During a recent dinner at a local restaurant, I saw a former high-profile casino executive whose tenure in Atlantic City ended somewhat suddenly. Throughout his 20-plus-year career, this guy has advanced in the ranks in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, so I couldn’t figure out why he disappeared. At the time of his exit, corporate executives describe his desire to explore “new opportunities.” That is usually code for someone’s less-than-amenable departure from a position.
What struck me was the change in his demeanor and appearance. The smooth, attractive flamboyancy was replaced with a very casual attire and longer hair. If I didn’t know his identity, I would have thought he was just another customer dining with his family.
Seeing this guy, who is probably not even 50, made me question what makes a good executive. What would be the reason for the “resignation” that often “saves face?“ If someone is that good, can that person weather a professional storm?
Every business, large and small, must individually define their concept of stewardship; the “culture” at each organization varies for different reasons. While there may be distinctions, I think all successful companies require common elements like accountability, innovation, competency and honesty. Rightfully so, the prosperous organizations have little patience for deception, incompetence and counterproductive conduct.
Admittedly, I am cynical, but occasionally even politicians are held to the same standards as the private sector. In the November 5 elections, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie won a landslide reelection victory. This welcome news will help Atlantic City casinos and ultimately the whole state.
Christie will continue his five-year support to right the statewide ship, aiming for a resurgent casino industry. Internet gaming launches on November 26 in Atlantic City, and Christie may move forward with a sports betting lawsuit, despite unfavorable lower court decisions.
In his acceptance speech, Christie confirmed that the public wants capability, but demands honesty. If leaders own their mistakes and apologize, the citizenry will forgive them. Christie also urged cooperation among opponents, evidenced by the fact that key New Jersey Democrats endorsed him over their own candidate.
But the real story is that Atlantic City’s voters finally ousted longtime incumbent Mayor Lorenzo Langford for Don Guardian, the head of Atlantic City’s special improvement district. The district was created as part of Christie’s five-year plan. Guardian is the first Republican elected since 1990 in a city with a 9-1 Democratic margin.
The demographics within the electorate have changed. A multi-cultural population has relocated to Atlantic City and understands that the 12 casinos are economic engines for their lives.
Voters realized that Langford’s contentious relationship with Christie negatively impacted their lives. Langford’s truly lackluster performance overshadowed any prior ethnic or racial loyalties. An African-American, Langford has often used race to define his opponents’ motives, including Christie’s. I am glad Atlantic City voters rejected that tactic.
Great CEOs have to work with people they don’t agree with or like. Sadly, most Washington politicians in both political parties, including President Obama, think otherwise. They cling to partisanship and disdain for the intentions and opinions of the other side.
Good governors, like good corporate executives or small business owners, seem to understand that they serve a greater purpose. They must often grit their collective teeth to develop successful policies and run their companies or states.
I hope the incoming mayor will understand this because Atlantic City needs a new cooperative spirit. The city has confronted competition from neighboring New York City, Pennsylvania, Delaware and, most recently, Maryland, for several years.
It will only grow tougher. Championed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, 57 % New York voters approved a constitutional amendment, authorizing up to seven full-scale casinos within economically distressed upstate regions. Despite concerns, voters viewed casinos as job creators and subsequently voted their wallets.
New York State already has five upstate Indian-run casinos and nine racino slot machine parlors. The first group will be limited to four upstate properties, with one near Pennsylvania’s northern border. Pennsylvania, watch out…it’s your turn to see your runaway successes and profits threatened.
Strong competition for the tens of millions residing within five hours of these northeastern states means the race will go to the swiftest. That scenario will demand only the finest executives. Who knows, maybe the guy I saw will get hired so the next time I see him, he’ll again have shorter hair and be wearing a suit.
Washed-up politicians need not apply.