MGM Resorts International Chairman and CEO James J. Murren was the house controlling the game in his speech Thursday to the Boston College CEO’s Club. As with all CEO’s Club luncheons, the event invitation promised remarks plus opportunities for questions and answers, but Murren went on for so long that there was no time for Q & A. Many attendees left as Murren rounded the 45-minute mark, heading for a nearly hour-long presentation. More than one in the audience was convinced he had done this to avoid direct questioning about casinos coming to Massachusetts and MGM Resorts’ bid to build a casino/entertainment center in Springfield.
Murren is too powerful and accomplished an executive to have been unintentional in this strategy. He obviously didn’t want to field questions. So he went on about himself and his business. MGM Resorts International generates, according to him, $10 billion a year in revenue, employs 62,000 people, and leads in every sector of the industry, whether you’re talking about luxury hotels, restaurants, spas, nightclubs, convention centers, arenas and other performance spaces.
He says he is all about corporate social responsibility, diversity of work force, sustainability in design and construction. He boasts a corporate ethos defined by teamwork, integrity and engagement. Unfortunately, his audience at the Boston Harbor Hotel had no chance to ask him if that corporate social responsibility extended to deterring the kind of criminal activity associated with casinos, to combatting gambling addiction, to helping the small businesses that are always sucked dry by the arrival of a gigantic entertainment/gambling complex. Nor could anyone ask him for his take on the movement gathering steam to repeal the Commonwealth’s new casino law by referendum.
These annoyances aside, I will say that Merrun is an unlikely face of casino gambling. An apparently modest, not flamboyant mogul, he projects a commitment to all the right social values (which, he says, will provide a return on investment). He is nearly messianic about what MGM can do for Springfield, if it gets regulatory approval and wins the casino designation for that part of the state. He is pretty convincing about the benefits MGM will bring to the local workforce struggling for jobs. In noting the traditional arrogance of his industry, his contempt for “the old boy network” controlling it, in contrast to MGM’s numerous philanthropic activities, he was effective in presenting a new and refreshing brand for this often seedy sector. Call it enlightened self-interest, but he aptly notes that “if a community is not sustainable, a company cannot be.” So he invests in community, and hopes he’ll be a winner in the bid to set up shop in Springfield.
If he does, it’s certain it will be an interesting project to watch.
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