Jim Murren admits to getting choked up listening to employees talk about the hardships they've endured.
This week has been especially rough — and gratifying — for the CEO of MGM Resorts International.
Murren is one of 50,000 MGM workers who this week will attend "Inspiring our World," a stage show about identity put on by MGM employees for MGM employees. The goal is to teach about the value of workforce diversity.
The performance plays nine times through Wednesday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center and is not open to the public.
Seventy valets, dealers and housekeepers sing hip-hop, jazz and blues songs. They dance onstage and wear colorful costumes in the professional-caliber production that MGM spent millions of dollars creating.
How did the idea evolve for a production show?
We started our Diversity Champions program in 2000. The idea was born out of the company recognizing that our industry wasn't doing enough. We felt like we were not being conscious about, or reflective of, the diversity of our community.
Since then, we have had 11,000 men and women go through the program. Almost all said they were very moved by the experience and it profoundly impacted their lives.
Then, about a year ago, we realized we're only touching 11,000 of 62,000 people. We said, "How do we get this companywide to everyone?"
Some incredibly talented people came up with the idea that to bring them all together, we do what we do best: entertain and inspire.
We then quickly came to the conclusion that we needed to do a performance show here at Mandalay Bay with our own employees. We don't need to bring in some fancy-pants, big-name entertainer from somewhere else. We've got talent here. That's a strong part of our company.
Being a small part of this show, I've seen the camaraderie of everyone backstage and how they're touching so many employees. I can honestly say this is the best thing I've ever been a part of as long as I've been with this company.
What are the logistics for getting 50,000 employees to an event like this?
It's incredible. The logistics team has been amazing, getting each property organized, dividing employees into different shifts, getting buses lined up, getting them loaded and unloaded, working with Metro (Police) to make sure traffic runs smoothly. We have hundreds of people wayfaring and guiding the employees in and out of the arena. It has been quite an achievement.
All of that helps create great enthusiasm. People are busting out with emotion over this. They're pouring out of the arena jazzed up and going back to our properties. The customers feel that emotion, and they want to be a part of it, too.
When you saw the show for the first time, what was your reaction?
I wasn't as surprised as someone may be looking at it from the outside. I wasn't surprised with the talent of the performers. I've seen them in action with the company. We do a lot of charitable events and employee functions where they can really shine.
What I was surprised about is how tight the show was, how perfect the choreography was. These aren't professional people. They have day jobs, from housekeeping to the legal department, from marketing to hotel management. Their willingness to open their hearts and express some of their most coveted thoughts and most painful memories was the greatest impact I saw out of the show.
I saw people rallying around each other. I can't express how powerful that is.
During the show, employees share stories about what people have said about them based on their race or lifestyle. How do you feel hearing your employees discuss such personal experiences?
It makes me immensely proud. It brings me back to two questions I've been asked: Why do we spend the time and effort and money to put on a show for employees when there are so many other things we could be doing? And why are we doing it now?
My feeling is, as a community, we've been through the most gut-wrenching recession in our lifetimes. Las Vegas was hit harder than any community I know throughout the country. A lot of people lost their houses, jobs and cars. There was incredible pain in this community. I saw that firsthand.
What got us all through it and what kept me going individually was the daily display of courage by our employees.
People don't have to come to Las Vegas. We don't provide essential services. We provide entertainment and fun. If you don't give them a reason to come here, they won't.
When I saw our employees come to work and put all of their problems and struggles aside to take care of our visitors and make sure they had a good time here, that was very inspirational to me. I thought that act of courage needed to be recognized and rewarded.
We kept some capital projects going through the recession, and we put some on hold. A few weren't finished. But we kept pushing with CityCenter so we could keep those construction jobs. We continued most of the projects.
I think what you're witnessing is a company that demonstrably believes that investing in Las Vegas is a good bet.
When you have the brands we have, which have global recognition, you invest in those, and they will help drive increased visitation to Las Vegas. We're on track to set a record for attendance in this city. I believe we will reach 40 million visitors.
The convention business is coming back. Housing is improving across the country, which is a key determinant in consumer confidence and their willingness to spend on vacations.
We're responding to that. We have great things coming.
We have the renovation of Mandalay Bay and the rebranding of The Hotel as the Delano. We have the Michael Jackson show coming there next year. Hakkasan is an $80 million restaurant, club and lounge coming to our prime property (the MGM Grand), and the new rooms there are complete. We're making improvements at the Bellagio, Monte Carlo and the Mirage. Aria, even though it's newer, is getting new capital. And Circus Circus is getting quite a bit of capital to make it more comfortable.
We're spending $350 million next year in capital improvements, most of it right here at home, and we think Las Vegas will reap the benefits of those investments.