Marilyn Spiegel knows plenty about luxury.
When Spiegel, 58, replaced Andrew Pascal as president of Wynn Las Vegas in December, some figured that the 22-year veteran of Harrah’s (now Caesars) Entertainment was brought on board to apply that company’s bottom-line oriented, value-driven strategy to Steve Wynn’s namesake, substituting five-star service for an economy of scale.
In fact, it was Wynn’s difference from Harrah’s that attracted Spiegel. With an opportunity to see “two very different cultures in the same industry from the top perspective,” as she puts it, how could she refuse?
“When you go to work every day, you want to continue to be challenged,” Spiegel says. “Harrah’s has a middle-market strategy, and Wynn has an upscale luxury strategy. So you never know if you’re good or not unless you try your skills.” Spiegel had known Steve Wynn socially for years, but never planned on working for him; when Wynn approached her, her first response was that she wasn’t even sure she wanted to continue working. She spent a week mulling his offer, reading the company’s financials and replaying conference calls before deciding to start negotiating.
What does the casino icon think of his new president?
“We are very proud that Marilyn is here,” Wynn says. “She brings over two decades of experience and fresh perspective to the Wynn Resorts culture. Her stimulating point of view has invigorated us to think in new ways.”
While bringing that new viewpoint, Spiegel knows very well what makes Wynn unique.
“This is my husband’s favorite property on the Strip,” she explains, “so we would dine and come to events here often.”
Having watched The Mirage rise from the ground during her first year at the Holiday Casino, she’s got a good idea of where Wynn Las Vegas stands in the pantheon of Strip resorts; with plenty of time in the resort as a customer, she’s got a good idea of how to manage it.
“Let’s face it, it’s the most beautiful property in all of Las Vegas. Not only is it beautiful to the eye, its service is recognized as five-star.”
Some of Spiegel’s “fresh perspective” resulted in the closing of Alex, the Michelin two-star restaurant. For Spiegel, it was a sensible move, though one rued by Vegas foodies.
“There were already thoughts about customer preference at Alex,” she says. “Alex Stratta is a phenomenal chef, but the dining experience is lengthy and American tastes have changed.”
Spiegel has no doubts that she made the right call.
“We have capacity in our other restaurants. If you’re able to drive the fixed costs of your restaurants over more covers, it’s more efficient. And if that space can be used better for a different idea, so be it.”
This is not, she emphasizes, about cutting costs.
“With Steve, it’s not about being cautious about spending money, it’s about being cautious that the place always looks fresh and appealing. We change carpet at least every nine to 12 months. That’s astonishing in most of Las Vegas.”
Of course there are aspects of the resort’s culture Spiegel does want to change. She points out the organization’s tendency to structure itself into “silos,” with each revenue center (hotel, food and beverage, entertainment) having its own call center, its own analyst and its own marketing. She’s consolidating call-center functions in an effort to produce supervisors who are better able to manage their teams, and agents who are broadly knowledgeable about all the property has to offer.
“It’s one-stop shopping for a similar function,” she says. “By doing that together, you’ll have better revenue, stronger sales and better supervision since the supervisors will be with like people.” Analysts should also benefit from being grouped together; they’ll now have each other to bounce their spreadsheets and analyses off of. “I don’t want to eliminate every distinct area,” she says. “But in some places where it makes sense, the right hand needs to know what the left hand is doing.”
A Youngstown, Ohio, native who received a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Utah, Spiegel taught fashion merchandising at Weber State for a time. After being lured away from the Ph.D. marketing program at Arizona State University to work as the director of human resources at the Denver Dry Goods Co., a Colorado retail mainstay, she eventually moved to New York City and a job with Abraham & Straus, a storied Gotham retailer. But then motherhood intervened.
“It’s hard to raise a child in New York,” Spiegel says. “My husband and I decided to move, and we picked Las Vegas. If I ever wanted to go back to work, I figured I could work in the service business.”
As it happened, Spiegel soon answered two newspaper ads: one for a bank, and one for the Holiday Casino (today Harrah’s Las Vegas), which was looking for a training manager. The bank didn’t hire her; the casino did. Though she hadn’t much experience in gambling, Spiegel saw some continuity.
“What interested me about the casino business was that it was a service-oriented business catering to customers. From retail to casinos, I could get my head around that.”
Her retail background and academic focus gave her ideas. She’d already written a textbook on fashion merchandising published by McGraw Hill, and in her retail days authored detailed guides to various positions—buyer, department head, store manager. She received support from the Holiday’s top management to take a similar approach at the casino, teaching leadership, supervision, conflict resolution, labor relations and other topics to the casino’s supervisors.
Along the way, she expressed a curiosity about operations that saw her move from human resources to managing the casino’s cashier department. In her 10 months there, she “cleaned up the cage,” eliminating record keeping problems that earned the casino an infraction from state regulators.
From there, she returned to head human resources, first for the Holiday, then for Laughlin as well, and finally for all of Harrah’s Nevada properties. She learned about table games and in 1995 became director of slots for the property, which was then the leading dollar-slot house on the Strip.
In 1997, she moved to Shreveport, La., to become general manager of the Harrah’s property there, a two-year stint that gave her valuable operational experience before then-CEO Phil Satre recruited her to return to Las Vegas as senior vice president of human resources at the corporate level.
In 2004, she moved back to operations as president of the company’s two Strip properties, Harrah’s and the Rio. Since then, her portfolio shifted to include Bally’s, Paris and eventually Planet Hollywood—until she took Steve Wynn up on his offer to helm Wynn Las Vegas.
Some visitors will notice changes beyond the back-of-the-house functions. With a major room renovation just completed, Spiegel is now focused on refreshing the Fairway Villas and putting the final touches on the Lakeside Grill. She also notes that Steve is mulling “ideas for how to improve the Lake of Dreams.”
Through it all, she’s determined to keep Wynn the classiest place in town.
“I want us to lead in luxury,” she says, “and maintain that spot while continuing to delight our guests. I want things to be fresher. I want people to have a reason to continue to come back.”