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Rod Smith

MGM Mirage Executive Plays Matchmaker With Diverse Businesses

28 November 2005

It's easy to miss the little white clapboard building squeezed in between the Carriage House and MGM Grand on Audrie Lane amid the razzle-dazzle of casinos and the massive hotel towers on the Strip.

The building could be part of the set for MGM's 1930s Andy Hardy movie series, but instead, it's the human resources and purchasing headquarters of Nevada's largest employer: MGM Mirage.

Here, a young female executive, Kenyatta Lewis, is working to help minority-run small businesses work with Nevada's largest single contractor, employer and taxpayer.

Lewis is a little like the Dolly Levi character in the Broadway musical "Hello Dolly!" She's a yenta, a matchmaker. Every breath she breathes, at least at work, goes toward courting minority businesses and women-led businesses.

"Being a woman of color and being a minority, there is personal satisfaction whenever I can assist any of the emerging markets -- Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Indians, Asian-Pacific, Native Americans and all women as well as the disabled," she said. "Our diversity purchasing program is not just for the African-American community, but for all the emerging markets and that where I get personal satisfaction, in contributing to the economic growth of their businesses."

Ultimately, MGM Mirage's purchasing decisions are based on competitive pricing, quality products and excellence in customer service, Lewis said, but it's her goal to help minority small businesses win purchasing contracts with MGM Mirage.

"The first thing I look for is that our vendors fit that criteria first. We're looking at a pool in these emerging markets to see who has the best quality in the market," she said.

"But when it comes back to the goals, it is not me personally (who makes the purchasing decision), but the buyers at each property. I'm there to support the inclusion of businesses from all those markets," Lewis said.

Question: What is your job?

Answer: My job is to be the liaison between the vendor community and the buyers that are housed at our 24 (hotel-casino) properties. I meet with the suppliers to evaluate their products and services and see how they fit in with MGM Mirage, and, in turn, to educate them on the culture of how to do business in gaming. Basically, this is the first step for suppliers and I do a lot of matchmaking.

Also, I'm a sourcing agent for the suppliers. There's a policy that any bids exceeding $1,000 must include a minority component -- women, minority or disadvantaged business.

I'm the go-to person who supplies them with that information -- locally and nationally, but we look locally first.

I'm also chairwoman of a purchasing diversity committee made up of buyers with the various properties. We share information on certified minority and women-owned businesses we may be able to use and each month we invite one of the suppliers to come in and do a presentation to the group. (And) I travel across the nation throughout the year attending trade shows and conferences that target the different diversity markets.

Question: How has the merger with Mandalay Resort Group changed your job?

Answer: More than changing my job, it's expanded it. Rather than going to 10 properties, I go to 24 to make sure the message of diversity is consistent.

When I think back, MGM Mirage has had our diversity network for five years. The merger has made us take a step back and see how far we've come.

And looking at the Mandalay side, it's just made us take a step back and see the strides we've made and realize there was no formalized program for diversity at Mandalay.

So it's made us look to make sure we're introducing our culture in those properties, making sure ever one is inclusive and every on is moving forward as one.

It will take time for us to make sure we build a critical mass and don't have a setback. In the end, it'll be great for the community, for all vendors and for us as a company.

Question: How did you get into purchasing?

Answer: It started when I was in 10th grade working at Sandia (National) Labs as a policy proofer. Of all the positions I've held, purchasing has just stayed with me.

Question: How did you get into diversity?

Answer: I saw an e-mail when I was working at MGM Grand. There was a diversity director looking for volunteers for an event at Cashman Field. She thought I was doing a great job. She'd decided to move on, and the company decided to split the job in two and asked if I would consider the diversity position.

I was hired first to do all the reporting because I was timid about talking with the vendor community, but it speaks to the quality of commitment from the company. They thought I did a great job and moved me forward.

Question: What's most challenging about your job?

Answer: Being able to serve everyone, to place everyone. That's a challenge. I don't try to, really. I try to do what I'm physically able to do. It's a great asset to our company to make sure the message gets out, but it's a challenge getting back East to get to a conference and you can't be at all places at all times.

Question: Was gaming a draw for all this to you?

Answer: No, because I don't deal on the gaming side at all. I consider myself hospitality. I understand gaming is what keeps the city growing. It creates jobs, but I'm not moved one way or the other by gaming.

Question: Are small businesses frustrated with the process?

Answer: The initial meeting I have with suppliers is educational. Oftentimes they want to sell us a product we don't buy or use. Often, I then educate them: we don't use that widget, but we do use these widgets.

We're not trying to give away money. We don't give money to a diverse business just because they're diverse-owned. It has to be a win-win for both of us.

Sometimes, if there's a large contract that's been bundled and then can only provide one line item, we'll unbundle the bid. But it's just explaining to them everyone doesn't start at the top.

You start small and establish a track record because you don't want to bite off more than you can chew. And we grow their business and move them into the other properties. Once I share that information, they are a lot calmer, we cultivate a relationship and they come back knowing the door is always open.

My message to the vendor community?

Do their research, go on our Web site before approaching MGM Mirage and ensure what they are providing is competitive in the area and they know the infrastructure so they are ready before they come to the table.

We put our bid opportunities on the site so that's a great place to start, but we do require they are certified as a minority, woman or diverse business, certified by a third party.

MGM Mirage Executive Plays Matchmaker With Diverse Businesses is republished from