Exec just says ‘now’ to diversity

Nov 9, 2004 7:17 AM

By Lou Filardo

Punam Mathur doesn’t deliver newspapers anymore. Nor does she mow lawns for money, which is what she did when she first hit town about 22 years ago.

She was then in what she now calls her Bohemian period, when fate dealt her two cellists for roommates and she was scuffling. She hadn’t grown to love Las Vegas yet. In fact, during her first two years in the city she was "completely miserable."

But that was then and this is now, and now is a luscious office off of Industrial Road, a staff of 17 that reports to her in her three distinct areas of responsibility, and a title — senior vice president of corporate diversity and community affairs for the MGM Mirage — that some women would sell their first born to have. Now, instead of pitching newspapers to lawns, she pitches ideas across boardroom tables.

Now is a long time from the day she left the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, in a huff after a dispute with school officials over graduation requirements at a point when she was on the cusp of earning a degree in special education. Now, the 43-year-old Green Valley resident who counts Steve and Elaine Wynn among her closest friends, is a long way from miserable.

She left Canada and landed in Lake Tahoe, didn’t care for the snow there and bounced down to Las Vegas, where she eventually edged her way into the travel business because she could meet two of the prime requirements of that profession — the ability "to talk fast and type quickly."

She and a colleague decided they could run their own tour business and they did so for a few years before it went 10 toes up, but not before Mathur had gotten out into the community and made an impression on a number of people with her volunteer work for worthwhile causes. The favorable impression led to an offer from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce where she worked for about six years, first as director of marketing and then in government affairs, an experience that helped her make a number of political contacts.

In 1996 she began her career with The Mirage. Promoted to her current position in May of this year, she is responsible for the oversight and implementation of the company’s diversity efforts as well as for government affairs and community outreach, including corporate philanthropy.

Of the three spheres of responsibility, she says meeting her company’s needs in the way of providing a context of diversity for both MGM Mirage employees and customers is by far the most time consuming.

She says the MGM Mirage’s goal in the area of diversity "is to make the resort worthy of top talent" since the hotel puts a considerable amount of emphasis on assembling the best staff possible while simultaneously trying to attract as diverse a group of customers as it can.

Mathur says the days of the "Ozzie and Harriet" type of American family are long gone. Today’s family is now configured in a number of ways, and the diversity program’s goal is to make sure the resort is worthy of the patronage of non-traditional families as well as the more standard type.

In the political area of her responsibilities, she says the resort is in the process of "gearing up" for the next legislative session, which starts in January. Mathur assessed last week’s election as providing "no big surprises, no major changes" in Carson City.

The election returns are of no small matter to MGM Mirage. Mathur says the resort is the largest payer of property tax in the state. She says the MGM Mirage pays nine percent of the money collected in the state’s general fund. "No one has a greater stake in the future of this state than this company," she says.

The third aspect of her job, overseeing MGM Mirage’s efforts in the area of corporate philanthropy, is an area she started working on with Elaine Wynn before Mirage Resorts was bought by MGM. "You get to make a real impact in real lives and that’s exciting (and) absolutely energizing," she says.

The downside is that trying to meet the community’s needs is "a daunting challenge (that) keeps growing and growing and growing. There are some days when you feel you are on a treadmill and not gaining any ground."

In the mid-1990s, she began the process to become licensed as a foster parent. She is now the proud mother of a diverse trio ages 15, 6 and 5, with the two oldest being boys, and all the adoptions completed by 2001.

When asked what she enjoys in terms of hobbies and interests, she points to a picture on the wall that shows her surrounded by the trio of children and says that’s where her off-the-job time goes.