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Taking comfort in ‘thy staff’

Oct 12, 2004 4:21 AM

By Lou Filardo

Arte Nathan remembers the moment well. It was the day after Thanksgiving in 2002. He was pushing a shopping cart around the Vons in Summerlin when his cell rang. The voice was Steve Wynn’s. "Come see me," Wynn said. "It’s time."

And Nathan was off once again to partner with Wynn, with whom he has worked for a total of 21 years. Nathan is a senior vice president and the chief human resources officer for Wynn Las Vegas, the mega resort scheduled to open on April 28.

He has been through this drill before. In fact, every time Wynn gets the itch to open a mega resort, Nathan has been alongside him to get the place staffed. Nathan was at The Mirage, Treasure Island and the Bellagio, providing the staff to make those places first class resorts. He even went to Mississippi to help staff a new casino there. "Nobody’s done what I’ve done. I’ve opened more megaresorts than anybody else," he said.

But Wynn Las Vegas is taking the staffing challenge into an uncharted realm.

First, the payroll will have 9,300 names on it. And secondly, as Nathan is quick to point out, he wants the best Las Vegas has to offer.

Nathan is so determined to make the entire staff a collection of all-stars that he is insisting that there be no fewer than 12 applicants for every position, a condition that will result in 110 department managers interviewing 67,000 people over a six-week period. He said about 95 percent of the senior staff and department managers are already on board, with the few remaining openings in the areas of restaurant managers and chefs.

The Wynn Las Vegas office that Nathan is working out of is actually a collection of 60 trailers, some of which have been fused together to give the complex a feeling of permanence. Designed by Nathan, the employment office looks to be well thought out for the task it will be undertaking beginning on Nov. 1, when the public will be invited to fill out applications for the first time. The office will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

When the applicants arrive, they won’t be given a pen and an application to fill out. Instead, they will be directed to one of 48 computers on which they will find step-by-step instructions. The applicants’ responses will be rated and those with the highest scores will be summoned for interviews.

Nathan said Wynn Las Vegas expects to attract 150,000 applicants, who will be processed by a system capable of handling 50,000 applicants a day. Many of the applicants will be applying online.

After they are hired, the new staff members will have to be trained. Nathan said the training periods will range from one to three weeks, and he will be in charge of training the trainers. "We’re hiring people for their personalities and we train them to be sure they have the right skills," he said.

He added that the biggest job is teaching the culture of this company overnight. "The key is how the staff is viewed by the customers," he said. "We will primarily be hiring experienced people with great personalities."

Energetic and affable, Nathan, 54, handles his enormous responsibilities easily. He has been in the human resource business for 32 years after graduating from Cornell University in 1972 with a degree in industrial and labor relations. Nathan took a three-year break from working for Wynn from 2000 to 2003 when he went to Price, Waterhouse and Coopers, a consulting and accounting firm.

He has been married to his wife, Kathleen, a professional photographer, for 28 years and they have a 25-year-old daughter, who will be a department head at Wynn Las Vegas with responsibility for a swimming pool and arcade.

Nathan relaxes by playing golf, reading novels and playing folk music on his guitar, especially James Taylor tunes, but his job weighs heavily on his mind. Ask him how long he has to get everything done and he responds — 202 days.

Nathan predicted other casinos will have to replace employees who will take jobs at Wynn Las Vegas. He said there will be a lot of migration in three areas — dealers, cooks and guest room attendants. He says he will be in touch with other human resource directors to give them a rough idea of the number of employees they will be losing.

Nathan takes his role in all the coming movement in stride, and he thinks he has been fortunate to find himself in the center of the storm of activity. "I pinch myself every day. It awes me," he said. "When I look in the mirror I don’t see anything special (but) I think I was born to do this."