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Nevadan At Work: Tjeerd Brink; Director of Finance, Palms28 February 2005
By Howard Stutz
While he is a member of the executive team that oversees the Palms, you won't find Tjeerd Brink, the resort's finance director, hanging out at one of the property's trendy clubs or restaurants.
On most weekends, Brink, 41, is more likely on one of the Las Vegas Valley's many soccer fields, watching his children's games.
His family's activities offer Brink a much-needed escape from his multitude of duties at the Palms.
A certified public accountant, Brink has had a varied career, working for some of the larger gaming operations (Caesars Palace and Harrah's) and some of Southern Nevada's most well-recognized names, including William Bennett, the late chairman of Circus Circus Enterprises; Hard Rock Hotel Chairman Peter Morton; real estate developer Jim Rhodes; and Palms developer George Maloof.
At the privately held Palms, several areas fall under the auspices of the finance department, which might be different if the casino were part of a multiproperty organization.
Brink has been with the Palms since 2001 and in Las Vegas since 1986. He spent about a year in St. Louis with Harrah's.
Brink is used to transition.
At age 8, he and his family moved from his birthplace in Amsterdam, Holland, to the United States -- Brink's first name originated from Holland's northeastern province of Friesland.
His father was a geologist for an oil company and the family settled in Houston. Brink spoke only Dutch.
"I had attended an American school in Holland for about five months before we moved," said Brink, who became an American citizen in 1987. "Part of the moving experience to Houston was the schools didn't know how to handle Dutch kids. My three brothers and I did fine in math, but for English and reading, we ended up in the special education classrooms playing games. We had to self teach ourselves English. We only spoke English in the house."
When talking with Brink, there is not a hint of a Dutch accent.
"I have an accent when I go back for Houston for a week, but it isn't Dutch," he said.
In high school, Brink was an all-American swimmer, which landed him a scholarship to the University of Kansas.
After graduating, he took a position as an auditor with Arthur Andersen, the defunct accounting agency, in Kansas City. But after two years, he and his wife, Karla, wanted to move out West to be closer to their families.
Question: How did you get into the gaming industry?
Answer: I met my certified public accountant requirements after two years at Arthur Andersen. A headhunter told me about a job opportunity (in Las Vegas). I had never been to Las Vegas and I flew in by myself, took a cab from the airport to Caesars Palace, walked in the door and smelled opportunity. I knew absolutely zero about gambling but I knew enough about compliance and internal audit so it was a good way to get in and get started.
Question: How is working for the Palms different from a company with multiple casinos?
Answer: You do more at the property level because you don't have the corporate infrastructure to help you with certain tasks. Most of the big companies with multiple properties have corporate payrolls and corporate payables. We do all that here on site, which presents a challenge.
Question: What areas do you oversee?
Answer: I have a great team of over 100 employees, which includes accounting, payroll, planning and analysis, information technology, purchasing, the warehouse, casino cage and the count room. I report to (Palms General Manager) Jim Hughes.
Question: Are finance mattters handled differently than at larger companies?
Answer: We're not publicly traded. We only disclose our earnings to whoever George Maloof and his family want to see the numbers.
We disclose our earnings to anyone who has any type of ownership in company (the Greenspun family and Station Casinos own about 7 percent of the Palms).
At the same time, we strive to do our financial statements in the same way (the publicly traded companies) do them. We have the same diligence and procedures in closing out months and years. We do monthly and annual reports and go through audits.
Question: Is there interaction with the Maloof family and their other businesses?
Answer: The Maloof family has a corporate finance structure that handles their other businesses, like the Sacramento Kings and the beer distributorship in New Mexico. They have a chief financial officer, Tom Land, who oversees those financial aspects of those entities.
Question: Does being a single casino operation allow the Palms more flexibility?
Answer: In a publicly traded company, every quarter you're fighting to please your shareholders.
A lot of people underestimate George Maloof. He's much more than a great marketing guy. He knows every inch of this business.
George does things other people won't try and he can take those chances because he doesn't necessarily have shareholders. He's got people to answer to, such as his family and other investors, and he has to bring a return to the property.
Question: Are you ever star-struck by all the Palms celebrities?
Answer: If celebrities are here and I'm the manager on duty, I try to make sure things are going smoothly for them and I respect their privacy. I think that's what draws them here, because George caters to their needs and respects their privacy while allowing them to have fun in a secure setting.
Actually, I really don't recognize a lot of the celebrities. My wife and kids are always telling me which celebrities were here, and what's going on in the place.
Question: What was it like working for William Bennett?
Answer: He had a private holding company that took care of his personal investments and financial needs. We also handled other information, such as insurance and taxes. Basically, we had an office with two CPAs doing everything that someone with $600 million in net worth needed to look out for.
Question: What type of knowledge did you take away from the Fremont Street Experience?
Answer: I learned a lot about politics, people and dispute resolution. During the board meetings, watching (President) Mark Paris and (board Chairman) Don Snyder work to bring people together for a common goal to improve visitor volume to downtown Las Vegas was a great learning experience.
Question: You left Las Vegas for a year to work for Harrah's St. Louis. How was that experience?
Answer: The market is very different. It's almost all grind play. You have people waiting in line to sit at a machine.
Question: Talk about the similarities and differences between the Hard Rock Hotel and the Palms, since you worked for both.
Answer: We're a niche property and there are just a few holdout niche properties. The Hard Rock was a great example of a niche property for people who like rock 'n' roll and rock 'n' roll memorabilia. (Hard Rock Chairman) Peter Morton and George have both created phenomenal properties.
Question: So the Palms is a comfortable setting for you as opposed to a company with multiple casinos?
Answer: To keep the growth rates up, we can't sit on our hands and do nothing. We always have to reinvent. I'm learning and when you stop having fun and stop learning, you have to find something different.
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