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Rod Smith

Nevadan At Work: Wynn Exec Follows Rebellious Spirit

12 September 2005

Wynn Resorts Ltd. Senior Vice President Arte Nathan says he has enjoyed the thrill of helping developer Steve Wynn open new hotels.

When he was growing up, Arte Nathan always felt he had a choice between becoming a rabbi and becoming a lawyer.

So in the spirit of being a rebellious child of the '60s, which he is, Nathan chose to become a businessman, ultimately joining the family's iron and steel mill operation in Utica, N.Y.

He was lucky even before he went to college, drawing one of the highest numbers in the selective service lottery, which meant his chances of being drafted were slim. Had he not drawn a high number, Nathan says he doesn't know what he would have done -- served, dodged the draft, moved abroad or gone to jail.

But not everything was lucky about his young life in upstate New York.

Running a family business, Nathan broke his back in an industrial accident and was left unable to walk for two years. He overcame the handicap and the addiction to pain medication with which it had left him, but it was a painful experience.

That led him to Steve Wynn, who grew up in Utica and whom Nathan had known his whole life.

Nathan took over Wynn's human resources operation in New Jersey. Nathan later moved to Las Vegas to run human resources for Mirage Resorts when Wynn opened The Mirage. Today, he is senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Known as a compulsive worker, Nathan is really something of an artist. He collects guitars and strings them on the walls of his office. He likes to write sheet music and when bull sessions on business run out of steam, he and his colleagues like to jam.

Nathan also owns a home in the Adirondacks, where he vacations every year. There, he not only likes to restore old wooden boats, but he buys old street grates and makes tables out of them.

Nathan also reads voraciously. He goes to sleep every night reading a book. They are an escape from the constant encroachment of work and the thinking it entails, and for Nathan they represent vacations he can take 12 months a year.

Question: How did you get into human resources?

Answer: My degree was in personnel and labor relations. This is what I went to school for. I talked with Mr. Wynn. They were looking for a personnel director, I had a degree and we decided to try it.

Question: How did you find Wynn?

Answer: He was a family friend. When I sold the steel business, I was looking around for a new career. Atlantic City was starting. Hospitality was growing and looked stable. I called Steve and went to see him. I'd known him all my life, since I was 5. I met him and fortunately I had the credentials he was looking for.

Question: What's it been like to work for Steve Wynn for 20 years?

Answer: It's been like working for a family business. It's like working for my father and uncles. Nothing is left unsaid. It's an open relationship. He's a very demanding guy, but his demands are that we do the best in everything we do and that's a challenge I like. He demands you know what you're doing and you have a chance to argue your points. But you have to like working in a team environment in which everyone has their point and the best one wins.

Question: And what's it like, working for him now?

Answer: Challenging, exciting and fulfilling -- and that's all you can hope for in a career. I've been blessed in this guy giving me more rope. You can succeed or hang. But I like the challenge of doing these properties. When you work for Steve Wynn, you can never complain you didn't have enough (resources) to succeed. And I like that.

Question: What do you like least?

Answer: I don't know if it's him or the business, but the demands on our time and energy are tremendous and you have to get creative in how you balance your life. It's frustrating and challenging when the goal is to do the best, but I can't say there is anything I dislike.

Question: What do you like most?

Answer: Opening properties. I like the absolute adrenaline rush and the amount of work that goes into that. Putting together teams is one of the most critical aspects of each enterprise. And I grew up in the '60s. That era produced in us this desire to make a difference, to make things better. Steve Wynn has given me a chance to reach that goal. I've worked in helping the tens of thousands of people who work here, teaching them their goals and (helping them) meet their challenges. But when you do it big, it is exhilarating. And he loves it when you go to him with a big-picture idea.

Question: Of what are you proudest?

Answer: When we were voted the second-most admired company in America (in the mid-1990s). Coca-Cola was No. 1 and we were No. 2 for several years. That was unbelievable.

I'm also proud of being able to give people a second chance, working here -- felons, welfare-to-work and working with the Metropolitan Police gang unit. Everybody does college recruiting, even though I started it in 1989 -- Cornell and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To go after the other end of the spectrum and put resources and energy there, that's a challenge. It's giving people a chance when they never thought they'd have a chance like this. And we've had extraordinary results.

Question: What do you like about gaming?

Answer: It's irrelevant. What I like is that there are lots of diverse employees working here and lots of things they're going through every day so it never gets boring.

Question: Who is your competition?

Answer: Our competitors are ourselves, our own demands and our history because everyone expects us in each of these iterations to be better. Certainly Kirk Kerkorian and MGM (Mirage) or (Macau casino magnate) Stanley Ho. They have the resources. But in the end, we compete against ourselves and the goals we set.

Question: What would you change?

Answer: I'd have a little more time for myself and my family. But I make family time now. We have a home in the Adirondacks and I try to get there each year. But I wouldn't change much. I've been a fortunate guy.

Question: Professionally?

Answer: I want to be the greatest human resources executive in the world. I've met some of them and that's what pushes me along. My good fortune is that I work for Steve Wynn, who gives me all the freedom in the world to try to be this great human resources person.


Name: Arte Nathan.

Position: Senior vice president and chief of human resources, Wynn Resorts Ltd.

Family: Wife, Kathleen; daughter, Rebecca.

Education: Bachelor of Arts, industrial and labor relations, Cornell University, 1972.

Work history: Ran family-owned scrap iron and steel business, Utica, N.Y., 1972-1980; Wynn director of personal and labor relations at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and senior vice president of human resources, The Mirage and Mirage Resorts, 1982-2000; PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 2000-03; senior vice president, Wynn Resorts Ltd., 2003-present.

Hobbies: Golf, guitar, canoeing, reading.

Favorite book: "A Prayer for Owen Meany," by John Irving.

Hometown: Utica, N.Y.

In Las Vegas since: 1987.

Wynn Las Vegas is at 3131 Las Vegas Blvd South and can be reached at 770-2601