Friday, November 14, 2008

Lanni Leaving On A Lark?

As has been widely reported, MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni is stepping down. It's a strange thing because it came about seemingly suddenly -- at least giving two weeks notice would seem to be odd for someone with another year-plus on his contract.

The Wall Street Journal has speculated that this may have something to do with the fact that their sources were leading them to a bombshell that Lanni's claim of an MBA from USC may have been fake. Lanni's online resume said so but USC has no record of his receiving the degree and Lanni's claim that he got an honorary MBA was refuted by the school. It seems they've only given out about five of those, the last one in 1933.

MGM Mirage spokesman Alan Feldman categorically denied that the MBA flap was the cause of Lanni's retirement and cited personal and family issues instead. I get the journalistic value in the MBA story and maybe it is relevant to why he is departing, but I can't imagine that it has any serious bearing on Lanni's standing with a company he's run for so long. It may have simply been yet another bit of stress on top of the economic challenges facing the company, the city and the industry. To wit, Lanni told Bloomberg today: "The economies are in a position that I’ve never seen before. Frankly, I think it’s a lot easier for a person in his 40s than a person in his 60s to comfortably deal with this."

I will say this. When I interviewed Lanni for my New York Times piece on the rising stars of young Vegas a scant seven months ago, Lanni gave absolutely no indication that he was going anywhere prior to the end of his contract in January 2010. You can hear that conversation on the April 17 episode of "The Strip," but here's a transcript of the relevant parts:

Friess: Do these [younger casino bosses] make you feel old or past tense in any way?

Lanni: Past tense. I’ve never thought of myself as past tense. You know I look in the mirror in the morning and I don’t see a 65 year old. Maybe I should, but I don’t. Maybe I should have my eyes adjusted. No, I think it’s great, that’s what happens in life, you go through and the next generation comes along and they’re going to hopefully learn a few things from people such as me or people my age and take over and I’m going to be the biggest cheerleader in the world when that happens.

Friess: Now you have a contract through 2010...

Lanni: No, it goes until the 3rd or 4th of January, 2010.

Friess: What happens then?

Lanni: I have no idea, that would be for the compensation committee and the board of directors to determine, but we always follow, religiously follow, the aspect of meeting with our board and discussing these matters. The good thing about our company – and I think this is probably more so than some of the other publicly traded companies in the industry and maybe some of the private ones – is that if I’m hit by a train, this company is going to do quite well. No one has to worry about do we have any successful potential successors in place. We have some very good people in our company who can fill that particular role. And that decision will be made at the appropriate time by the board of trustees and I will make my recommendation at that time and I think I know what that recommendation will be. And they’ll make the determination. I have no idea.

Friess: Is Jim Murren an heir apparent?

Lanni: I meet with our board annually and give them my views on what that succession at the right time will be and I honestly don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss it.

Of course, Jim Murren is the heir apparent. And seeing how he was the driving force behind CityCenter and the merger with Mandalay Resort Group, it's fairly unlikely that there'll be any significant change in direction for the company.


gregoryzephyr said...

"I get the journalistic value in the MBA story and maybe it is relevant to why he is departing, but I can't imagine that it has any serious bearing on Lanni's standing with a company he's run for so long."

So, lying about your credentials is okay as long as you get away with it for a long time and manage to be successful in your career? In any company I've worked for, faking your resume is grounds for termination. And as a CEO you have both legal and fiduciary responsibility to the corporation and shareholders. Lying about degrees may seem a small issue but it calls into question the integrity with which decisions are made and sets a bad ethical precedent for all employees.

Anonymous said...

The American Casino business is different than GM or GE. Founded by thugs, and based upon greed, it is relatively new to the publicly traded game, and majorities are commonly controlled by one person (In this case billionaire Kirk Kerkorian). With an 8th grade education, I don't think KK is concerned about resumes as much as results and ability, both of which Lanni has shown in spades for over a generation. Compare the results and reputation of Lanni to his contemporaries, such as Wynn or Adelson. I don't recall ever reading any allegations of moral terpitude or Mob associations about Lanni. I wonder how many people with an MBA from USC have accomplished more than Lanni in their careers.

Jeff in OKC