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MGM Grand President, Scott Sibella, Applying Lessons Learned on
'Undercover Boss' to the $160 million Hotel Renovation

By Ron Sylvester, Las Vegas SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

July 31, 2012--The MGM Grand is in the midst of a $160 million makeover to renovate its hotel rooms, remodel its casino and revamp its restaurant and entertainment offerings.

A giant crane hovers outside the 19-year-old property. Scaffolding and curtains cover construction areas on the inside. Casino officials want to improve the way people move around the resort.

Many of the ideas for the "grand renovation" came from MGM employees. That's due in large part to the experience MGM Grand President Scott Sibella had appearing on "Undercover Boss" in spring 2011. He worked side-by-side with rank-and-file employees to better learn how the resort works and identify problems that need addressing.

"The show has run six times, even though we did it a year-and-a-half ago," Sibella said. "It's still something I talk about a lot. I'd only been here a couple of months, so I was getting to know the culture and the property."

Sibella recently sat down with VEGAS INC to explain the changes taking place at MGM and how his time on television influenced them.

What's happening at the MGM Grand?

This property has been turned upside-down. You see a new casino floor. You see new slot machines. We have room renovations -- we're about 80 percent complete with that. It's time to update the property. But we're trying to think outside the box and figure out what's the next cool thing for customers to come and see.

I don't want MGM to be a dormitory, which in the past it has been because of where it's located and the value of the rooms. So people would stay here, and I would have long taxi lines. I want to convert that to: You stay here and you never have to leave for the weekend.

But at the same time, you need consistency throughout. This property is all about entertainment. So every time we make a decision, we make sure it is an unparalleled entertainment experience. We've told all our employees: You're all entertainment authorities. Your job is to entertain them. You don't have to be juggling balls when they check in, but we all know you can use your personality to entertain.

I've got a guy now, when he's mopping the floor, he's doing a little opera singing. I heard a story that when a guy was painting the walls, some kids walked by and he let them do a little painting. If you call engineering to your room because your remote's not working, now when they go, they leave a chocolate wrench.

What's happening outside? There's a big crane.

That's Hakkasan. It's a well-known, established restaurant in London and Dubai. They just opened one in New York. On top of it, they're going to put in a nightclub, which they've never done. So this is their signature restaurant and nightclub. It will be a game changer in Las Vegas.

But we didn't build just one thing. The thinking process is: What can you do to change the property?

People don't want just fancy restaurants. They want small plates. Not everyone can have a Joel Robuchon. So we're looking at different kinds of restaurants. We're looking at adding more mid-level restaurants. We're working with Michael Mina on a new pub concept. We're looking at every inch of the property.

Why did the poker room move?

It's temporary because every time they would move the crane and fly steel over, they'd honk a horn and everyone would have to stop, so we temporarily moved them until we get all the steel up. If you walk the floor now, we're about 25 percent done. We just started that a couple of weeks ago.

What's driving the changes in the casino?

The place is so massive, and on any given day, we have 40,000 people walking through here. We had to create better journeys.

When we decided to get new carpet, we looked at this like a new casino. We laid it out like, if we were opening today, what would we do?

We're kind of copying Disneyland. The arena is in the District. Where Hakkasan is going to be is called the Central.

We're really taking advantage of this new underground, where Brad Garrett's Comedy Club is. We think we have something there with access to the parking garage. We're working on a couple of restaurants and bars to create an MGM Underground.

Are you still applying lessons you learned from "Undercover Boss" to your job?

When I was working with these employees, they'd say, "We should have done it this way." So before we rolled out all these new areas, like the District, we asked them. First of all, does it makes sense? And how would you roll it out?

Now they're engaged. Now we're getting employees' feedback before we make decisions. That's one thing that really helped me on the show.

The other thing is we've been through these difficult times. It's not easy to live in Las Vegas. We're still struggling in this city. It's getting better on the Strip, but we still have unemployment, foreclosures. We're all affected by that.

But we're in the hospitality business, and people are coming here to get away from their problems. So at the same time, you can't have a sour face. Our employees come to work and they're so cheerful, and then they leave and have to deal with these problems. Somebody they know is out of work or going to lose their house.

I think the bosses have a little bit more compassion, and they're embracing our employees a little bit more. Getting to know them on a personal level, finding out what's going on in their lives and working with them.

And saying thank you. You forget about that when you go to the top.


(c)2012 the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nev.)

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