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Baldwin is Still Winning

At a time when Las Vegas is all abuzz about the implications of Steve Wynn’s fall from grace, I am reminded both of his rise as a visionary who brought a glitzy casino into the Wild West downtown section of Las Vegas and his  homerun in recruiting  World Series of Poker Champion, Bobby Baldwin, as an executive. Wynn took Baldwin up the corporate ladder  to the positi9n of president of the Golden Nugget.

Well schooled in accounting matters and people reading skills, Baldwin went on to become president of  Mirage Resorts, Wynn’s first  property on the famous Las Vegas Strip. He then moved onward and upward  to Wynn’s next crown jewel, Bellagio, before joining the C-Suite of the behemoth MGM Company,  where Wynn’s arch rival, Terry Lani, was the CEO.

When MGM,  took aim at the Wynn properties and acquired them– lock, stock, and barrel, Baldwin remained a winner, convincing Lanni to send him up a higher corporate ladder in the MGM infrastructure.

Wynn was forced into a sale, taking a pretty penny and a non-compete agreement  that  put him off the casino- building grid for years. But once freed from his non compete shackles, Wynn was back in the saddle. he built a new spectacular resort and recognized, once again as an incredibly effective casino visionary–with plenty of political clout.

And then came an all too familiar jolt of late– a powerful man in the crosshairs of allegations  of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Last week, Steve Wynn resigned his position of Chair of the National Republican Committee and then as Chairman of the Wynn Hotel and Casino. acknowledging, only, that the accusations lodged against him, had caused a public relations disaster for himself and the properties that bear his name.

For Baldwin — a storied history continues.  The late Terri Lanni called  Baldwin’s decision strategies “artfully refined over the years,” undoubtedly  perfected by paying careful attention at poker tables–where he is still a threat to younger poker wizards.

As a woman who has worked and played in male dominated worlds, including casinos from Las Vegas to Macau,  I have learned that even in the last bastions of rugged male chauvinism there are good  role models as well as bad ones to be found.

I have known Steve Wynn casually for more than 30 years-well enough to share a few group meals  and work together on a couple of charity dinners in Las Vegas; not well enough to have any personal clue about his alleged sexual improprieties with the Company’s massage therapists–some of whom worked on my ever -aching feet. I have had a bit more personal experience with Bobby Baldwin–enough to know that I was very fortunate to make his acquaintance.

By the looks of the first poker table I visited (in downtown Las Vegas), I suspected that it would be “slim pickins'” to find a few good men!  Baldwin turned out to be one of many poker pros who has   taught me crucial negotiating skills through the power of keen observation.

My early on poker friend, “Suds,” a successful  businessman and an elite poker player, introduced me to Bobby Baldwin. I instantly took the measure of the man as smart, well-mannered, focused, skeptical, determined, and– a skilled “people reader. He exuded inner confidence.

I don’t know Bobby Baldwin well, but I certainly have experienced his winning ways. At the Grand Prix of Poker–way  back in 1985, we were both invited to play in the “Super Bowl of Poker Charity Invitational. Bobby crippled me –early in the proceedings. He played a pair of sevens as if they were Aces–because he knew I would fold to his big raise! And then he toughened me up by  warning me to hunker down and study how best to play each  hand. Bobby Baldwin’s sage words have proven applicable, everywhere!

Baldwin has the world on a string! 

Bobby Baldwin

While I held on long enough to reach the final table, my hours there were short and less than sweet.  Bobby eventually knocked me out in fifth place, taking advantage of another moment of inexcusable distraction on my part. I tracked Bobby down to thank him for the thrashing and promised to take his words to heart.

The high profile C-Suite executive of MGM and former winner of the World Series of Poker Championship had already begun his rapid trajectory to the top of the corporate ladder, before I met him, noting, “The only difference between the poker room and the boardroom is the shape of the table.”

Weeks after our Grand Prix encounters, we met up at a formal charity event in Las Vegas. He complimented my gown and then kidded me, about being distracted at the final table of the Grand Prix, whispering, “It pays to watch hands when you are not in them.”

Following Bobby’s suggestion, I began to approach card tables and conference tables with more focus, determined to prove I was not one of those people  with the attention span of a gnat!

I  created exercises to improve overall sensory perception, and learned the high value of awareness of people’s speech and silence–both at the poker table and in business meetings. As I developed these skills, I made more confident analyses of risk -reward ratios, and I found myself in fewer jams–everywhere.

Master dealmakers are distinguishable t by their people-reading expertise and negotiating savvy.  Bobby’s advice resonated  deeply with me. I learned, slowly and methodically how to improve my attentiveness. If I had to guess how Bobby Baldwin came to hold the world on a string, I would make a ladylike wager that his secret “sauce” is his power of concentration and attention to facts and behavior that others miss regularly. He also holds his cards very close to the vest.

Decades after Steve Wynn’s  Grand Prix Poker Charity Tournament,   I was visiting  the late Terri Lanni, former Chairman of MGM. By this time, Bobby Baldwin had become president of MGM. He popped into Terri’s office and joined us for a casual chat.  I reminded him of the long ago poker confrontations, while attempting to convince him I was no easy target anymore.  He smiled agreeably, but gave no hint as to his own conclusion.