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'Someplace Different' for 5,000 Workers

Employment Management Today
Summer 2004

By Stephenie Overman

A new casino in Atlantic City began establishing its brand when the facility was nothing but a 'sand bar.'

When Charles Nicodemus spotted a billboard on the New Jersey shore that urged "Work Someplace Different," he took the bait and applied for a job at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City. To Nicodemus, someplace different meant a venue where he could advance his career as a chef and get health insurance coverage.

The billboard's message also attracted Kelly Odee, who had worked at Trump Marina for 14 years. "That's what drew me in," says Odee. To her, someplace different meant that, "On the casino floor, they were going to care about me," she says. "They're going to look at me as a person, as an individual."

The Competition

The employment brand at the Trump Casino Resorts in Atlantic City is not “You’re fired!” With three properties clustered on the New Jersey shore—Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Marina and Trump Plaza—the company promotes itself to potential employees as offering “Three Times the Opportunity.”

The brand is meant to appeal “to the locals who want to progress in their careers but don’t want to move [from the area],” says Judy Fisher, executive director of human resources administration.

Fisher says she may well be a poster child for the brand. “I started at the Trump Marina as a recruiter and left there five years later as manager. I was asked to open the Taj Mahal as director of employee services, which included HRIS [human resource information systems], compensation and benefits, EAP [employee assistance program]—everything but labor relations and recruitment. I moved to the Plaza as executive director for all three properties. I’ve had the job opportunities, but I didn’t have to move.”

Trump also tries to attract individuals who are new to the gaming industry with the recruiting slogan “Trump Start Your Career,” Fisher says.

To encourage potential young employees, Trump Casino Resorts offers mentoring programs, internships and job-shadowing programs for area students. Students are partnered with executives for five weeks to give them an opportunity to learn about the career opportunities available at Trump.

“For many years, locals have cast aspersions on our industry,” says Fisher. “It did not have a good reputation. So we set out to show teachers, parents and students that this is a great place to work.” The resort has tours and open houses that demonstrate, “This is who we are. These are the kinds of jobs and opportunities and training we can afford you. … We’re proud of who we are.”

Trump Casino Resorts offers competitive benefits, according to Fisher, and innovative employee recognition programs. “We have programs that recognize consistent performers, and we also have programs that focus on ‘You did something great today, you went out of your way to help one of your customers.’ We have some cash awards, cocktail parties, trips, contests, activities …”

However, Fisher believes the company’s openness is what sets Trump apart from the competition. Top managers are willing to say something along the lines of, “You may not like my answer, but I’ll tell you the truth. We have a president’s hotline so employees can call in, anonymously if they wish, about anything.”

As a result, she says, turnover is low. “We might have had a slight increase because of Borgata, but for full-time employees, it’s maybe 19 percent.”

Trump recognized that it would lose some people when Borgata opened, Fisher says. “We said, ‘We hate like heck to see you going [to Borgata] for the same job [you have here at Trump]. In that case, we want to understand why you want to leave. But if you’re going for an opportunity, for career growth, we miss you but we wish you well.’ We didn’t want to hold people back.”

Some employees who left for Borgata have returned. Those who returned within 30 days were restored to their previous level of benefits. And former employees can come back and reapply any time. “When people want to come back, we embrace them,” Fisher says. Another Atlantic City casino, the Sands, has gone so far as to allow former employees who return any time short of one year to resume their benefits level based on their original date of hire.

“At the Sands, the new tag line is ‘The player’s place,’ ” says Susan Scheirer, director of advertising and public relations. The goal of the brand, she says, is to make customers think of the old now-closed Las Vegas Sands, “which was a glamorous place with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.”

The brand also reminds employees that the Las Vegas Sands was a place where “people were courteous and friendly to regulars. We want the courteousness of ‘back in the day.’ ” The Atlantic City Sands is smaller than most Atlantic City casinos, with about 2,100 employees, which Scheirer believes provides a familiarity with customers and a level of service that larger, more automated casinos can’t offer.

“They [larger casinos] don’t have the interaction they used to have. We’re state of the art, but we use the personal” touch more often.

