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Insights / Blog / Agility & Organisation

Digital Leadership: What we can learn from Steve Wynn!

July 27, 2015
Alain VeuveAlain VeuveManaging Director, AOE Switzerland

In previous articles I've often written about how leadership qualities that are required in today's business environment are, to a large degree, very similar to those that traditional entrepreneurs had during industrialization. Even today there are still entrepreneurs who can look back at very long careers, but from whom we can learn an awful lot about agile entrepreneurship and how to deal with employees. Steve Wynn, 73, Casino tycoon and influential entrepreneur from Las Vegas, is such a businessman. His keynote address at the Global Gaming Expo 2014 is replete with remarkable statements. Statements that we actually more readily expect from young entrepreneurs. I've chosen a few.

Willingness to Invest and take Risks

Detailed, and not without a certain pride and joy, Wynn describes how he and his team invested gigantic sums during the last 15 years. For better understanding it's important to know that Wynn, who comes from a modest background, made a name for himself in Las Vegas between 1980 and 2000 through a series of deals and small investments. Ultimately, his big coup was the sale of Mirage Resorts ((Mirage, Treasure Islands, Bellagio) to MGM. The deal netted Steve Wynn 500 million dollars. At a time (at 58, financially secure) when most of today's leaders think about early retirement, Steve Wynn really got started and began to invest heavily: 2.7 billion in the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas (2005), 0.8 billion in the Wynn Macau (China, 2006), 2.3 billion in the Encore Las Vegas (2008), 2.5 billion in the Wynn Palace (China, 2012) and 1.6 billion in the Wynn Everett Casino (2014). Of course Wynn, with his track record, can readily raise capital. But every single investment could have backfired and thus marked the end of his corporate endeavors. His investments and entrepreneurial activities were associated with enormous risks. And all of this at what was widely considered to be the most difficult, worst possible period in recent memory - immediately after 9-11 and amidst the real estate- / financial crisis. Wynn simply continued and, contrary to other casino owners, didn't release employees on a large scale.

I think the following statements embody entrepreneurship

Wynn about Change

The only thing that is for sure is change, and you've got to use your brain to figure out what is really happening. If you do that, you are probably safe.

Wynn about Experience

Experience matters, knowing how to do things matters. Understanding the relationships, the parts of the whole and how important those parts are, and how they have to be satisfied, is the principle job of the Boss man. I call it the Dada-Gene. You don't get befuddled, you have the kind of relationship and respect for your colleagues that allows you to deal with change as professionals are trained and prepared to do. The tougher the time, the more exiting the job. Because, up or down, all of us who are in this business are being paid to deal with change...Nothing stays still for five seconds.

Wynn about motivating Employees

It's tough out there, right? Everybody wants the best for your people. I know the feeling, you want to keep them, that's the only chance you have. What keeps them? Money? Sort of...Once people feel like they are being paid well, it's something else: Is the job satisfying? The most powerful thing in human nature is self-esteem. If you can figure out a way, in any business, to equate experience at that job with an enhanced self-esteem, no one will ever leave. That's the biggest deal.

Wynn about Agile Companies

The question is how do you equate an experience on the job with enhanced self-esteem. Because if you can, it will be repeated endlessly. You will have an agile, warm and happy workforce that deals with change in a positive way. Two organizations. Memo comes down: We are not going to do it anymore the way we did it yesterday. We are going to do it THIS way. In an organization with poor leadership, here is what happens - on-the-line employees: Damn it, every week it's something new, can they ever make up their mind, what are they going to do with it, it's this way this week and that way next week, what the hell will it be next week? Same memo comes down to a well-led organization and people are looking at it saying "Hmm we are doing things differently, we are getting smarter, we are more sophisticated. Glass half empty, glass half full - it's all about leadership.

Wynn about Digitization

I come from a company that is digitally insensible I am afraid, because we came to the conclusion over the years that it isn't really about the equipment, the stuff, even the iPhone 6. Because we believe where I come from, only people can make people happy. And we are very dedicated to this principle.

In his talk, as well as during other opportunities, Wynn makes fun of digitization and, especially, consultants. When asked why he doesn't want to invest in Internet gaming (which is not yet legal anyway), he answered that he doesn't see a business case. However, his companies are among the vanguard of the digital industry.