Gone are the corrupt gaming halls controlled and manipulated by the shadowy crime syndicates. As well, global competition has pushed the small, owner-operated casino to virtual extinction. Rising in their stead – many from the imploded ashes of, outdated buildings – is a billion-dollar forest of investor-owned resort hotel/casino corporations and entertainment conglomerates.
The industry-wide transformation has also spelled the end to a long-time Nevada icon – the gaming industry executive whose higher education was earned solely through the “school of hard knocks.” “We recognize that the preparation required for an executive 15 years ago was different from the preparation needed today and in the future because of the increasingly complex world,” said Dr. Milton Glick, president of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). “The school of hard knocks still confers valuable skills and training. Nevertheless, I believe executives will need more formal education, while recognizing that on-the-job training is also advantageous.”
Dr. David Ashley, president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), points out that today’s executives not only need to have a strong understanding of their own particular industry, but also have to be knowledgeable on applicable business law, accounting issues, history and the globalization aspects of international business. He acknowledges well-known Nevadans from different backgrounds who are successful in spite of a lack of formal business training, but notes that “leaders of Southern Nevada businesses are increasingly recruiting for the type of business, marketing and financial expertise provided by the best business schools.”
Both university presidents acknowledge, however, that an executive won’t succeed without vision, drive, native intellect – and guts – as demonstrated by some of Nevada’s most successful and colorful executives. “Obviously these individuals are extraordinary people with extraordinary vision and talent, who took advantage of being in the right place at the right time,” said Glick. “But I don’t think you want to build the overall workforce looking only for those people without the educational background that prepares them.”
According to the 2007 Las Vegas Perspective, “Top 50 High Demand Jobs in Nevada,” managerial positions such as general managers, operations managers, accountants/auditors, financial managers, construction and sales managers and management analysts require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Over time, these positions can lead to the executive offices. “In all my discussions with employers and executives, they tell me that in addition to the technical skills they look for in top managers, they look for the ability to communicate, both verbally and in writing. Also, they want an understanding of the new global environment in which we are competing,” notes Glick.
Nevada’s executives can access a vast array of educational opportunities that specifically targets their needs and is adaptive to their work schedules. In addition to traditional MBA programs, both universities have nontraditional offerings designed for current and future executives.
UNLV’s College of Business focuses on entrepreneurship, entertainment management and real estate development. Its Executive MBA Program, suited to the needs of mid-career and senior-level executives, blends academic learning with real-world experience – theory with practice. It is designed so executives can network with other business leaders who have similar career aspirations, and each class forms a cohort to enhance teamwork throughout the program, which is completed as a group in 18 months. Participants meet for one intensive week at the beginning, followed by class meetings every other Friday and Saturday. The schedule allows ample time to work with faculty and other students while providing the flexibility executives need to meet their professional and personal commitments.
For experienced professionals working at the management and administrative levels, UNR’s executive series offers intensive training in targeted subject areas. Each course offers a fresh look at business applications, management practices, leadership strategies and personal development to stimulate ideas, growth and advancement.
UNR’s College of Business Administration also offers the Advanced Management Program, which provides an opportunity to examine and prepare for the challenges facing today’s companies and organizations. The program targets: experienced managers looking for a practical foundation in current business theory and practice; technical professionals making the transition to management; small-business owners seeking to become conversant in a variety of business processes; and executives or business graduates wishing to update business skills and education.
UNR, which bills itself as the world’s premier provider of gaming management education, also conducts a Gaming Management Program. Developed in partnership with top industry experts, it presents casino professionals with the best demonstrated practices to help them keep pace in a dynamic and rapidly changing industry. A majority of the students who have earned the gaming management certificate from UNR say the program played a critical role in their career advancement.
Under the university’s Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, an Executive Development Program is conducted annually. More than 500 executives from across the U.S., Canada and abroad have graduated from the program. Participants share their experience and expertise while gaining valuable insights into this international industry, and while also establishing professional relationships with colleagues from around the world.
“The beauty of an MBA, whether it comes from the University of Phoenix, UNLV, UNR or any great institution, is that it prepares an individual to run a business,” said Lisa Ackerman, vice president/campus director for the Las Vegas campus of the University of Phoenix. “An MBA has been the gold standard for the longest period of time. Now, even those executives who worked their way to top without the benefit of a formal higher education are saying, ‘I want executive candidates who have experience and an education.’”
