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Rod Smith

Nevadan At Work: Steve Bell; Executive Vice President of Human Relations and Administration, Caesars Entertainment

13 September 2004

What's the difference between being an assistant men's basketball coach at the University of Connecticut and the chief of administration and human resources at Las Vegas-based gaming giant Caesars Entertainment?

Not much, said Steve Bell, executive vice president at Caesars Entertainment. Huh?

Bell, a member of the top-tier troika that leads the gaming giant, says he's often asked if the transition from one career to the other, seemingly worlds apart, was tough.

But he says coaching and corporate human resources essentially boil down to the same functions: recruiting talent, training, motivating and retaining workers.

And whether you're doing it for a basketball team or for a trust company, the functions are the same.

"If people will tell you how to do the business, it's easy to recruit people, so the transition wasn't that hard. In all the (corporate) jobs I've had, people have been willing to share their information, so I've been able to do my job a lot easier," he said.

Easier and well. Bell was recently honored with the first Urban Chamber of Commerce Executive of the Year Award in Las Vegas.

"For me, that award was for the whole crew, the whole staff that works for me here (at Caesars Entertainment). It was really in recognition of all the contributions Caesars Entertainment makes to the community. We've contributed not only to the Urban Chamber, but a lot of the organizations in Las Vegas," he said.

However, easy as the transition may have been, you'd never mistake Bell's office in Caesars Entertainment's corporate headquarters at Howard Hughes Center for a college coach's hideout.

The floor-to-ceiling windows in his semicircular office look out on the lush landscape of one of the nation's ritziest business parks, while security and a bevy of staff members keep Bell somewhat protected from the maddening crowds.

Still, you don't get the feeling he's had a chance to settle in or that Las Vegas has become a lifetime commitment. The decor is corporate chic, but impersonal with no particular touch to show that he is helping to run a casino giant in the entertainment capital of the world.

Question: What have you found is different about recruiting in Las Vegas?

Answer: In the upper positions, if you're recruiting from outside Las Vegas, it becomes difficult because you have to explain Las Vegas, that it creates opportunities in itself as the city grows. A lot of people don't understand Las Vegas. They think it's just casinos and there's a lot more to Las Vegas. It has good educational systems and a lot to offer. So you have to explain the city. The other thing that's different is everybody's working under contract, so you don't pirate from one another.

Question: How did you stumble into gambling?

Answer: I got a call from a search firm and they asked if I'd have an interest in talking with Park Place Entertainment (now Caesars Entertainment). At first, I said "no" because I didn't understand the gaming side. But the recruiter was persistent and wanted to talk. Then he asked if I'd talk with the CEO. We spent some time talking. I said before I came to Las Vegas I wanted to spend time talking with Wally Barr, who was COO.

We spent a lot of time talking and he walked me through the gaming side. Wally explained why they needed a human resources executive. The idea was to try to be consistent throughout the regions, much like other companies. What we wanted to do was to make sure we are consistent in giving our employees the same message throughout the country.

Wally explained this was an opportunity to come in and help build something from the bottom up, to look at how we do training, for example. In some regions, they didn't do it. As well as looking at overall benefits. Everybody is escalating on benefit costs. So we can give our employees benefits, but control costs. For example, we've put in a new pharmacy, one here (at Bally's for Caesars Entertainment employees in Las Vegas) and one in the East. They encourage people to move to generic drugs. We'll save money, but you have employees who have a co-payment of $10 to $15, and that's a lot of money. So you find people who'll avoid the drugs. This cuts that down so it's a win-win for the company and the employees.

Question: How's Caesars Entertainment to work for?

Answer: It's been good. Not knowing Las Vegas, it was a major transition for me, but the people have made the transition a lot easier. The people out here have been very friendly. People have been willing to share information and educate you. That's allowed us to build the team. Executive of the year -- that's the staff. They've helped create a staff that's very diverse here. A lot of different programs have been introduced by a lot of people, but it's been a team. We've been very fortunate we've been free to do things. I really want to thank the staff here who've helped make this successful. As well as board members, but especially the staff and especially (CEO) Wally (Barr). I feel as a company we have to give back to the community.

Question: What do you like most about gaming?

Answer: It's all about people and it's all about customers and it's all about employees. If you treat your employees fairly and value them, they will transfer the same kind of feelings to customers. If you treat people well, they want to come back to your property.

That, and there's only one industry I've seen where people are willing to work with you, train you so your understand. People are willing to share with you. Here, they're willing to share and that's what makes this fun.

Question: What do you like least about your job?

Answer: The piece I hate the most is when you have to let people go. Nine-11 (2001) was very difficult and we had to let some people go. We didn't let a huge number go, but when one walks out the door, that's tough. I think more important is how you help them transition through the process and find another opportunity.

Question: What do you like most about Las Vegas?

Answer: The fights. I love going to the fights. It's fun just to go to the fights.

Question: What do you like least about Las Vegas?

Answer: I think there's no professional sports out here. I love sports. You miss them when you're from the Washington, D.C., area.

Question: What would you change?

Answer: I don't know if there's anything I'd change. When I first joined (Caesars Entertainment), I was the new guy on the block. I had to make sure people knew I wasn't out here to change the world. I learned from them and they learned from me, so that was helpful. And when a CEO's committed, it makes your job a lot easier. It's been a fine job because I've been given the opportunity to work with people to make changes.

Question: Where do you go from here?

Answer: People have asked me, with the merger, "What are you going to do?" But we still have a business to run, we still have a lot to accomplish and we're still running a business as usual. From a benefits point, training, diversity and business keep going. It's important for all our employees to understand we have a business to run and customers to serve, whatever happens with the merger.

Question: But what about you?

Answer: Eventually, I'd probably like to set up a consulting business, spend time here in Las Vegas as well as on the water on Cape Cod.