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How to Win with Harrah's

Tim Wilmott is chief operating officer of Harrah's Entertainment, a casino-entertainment company. Before his appointment as COO, he was division president of Harrah's Eastern Div. Wilmott holds an MBA in Corporate Finance from the Wharton School's class of 1987.

Susan Hailey is the vice-president of talent acquisition for Harrah's Entertainment. From 2002 to 2004, she was the CEO of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit organization that helps women who are starting high-tech companies obtain venture funding and other assistance. Hailey holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, class of 1984.

Wilmott says successful candidates at Harrah's demonstrate the ability to manage large groups of people -- from the folks on the casino floor to the managers in the upstairs office -- equally well. He and Hailey recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

Q: How is your industry growing, and how is online gaming affecting growth?

Wilmott: When I joined the gaming industry in 1987, Harrah's had four properties and gaming was legalized in only two jurisdictions -- Nevada and New Jersey. Now it's legalized in a dozen states, and we've grown our business from four properties and $1 billion in revenue into what will soon be over 40 properties in the United States and revenues close to $10 billion.

We have seen no negative impact from online gaming. In fact, it has helped us, particularly in poker. In the last two years, its popularity has just exploded.

Q: How do you value the MBA within your organization?

Hailey: We value it now more than ever. At the end of the day, the gaming industry is a fairly quantitative, analytical business. Harrah's, in particular, is driven quantitatively, so people who have been trained and think in terms of analytics do well here. It's important in terms of how we think and make decisions.

Wilmott: I'm constantly looking to decide who's going to run our businesses. Casinos are large-scale operations, each generating at least $100 million per year in revenue. My goal with the President's Associate Program, targeted at MBAs, is to give people an environment where they can understand how we serve our customers, what our strategy is, and how we use the information in our marketing database to create competitive advantage.

Q: What are you looking for in a new hire?

Wilmott: Aside from critical thinking skills, we look for a student's ability to communicate effectively through all levels of our operation. We soon will have 100,000 employees, many of whom are entry-level, unskilled workers on the casino floor or in food and beverage services. We need someone who has a good set of relationship-building skills and can communicate with all levels of talent within our organization and inspire them to take even better care of our customers.

Q: How does the recruiting for the internship program occur?

Hailey: This year, we're recruiting at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, Duke University Fuqua School of Business, Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management, Rice University Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, and Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business.

We choose our recruiting schools based on our track record with each as well as proximity to our market. In the fall, we give on-campus presentations. We also sponsor casino nights that benefit assorted student organizations.

In the spring, we go back to campus for interviews. We only interview first-year students for internships. This year, we're up to about 13 hires for our summer program.

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