Ackerman believes Nevada is meeting the educational needs of executives, adding she feels most colleges and universities are underutilized. Nevada has one of the lowest percentages of any state for the number of residents holding a bachelor’s degree, she points out, noting the percentage is even lower for master’s degrees. “We are an undereducated state compared to others.”
The University of Phoenix, with five campuses in Southern Nevada and one in Reno, is specifically designed for working adult students. Classes are offered one at a time, so someone taking a six-week course can attend one night a week and finish the course in six weeks. “Our system allows students to focus on one subject, allowing them to delve deeply into the subject they are studying,” said Ackerman. “They can master that subject and each subsequent six-week class will build on it.” Like UNLV’s Executive MBA Program, students mimic the work environment by learning and working in teams.
A newer MBA program is that offered by the University of Southern Nevada (USN), which started as the Nevada College of Pharmacy. Pharmacy students can earn an MBA simultaneously with their pharmacy studies. The combined programs prepare students for senior management careers in pharmaceutical companies and other organizations, as well as imparts the skills needed to launch and manage an independent pharmacy. More recently, the university instituted a weekend and evening MBA for healthcare professionals and other full-time workers, including those from the gaming, mortgage and advertising professions.
Dr. Okeleke Peter Nzeogwu, director of USN’s MBA program, describes it as flexible, innovative, experiential and entrepreneurial. “Our program is perfect for individuals with limited time to commit to their MBA goal, yet want a ‘real-world’ respected program taught by professors with impressive and successful backgrounds.” He points out that each student develops strategic, marketing, operational and financial plans for a product or service of his or her choosing. Those business plans are then developed throughout the entire program.
The program’s entrepreneurial aspect is particularly important to Southern Nevada which has a high percentage of small businesses and franchises. Nzeogwu said it provides the entrepreneurial knowledge and skills that leaders need to start a company, successfully launch new products and services, find new applications, and improve and market existing products and services.
Specialized higher education provided by other schools includes the Corporate Education Program of DeVry University and the Master of Nonprofit Management degree from Regis University.
Under DeVry’s Corporate Education Program, the university can evaluate a corporation’s training for college credit and can also develop customized training specific to a business or industry. Regis University, with campuses in Henderson and Las Vegas, has developed its nonprofit management program in order to “home grow” qualified people who can both manage Southern Nevada’s numerous nonprofit organizations and help them to thrive within the community, according to Dr. Keith Evans, who serves as campus director for both campuses.
Education, however, isn’t restricted to colleges and universities. The American Management Association (AMA), a leader in professional development for executives and upcoming executives, has long recognized how important it is for corporate leadership to adapt to changing realities in order to prosper in an increasingly complex and competitive world. It provides management education through seminars, workshops, conferences, customized corporate programs, online learning newsletter, journals and AMA books.
In Southern Nevada, the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce (LVCC) developed the Business Education Series, which focuses on helping executives gain the skills and expertise needed to operate their businesses. The program is designed to be fast, easy and affordable. Experts brought in by LVCC as presenters would otherwise cost a company hundreds or thousands of dollars in consulting fees.
For executives and professionals new to Las Vegas, the LVCC has Focus Las Vegas, a two-day program to introduce the social, political and business systems of Las Vegas and Clark County. The flagship, so to speak, of the LVCC’s programs is Leadership Las Vegas, which is devoted to strengthening and educating community leaders by providing in-depth insights into a variety of issues impacting the residents of Southern Nevada. More than 800 community leaders have graduated from the 10-month program which also offers immeasurable networking opportunities. Graduates are expected to continue their commitment to the growth, development and prosperity of the city. Similar programs are also offered by some of the other chambers of commerce throughout Nevada.
Another provider of executive education is the Southern Nevada Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), a trade association for commercial real estate professionals. To be successful in commercial real estate one must be knowledgeable about the market, be a proven resource for clients and peers, have access to industry leaders, and demonstrate an ability to convert networking contacts into business. Since many young real estate professionals struggle with this mix, NAIOP has created the Developing Leaders Institute to help them refine their skills and take advantage of available resources.
The inaugural program will kick off in January 2008. The 12-month series is specifically designed for members under the age of 35. “One of NAIOP’s primary areas of focus is education,” said Tony Dazzio, 2007 president of the Southern Nevada Chapter. “We have a vested interest in educating and mentoring these young professionals to be the very best in their field.”
“The very best in their field.” A worthy aspiration for executives in any field of endeavor. In today’s more complex, more challenging, more competitive and less predictable business environment, success requires vision, hard work, talent, drive and education. The school of hard knocks was good for its time, but like the typewriter, its time may be past.