Bill Hornbuckle, the President/Chief Operating Officer for MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas joins Jane Wells this week for CEOs You Should Know to talk about his experience coming up and running one of the largest entertainment companies in the world right in the middle of America's Playground - Las Vegas.
After graduating from the University of Nevada with a BS in Hotel Administration, Hornbuckle came up through the industry working for Steve Wynn, serving as President and COO for Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, spending the majority of his career with Mirage Resorts in various senior management positions.
With 83,000 employees over 20 operating properties, Hornbuckle has seen the entertainment company's growing revenues to $12 and a half billion dollars just last year.
Originally born in Tokyo, Japan on an Air Force Base, he grew up in Connecticut where he "wasn't exactly the best student in high school," Hornbuckle says with a chuckle. He decided to attend the University of Las Vegas after learning they (along with Cornell), were one of two universities in the country (at the time) that had a hotel school. It seems like fate now, but on his first night in Las Vegas, Hornbuckle and his family went to the original MGM Casino, and played a Keno ticket.
He won $400 within ten minutes of being in Las Vegas - which immediately sold him on that town.
Las Vegas has come a long way since his early days in the city. After working up through various positions in the hospitality industry, Hornbuckle was eventually convinced to go to work for Steve Wynn, someone Hornbuckle says was a true visionary back then and someone who knew 'quality, knew service, knew what he wanted to do.'
After working for Wynn for 15 years, he began working for ITT where he was approached to work for Caesar's Palace. However, after nearly three years at the helm, the property was sold. Fortunately, one of Hornbuckle's contacts called him up and asked if he'd like to be MGM's president.
Twenty-one years later, Hornbuckle says what his resorts are the best at are doing high-level entertainment at scale. But, it wasn't always easy. In 2009, at the height of the Great Recession, MGM was working hard to begin construction on City Center, 16,797,000-square-foot mixed-use, urban complex on 76 acres (31 ha) located on the Las Vegas Strip. However, with money becoming harder to find and politicians discouraging people from going to Las Vegas for fun, it was a challenging time for the company.
"I can remember August of '09 ... where we literally had fencing looking to go around City Center, we had helicopters and media hovering," he says. "We sustained it in the first week, we just found some more cash. We got through the second, and by the third week, the same thing happened all over again."
When the bank held a vote on whether they would continue funding the project, Hornbuckle says it came down to the slimmest of victories - 50.6% to 49.4. One small bank given enough to get them through.
"And if you think about it, we saved 10,000 jobs. We saved 10,000 construction jobs," he says. "Aria today is one of the bigger and better successful stories of our industry."
But now, Hornbuckle says he's looking to the future - especially as the Raiders prepare to make their move to the newly constructed stadium next season.
"Sports is without a doubt our next big place to grow to," he says. Pointing to the recent success of the city's new hockey team, The Golden Knights, he points out that Las Vegas is a town thirsty for professional sports - especially for the NFL.
"I'm on the commission," Hornbuckle says. "We had budgeted $250 million in private seat licenses and that number will probably double. And the interesting thing about that is that over 46% of the people are from outside of Las Vegas. It's people from L.A. It's people in Oakland, it's people in Chicago and New York who say they let's go buy two or four seats and say we'll go half the time and sell the other half.
"But the destination to watch a football game and spend a weekend with your friends, family or your buds, it's not like anything else in the world," Hornbuckle said.