That means employees have to really sell the brand, and “that translates into better tips. The employees know the players, the players know them. It makes their experience nicer here; they’re coming to see ‘friends and family.’ ”

Both Nicodemus and Odee started working at Borgata on opening day—June 20, 2003. It was the first new casino in Atlantic City in 13 years.

To the nearly 65,000 other people who applied for jobs at Borgata, "someplace different" probably held a wide variety of meanings. And that's just what it was intended to do. It was part of a carefully considered employment strategy designed to appeal to a diverse workforce of nearly 5,000 housekeepers, food servers, table game dealers, pit managers and even executive vice presidents.

"'Work someplace different' hits home with everyone," says Cassie Fireman, vice president of talent at Borgata, a joint venture between the Boyd Gaming Corp. and MGM Mirage Inc. "It's very simple. That was important to us. We wanted something everyone could relate to."

For Laura Drescher, a customer care team leader who oversees the telephone operators who take reservations for rooms and entertainment, someplace different was a company where she had a chance to move up from her previous position at Harrah's casino. But she also appreciates the perks, such as e-mail, voice mail and an employee garage on the property that allows workers to bypass the tedious bus service ride that is common for employees at other Atlantic City casinos.

Doing Their Homework

The recruitment drive at Borgata, which means "little village" in Italian, was launched even before the 40-story gold building was constructed. Its operating philosophy was based on four principles:

  • Position. The brand.
  • Product. The building and its amenities.
  • Processes. Delivering superior customer service.
  • People. The right employees.
As CEO Robert L. Boughner said before the hotel/casino opened, "Only by finding the right employees will Borgata find the right customers."

To get a start on finding the right employees, Borgata relied on market research, including a poll of the local workforce. "It was a tough labor market to come into," says Fireman. "It was stagnant, with a lot of entrenched employees who had good benefits, solid wages and lots of vacation time."

In late 2001, the Cherenson Group/National Research Group conducted telephone interviews and focus groups of gaming industry employees to understand the employment landscape and determine "what the switching costs were," Fireman says. They asked questions such as, "What do you like about where you work?" "What don't you like about where you work?" and "What would be the difficulty in making the switch [to Borgata]?"

The research showed that:

  • Employees wanted to deliver superior customer service but felt they had insufficient support and resources from management to do so.
  • Employees did not believe they could openly communicate with senior management.
  • Employees were frequently promised improvements to their work environment that weren't delivered.
The focus groups segmented the employment market and allowed the company to look at specific concerns. Fireman says the questions related to issues such as, "What would make someone from Employer A want to move to Borgata, and what would make someone from Employer B go to Borgata? Sometimes it's different things. We needed to understand that in our recruiting strategy. We needed to understand the selling points."

The result was a "recruitment playbook" about each major employer in the Atlantic City gaming market, plus other selected U.S. gaming markets. By studying the playbook, Borgata recruiters could identify the dissatisfactions of employees at competing casinos and tell them, "Here's what you're missing there," Fireman says.

"You've got to get someone to convert. We looked at the other organizations and compared our benefits against theirs. For some people, the selling point is our vacation plan or the 401(k) plan. For others, it's our management style."

Fireman and her crew expected job security to be a key issue. New players in the service industry often over-hire, she says, and then lay off workers after the initial rush. Borgata moved 180 employees from their other facilities to help with the startup during the first six to eight weeks. After that, those employees returned to their home properties. That sent the message that "We're the new facility in town, but we have a lot of longevity," says Fireman. "The CEO has been with the company for 28 years."

Staking Their Claim

In October 2002, Borgata launched its web site ( with the slogan "Are You Ready?"

Fireman says that's how the company introduced itself to competitors and potential customers alike. "Then we followed up with 'Work Someplace Different,' " she says. "We advertised on rolling chairs on the Atlantic City Boardwalk to get our name and our web site out there." During the Miss America Pageant, the chairs were positioned for maximum visibility.

Borgata sought employees who could personify the Five F's—fast, fun, friendly, fresh and focused. One element that was most beneficial, according to Fireman, was using line managers in the hiring process instead of hiring temporary HR professionals.

"From an HR standpoint, I was a little skeptical going in, but in the end, it felt very good," she says. "These were people who had a stake in the game. The people they hired, they had to work with at the end of the day."

