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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

MGM Mirage Exec: Yemenidjian Will be Tough Competitor

10 June 2005

LAS VEGAS --Departing MGM Mirage board member Alex Yemenidjian won't likely partner with the company on any future gaming projects and would instead emerge as a competitor, a top MGM Mirage executive said.

MGM Mirage President and Chief Financial Officer Jim Murren said he is sorry that Yemenidjian is leaving the company but said he welcomes the competition.

"I'm a huge admirer of his," said Murren, who was promoted after Yemenidjian -- former president and chief operating officer of corporate predecessor MGM Grand -- was tapped to run Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. in 1999. Yemenidjian lured Murren from Wall Street to join MGM Grand in 1998.

Yemenidjian helped longtime boss Kirk Kerkorian engineer the birth of MGM Grand as a public company. He served as chief executive of Kerkorian's movie studio until its recent sale to a group of investors led by Sony Corp. of America. He has become a free agent with the sale, Murren said.

"He's a man of incredible talent and energy and drive," he said. "He has far more ambition and too much creativity to be satisfied with a more passive board role."

Yemenidjian resigned from MGM Mirage's board Wednesday in order to pursue "other opportunities" in the gaming industry but said he didn't have any definitive plans.

"There's plenty of capital and ideas available but the one thing that's in very short supply is talented management," Murren said. "Alex is at the top of that list. Opportunity is going to find him."

Yemenidjian took Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's immense movie library of Hollywood classics and more recent franchises and reissued the films in various forms, transforming the money-losing company into a profitable enterprise, Murren said.

"It's one of the great American turnaround stories," he said. "He took a business model that was quite volatile, which is the production of movies, and created a consistent model for earnings," he said. In the movie business, "misses are big misses" and hits are less frequent, he said.

Yemenidjian's career is unique in that he has a depth of experience in both gaming and entertainment industries -- two businesses that some believe will eventually merge in some form.

"I'm still waiting for that day when an entertainment company buys or invests or partners with a gaming company," Murren said. "I think we're getting closer and closer ... the entertainment industry is becoming more cash flow oriented and the gaming industry is becoming more entertainment oriented."

Yemenidjian will look at gaming projects in Las Vegas as well as beyond, said Murren, who said he has discussed several "what if" scenarios with his colleague over the years.

"He takes a very global view of gaming. What he actually settles on I really don't know but there will probably be multiple opportunities for him," he said.

No project would be too big for Yemenidjian, who would be able to finance major resorts, Murren said.

"He has tremendous contacts in the private equity world ... where (investors) are extraordinarily attracted to gaming. I don't think there's a number out there that's too high."

MGM Mirage Exec: Yemenidjian Will be Tough Competitor is republished from