a testing engineer, then served in increasingly responsible roles in quality control, regulatory compliance, licensing, certifications, accreditation and more.
In her most recent position, as senior manager of engineering, “I had pretty much full responsibility for our APAC region, Australia and Macau, with a focus on engineering and managing thee quality assurance team,” says Powell, who recently was elevated to general manager of the engineering department. “The new role I’m taking on will be more of the business side.”
At college, the Adelaide native studied physics and computer science, but “had no idea” what she would do thereafter. For a time, she worked in the pokie room of a local pub, making change and refilling drinks, but says “the customers knew more about slot machines than I did.” Then she learned GLI was actively courting university graduates. She applied, was hired, and has been on the ascent ever since.
Her bosses “always opened up new career paths for me,” Powell says, even when she didn’t fully welcome them. “Although I was passionate about getting ahead and being given more opportunities, at times it was a bit scary. But I always gave it a go. I’ve been really lucky, and I’m blown away to be given this new position.”
The working mother of a 10-year-old daughter (Jaime) welcomes support from all corners: at home, husband Matthew, her parents and in-laws all pitch in. “It’s not too much pressure, it’s just enough,” she says with a laugh. “It’s chaotic sometimes, and I’m on the go all the time. But I do enjoy that. I perform well under pressure. Otherwise, I think I’d be bored.”
She thanks Ian Hughes, now GLI’s vice president of global services, for guiding her in her career. “When I started, he was in the role I’m in now, and he taught me so much, especially about decision-making.”
Asked what traits have been essential in her professional success and advancement, Powell replies without hesitation: “The people connection. I believe I’m an empathetic person with customers and employees. I think my team feels really supported. I get good satisfaction out of helping someone with a problem. And when presented with a challenge, I’ve always tried to find a solution that benefits everyone.” —Marjorie Preston
Check back with us next month when we’ll profile more of the top 40 Under 40