MBA Sternies took Las Vegas by storm on January 13 as part of the annual winter on-site intensive course called “Operations in Entertainment: Las Vegas,” taught by Professor Harry Chernoff. It was the 11th session since the course took off in 2009, and this year, the professor’s theme was very much centered around “Even the Devil Needs Logistics,” aiming to enhance students’ exposure to how entertainment is supplied by the leaders of Las Vegas. The course curriculum contrasts the off-strip local offerings of Station Casinos’ Red Rock Resorts with the legacy strip hotels and casinos including the Bellagio, MGM and Aria.
Overall, the class hit over 20 site visits including companies representing: hotel and casinos, food and beverages, gaming, real estate development, and the city’s exciting nightlife — think the LIGHT Vegas nightclub, UFC, and Cirque du Soleil! The week was jammed from 9am to an early midnight bed-time (is that even possible in Vegas?).
One of the most interesting venues we visited was the UFC headquarters. Former UFC champion Forrest Griffin met the Stern group at the front lobby and gave us a tour around the athletic complex. Then, UFC’s head of marketing and head of analytics presented us with different ways in which the company measured their audience and even revealed their new marketing strategies.
We also found that Station Casinos and MGM Mirage have executive programs, promoting job opportunities and internships. One of the highlights was meeting Stern alumnus and owner of Station Casinos, Lorenzo Fertitta. Station Casinos dominates the local casino market in Las Vegas as a key player in the gaming and hospitality industry there. In addition to Fertitta’s great hospitality during the trip, he also started the Fertitta Scholarship program at Stern for veterans.
There were dozens of presentations and Q&A sessions with the top decision-makers in Las Vegas. We had the rare opportunity to grill the head general managers of four Red Rock hotels in one panel as well as three female vice presidents from MGM Resorts International, who were working in various business areas such as sports entertainment, food and beverages, and convention sales.
Female executives continue to be rare in Las Vegas but the numbers are growing. The course emphasized dealing with gender biases, and Professor Chernoff made the effort to garner equal representation in our site visits. For instance, MGM Mirage set up a corporate executive panel that consisted of all female panelists. In one inspiring story, the general manager of LIGHT Vegas shared her experience of working her way up the company after having started as a bartender.
As for the Stern group itself, it couldn’t have been any more diverse. About 80 percent of the class was made up of Langone students, providing a great opportunity to mix between the full- and part-timers. While the majority of the group didn’t know more than a few people in the class, we bonded quickly through day-time corporate visits and late-night gambling, which included our class “field trip” to LIGHT Vegas and a Friday night out to the D Hotel. At the D, our host Richard Wilk set up an open bar and treated us to a VIP section of an outdoor concert.
We found that one of the most effective ways to learn how the city operates was by doing the back-of-the-house tour first, and then re-visiting the same spots as a guest afterwards. In this way, the course enabled students to understand the decision-making process of each area of entertainment and then evaluate their effectiveness as customers.
The course was certainly a hard to beat combination of learning, networking and fun, and will stand out as one of the most memorable experiences during my time at Stern.