Long-time Las Vegan puts extensive business experience to work in new post
A Las Vegas resident since 1952, Sydney Wickliffe grew up learning the value of hard work. Her parents owned a now defunct pharmacy on College Avenue. She worked there beginning at age nine, learning how to operate the register. “We all worked there,” recalls Wickliffe, who has one younger brother. ‘The store was open from nine to nine. After school, I was in the pharmacy dealing with the customers. My dad explained all the various aspects of retail to me.” It wasn’t until later, however, when a family friend in the medical supply industry lost his bookkeeper, that Wickliffe began accounting. She worked during the day and attended classes at night. ”Accounting is not exactly easy stuff,” Wickliffe acknowledges. “I wanted to learn about various types of businesses, so I eventually got into public accounting.” She graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and became a certified public accountant. Former Governor Bob Miller even appointed her to the board of directors of the Nevada Society of Certified Public Accounts.
Wickliffe next sought work as an auditor for the gaming control board in 1979. Although she briefly worked as a 21 dealer at the El Dorado Club in Henderson, she was tentative about the job. “Initially, I thought it would be boring, because gaming is just one industry,” confesses Wickliffe. “I was wrong. It turned out to be very exciting. Gaming is an incredibly diverse industry.” Her enthusiasm showed. Wickliffe was promoted twice within 13 months. In 1987 she was named deputy chief. Her duties included audits of gaming licensees with revenues of $1 million a year. She also helped write and amend Nevada gaming statutes and regulations, as well as established administrative and professional policies. “Working for the gaming control board provided me with a great overview and understanding of a public agency,” Wickliffe said.
Always aspiring to improve and move ahead, she soon applied for a post as gaming commissioner. Although Wickliffe narrowly missed the job, her poise and professionalism left a lasting impression. Peter Emaut, chief of staff for Governor Guinn, later gave her call saying he had another position in mind. Shortly thereafter, Wickliffe met the governor. “It was fun.” she recalls. “Governor Guinn is so comfortable to be around. It’s like talking to an uncle or something.” Wickliffe’s uniquely composite background in retail, gaming and accounting ultimately gained her the title of director of business and industry. “I’m very pleased that someone of Sydney Wickliffe’s talent and expertise is willing to take on this responsibility,” said Guinn. “She has the experience and business savvy necessary.”
Today, she heads up one of the most vital departments in state government. The Department of Business and Industry oversees the regulation and licensing of business and agriculture, consumer and employer services, natural resources and the administering of bond programs to encourage growth and development. Wickliffe supervises such state agencies as the real estate division, the insurance division, the labor commission and the transportation services authority, among others. She describes it as the job her father raised her to do.
Cool and collected, Wickliffe hopes to bring stability and longevity to her new position. Since being founded in 1993, the Department of Business and Industry has been anything but stable. In fact, during the past seven years there have been four different directors. Dan Tom, the most recent director, died of a heart attack on May 31 at the age of 51. Notwithstanding, Wickliffe works out for one hour every morning in her garage. She calls it “clean living.”
Wickliffe senses the necessity of a focal point for all the activity occurring in the state. “I expect to be that,” she said. Despite this, she concedes difficult challenges lie ahead. Perhaps foremost is a lack of money and manpower. “Due to funding restrictions, we are going to fall behind,” Wickliffe says. “With all the new businesses, taxes and buses, the thing that concerns me is the number of people who are going to regulate these areas.” Fortunately, Wickliffe has a high energy level.
Self-described as reserved and calm, the soft-spoken Wickliffe enjoys sewing – she makes most of her own clothing – and cooking – Italian is her favorite cuisine. Although she doesn’t keep abreast of many modem fiction writers, Wickliffe enjoys reading. She is an avid fan of military history, in particular, the Revolutionary War. Let’s hope her time as director is less volatile but just as monumental.