A Note to Aspiring General Managers

How to groom your team for today’s success while strategically planning to build long-term opportunities

By Deana Scott I recently attended an event that brought together General Managers from throughout Indian gaming. As a relatively new General Manager, I was excited and anxious to attend, wondering what I might discover that would help me become a more effective leader.

The group was an impressive crowd of tenured industry leaders. It was inspiring to realize that even after decades in the industry, these leaders maintained passion and commitment toward their team and the Tribe they serve. Since beginning my career in gaming twenty years ago, I knew that I wanted to become the General Manager of a property. I hate to admit it, and I am sure my former GMs will agree, but I was a great armchair quarterback. I was the pesky marketing person asking why or offering unsolicited advice outside of my scope. Luckily for me, each of them had patience and a sense of humor in spite of their differing management styles.

As I looked around the room, I reflected on my journey to General Manager and what I had learned from my former General Managers that I carry with me today:

Chuck Leonard – My first casino manager’s meeting was held in a pizza parlor while drinking wine and playing poker. I knew that this was the beginning of a great adventure! Chuck was a gambler and always reminded me that we are in the gambling business first. Our players come expecting to lose, but hoping to win, so we must make sure that they have a good time. You need to know the players, walk the floor, and be willing to place a bet. He grew up in the industry, and made it clear that this is a 24/7 business and we must be available for our guests and team at any time.

Marc Dryden – Like clockwork, Marc would bound up the stairs with a cup of coffee in hand, ready to greet the day. He was high energy, to say the least. This was in the late 90’s when revenue increases appeared to have no limit. Coming from the media industry myself, I always appreciated Marc’s understanding of public relations and community involvement. It wasn’t just something that you did to drive business; it was the right thing to do.

He encouraged us to create partnerships, and gave his personal time to participate in the community. Additionally, during one of my rants about all of the items that needed to get completed, he offered me advice that I still use today. I am not sure that it was meant as a compassionate bit of advice, but more of a command. “You need to find balance!” Nearly twenty years later, I find that this is one of my regular pieces of advice to friends, team members and myself. Find balance!

Larry Close – I was on the interview panel for our new General Manager when I met him. He had a resume a mile long and was hoping to make our property his last stop before retirement. As a new property, we needed some experience on our team. Being in marketing, I always had crazy ideas about what we could do to the GM. Early in his tenure, I remember he once told me that we would never catch him in a costume at the casino. Maybe I took this as a challenge, but by the end of his tenure he wore a fish costume, starred with me in a Veterans Tribute show (this was a bit awkward), and finally appeared on stage in front of 300 employees as Elton John singing “Crocodile Rock,” platform shoes and all. I always appreciated his willingness to try new ways of doing business, and he would support you, win or lose. In fact, Larry will be known to me as a pioneer in transitioning the industry. He embraced technology, going so far as to open one of the first iPad gaming lounges in the industry. Although today this room was not the success that some had hoped – time will tell. All concepts have a beginning, and it’s important to have those leaders who are willing to innovate and keep trying to find ways to improve our industry.

Michael Peters – I actually met Michael at a NIGA event through a mutual friend who said, “You will really like this guy.” And she was right. Later, when I realized that we would be working together to open a property, I was eager to get started. I quickly learned that Michael wasn’t only a great GM, but a great Tribal Leader. As a member of the Squaxin Tribe, he is passionate about protecting sovereign rights and maintaining a separation of responsibilities between government and enterprise. He consistently challenged Tribal Council to examine the process and reasoning behind decisions. As you can imagine, this doesn’t always make you popular with your bosses. But it was his intentions and true commitment to the sovereign rights of all Tribes that I appreciate to this day. His passion to do what he feels is right for the longterm success of the Tribe and business, combined with his loyalty to his team, continues to inspire me. True leaders make unpopular decisions, which at times are at their own expense. Ultimately, Michael’s departure became my opportunity. It is still bittersweet, but I will always be grateful for his leadership and giving me the opportunity to become GM.

The General Manager must groom today’s team for success while strategically planning to build long-term opportunity for the organization for generations to come. This task cannot be accomplished alone. So, to all the aspiring General Managers:

  1. Be the best second-in-command that you can be. You can be involved in decisions and improve your management skills, but avoid the stress and responsibility of making the final call. Now that I sit in the “hot seat,” I have a much greater appreciation for the pressure and responsibility.
  2. Perform the tasks without expectation of reward or recognition. Your reward will be the opportunities that come down the road in terms of experience.
  3. Bring the problem and the solution. Your General Manager is juggling multiple issues, so they will appreciate someone who is willing to step forward to identify and then solve issues that improve the overall organization.
  4. Find ways to work in all aspects of the facility. This will help you to have more compassion for your team and direct experience to help solve problems.
  5. Thank your GM for all the behind the scenes negotiating and reporting that goes on outside of running the daily operation. It is this work that removes the hurdles for the operation to run effectively, yet it is rarely recognized by staff.

So thank you to all the General Managers who I had the privilege of working with over the years and those I met at the exchange in San Diego. And to the aspiring GMs, remember that having the job is a great privilege, and one that comes with great responsibility. Future generations are counting on you.

Deana Scott, our newest Raving Partner, is a twenty-year industry veteran who offers assistance in operations, strategic planning, marketing, leadership development & coaching. Contact Amy Hergenrother today at 775-329-7864, or amy@ravingconsulting.com, for more information.