The company also worked with PeopleSoft to make the recruitment process as paperless as possible, Fireman says. During the initial stage, the company worked with public libraries and other public agencies to make the web site accessible to people who weren't online at home. "Are You Ready?" was the front page of the web site in the public library. Later, Borgata set up about 30 kiosks in its own employment center.

Nicodemus, who moved from a job in a nearby New Jersey town to the Metropolitan restaurant at Borgata, praised the ease of the online recruiting process. Without it, he says, "I would have had to drive to Atlantic City, fill out the application and drive back." The online process allowed him to complete the application at home.

The company also instituted the Atlantic City Jobs and Opportunities Program exclusively for residents. "We worked with residents to give them job training skills and the ability to complete applications online," says Fireman, adding that Borgata employs more than 1,000 Atlantic City residents.

Another element of the outreach was the Laptops & Lemonade Brigade, which went to churches and community centers in areas of south New Jersey with high unemployment rates. Mini job centers provided the opportunity to complete applications right there in the local community.

"It was a grassroots, door-to-door effort," says Fireman. "When people see that senior management is meeting with you, pouring you lemonade, they see we're really committed to this. It was very successful."

Teaching 'One Borgata Way'

Having hired nearly 5,000 people over a seven-month period in 2003, Borgata's branding efforts continued during the new employee orientation process, with senior managers talking to new hires about company values, Fireman says. "Our 'One Borgata Way' is more than our address; it's our way of doing business. We talk about trust, confidence, respect, support."

That's an easy message for Karen F. Brundage-Johnson, director of talent relationship management, to deliver. She retired early from the telecommunications industry and "never looked back. I wanted to do something completely different." She noticed the Borgata billboards, heard the buzz around town and thought, "Why not?" She was hired in May 2003, and part of her new job was helping to run the giant two-day orientation programs at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

"We talk about what our goals are, about creating a memorable, exciting experience for the customer," says Brundage-Johnson. It's done with a lot of visuals. New employees get a tour and see a presentation of photos, architectural drawings and video of Borgata's progress "from when we were a sand bar. We show them where we came from."

The presentation was used to introduce employees to One Borgata Way before construction was completed on the building. It's still used to introduce new employees to all aspects of the operation.

After the overview, a department orientation gives more specific details, Brundage-Johnson says. "If they're in table games, they see photos and videos of dealers at work, they see how things are set up. If they're in housekeeping, they see how that works."

The use of visuals is especially helpful in a diverse workforce where many people may have problems with English, she adds.

On the second day, employees are trained on benefits and taken on a tour to let them see what customers are experiencing.

Every aspect of employment was covered, says Odee. "You could not walk out of orientation without knowing what they expected of you. What they teach us as employees overflows to the customers. We can be personable to the customers."

Borgata also is proud of its "back of the house" facilities—a large gathering place, a darkened quiet lounge where employees can rest, a computer lounge where employees can check e-mail and a convenience store complete with Starbucks coffee.

"We believe in on-the-spot recognition. If you give superior customer service, I might buy you a Starbucks," says Brundage-Johnson. "You might receive a letter that entitles you to dinner." After moving so many employees through the orientation process simultaneously, the next step, says Brundage-Johnson, is to provide more specific training for skills development. For example, Nicodemus, a graduate of culinary arts school who has already received one promotion at the casino's restaurant, plans to continue his studies using Borgata's tuition assistance plan.

Borgata also emphasizes individual coaching, according to Drescher. "If somebody gives a comp room when they shouldn't, I go over it with the person, find out what the person was thinking" and help them to understand what they should have done.

Borgata uses its brand every day to retain employees, says Fireman. "We're doing an employee survey basically on a daily basis, asking, 'Is this someplace different? Do you get respect? Have you been on-boarded properly? Are you informed of happenings throughout the facility?' We try to do all the things we had heard weren't happening" elsewhere.

So far, retention efforts have been successful, according to Fireman. "The average turnover in this market is 30 percent. In the first year, we're trending just above 20 percent, and with mass recruitment you would expect it to be a little higher. There's room for improvement, but given the industry average, we feel good out of the block."

Stephenie Overman is a Chatham, N.J.-based freelance writer.

Reprinted with the permission of HR Magazine published by the Society for Human Resource Management (, Alexandria, VA.