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They Got Game.

Twins Dan and Dana Napier took a big gamble on careers in the gaming industry. They are now the highest-ranking African Americans at MGM Grand Inc.

BACK IN THE MID-1970s, when Dan and Dana Napier opted to forge careers in the gaming industry, they had no idea the odds were against them.

"We didn't know anything about this business," says Dana, 46, the younger--by 20 minutes--of the identical twins. But they would quickly learn that gaming was a closed industry: dosed to blacks, women and anyone else who didn't grow out of its good ol' boy roots. There was no precedent for the Napiers' ambition to rise to the top. And no apparent venue that would allow them to succeed. But that didn't stop the brothers from pushing forward.

Now, 20 years later, gaming has grown dramatically and transformed itself, outside and in. The neon marquees that seemed to endlessly headline Rat Pack impersonators now hawk the star power of Tina Turner and The Artist (formerly known as royalty). The dizzying tackiness that defined casino decor for decades has given way to something more tasteful but no less exciting. And the ultra-exclusionary hiring and promotion practices of the past have finally given way to the dictates of the times.

Dan and Dana Napier have been in the forefront of championing such changes. Now they are poised to benefit from them as well. Each is within steps of becoming the first African American to head a major gaming operation for MGM Grand Inc., a $3 billion franchise.

As vice president of national marketing for the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a $1.5 billion property, Dan Napier's success is central to that of the entire operation. High rollers--those gutsy gamblers who routinely bet with more money in a weekend than most people earn in a year--can account for as much as 40% of the annual gross of a property. Thus, they are highly sought after and highly prized.

Dan is MGM's high roller point man. It is his job to attract these high-end dients to his hotel and casino and ensure that, once there, they are thrilled--not merely pleased, but flat-out wild--about their stay. He oversees a staff of about 250 and a budget that: won't discuss "for competitive reasons." Suffice it to say, hundreds of millions are spent each year to woo an exclusive clientele of about 800 people. But as one analyst observes, "What's $40,000 or $50,000 spent against someone who's going to gamble with $600,000 to $1 million?" (Actually, Dan has seen as much as $5 million laid out in one weekend!)

Dana's mission is different but no less central to the organization. In 1998, MGM Grand lured him away from Caesar's Palace Hotel and Casino, offering him the opportunity to become vice president of table games operations at the company's start-up facility in Detroit. Overseeing a staff of 1,200 and a $50 million budget, Dana's goal is to make MGM Grand's Detroit table games a can't-miss destination for gamblers near and far.

Dana's position offers him a great opportunity but the hotel and casino face a tough challenge, according to one gaming enthusiast, who says, "Detroit is not a place I would go for anything other than business." Dana is unbowed by such blunt assessments. Noting Mayor Dennis Archer's push for a cultural renaissance in the city, as well the city's easy accessibility and huge, untapped market, he says, "When I think of Detroit, I think of cars and Motown and its rich entertainment history. This is a natural extension of that. It's going to be great!"

CHECKERED PAST, BRIGHT FUTURE

"They are two of the best marketing people in the industry, bar none," says MGM Grand Inc. Chairman and CEO J. Terrence Lanni. "I told them both that they each should be seeking the opportunity to become chief operating officer of one of our properties. They both have the ability, and we love to promote from within."

If MGM Grand doesn't find opportunities for the Napiers, someone else might. "I have never met them, but they're known in the business as being very good," says Lawrence J. Fowler, chief human resources officer for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwood Resort & Casino in Connecticut. "When management sits down to talk about who's worth going after, their names pop up anywhere where there's gaming in this country."

Gaming in this country has a long but checkered history. The fact that gambling is still prohibited in several states bears testament both to how far the industry has come and how far it has yet to go. Despite its limitations, however, recent years have marked explosive growth in gaming.

MGM Grand is a perfect example. Its luxurious 5,000-room flagship operation opened on the Vegas Strip in late 1993. Since then, it has opened a casino in Darwin, Australia; three in South Africa (with three more planned); and, in September, it will open a $200 million entertainment and gaming complex in Detroit--a placeholder for the $750 million permanent facility slated to open there in four years. There are also active plans for expansion into Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The strategy of marketing gaming as yet another form of wholesome entertainment is working. Gaming's image as a seedy playground for poor saps is all but extinct. "I'm not in the business of destroying people's lives," says Dan Napier. "I'm in the business of enhancing them."

Despite its evolution, the industry has been lagging, way behind in its minority hiring and promotions practices. Foxwood's Fowler, who has worked in gaming since 1985, says that the greatest progress is evident in Atlantic City, where there are a few black gaming executives. However, he notes, "Atlantic City opened with very stringent affirmative action guidelines imposed by the state, so they had no other choice." And even there, he says, the progress can be seen mostly at the entry level.

MGM's Lanni agrees that the industry has "been very slow" to include African Americans within its ranks. "Back when I started in the late '70s, females were automatically unacceptable with industry old timers," Lanni says. "The same was probably true for minorities."

Fowler agrees. However, he is quick to point out that "in the last five to eight years, we've seen a real movement on the part of white women in the business. Blacks are still not well represented."

The bulk of casino's positions are in the dealers' pool, where a high school or college graduate can earn a starting salary of $40,000, tips included. To break into upper management, says Fowler, "You have to have a solid education and a strong business and management background. After that, if you're white, you can be ordinary. But if you're black, you have to be extraordinary."

NATURE, NURTURE OR JUST PLAIN NAPIER?

No one ever gave Dan and Dana that advice. But no one had to. They have always stood out, although not from each other. Both are divorced fathers, and share mannerisms, winning people skills and a passion for golf and other sports. But perhaps most striking is their genuine enthusiasm for what they do, and their single-minded focus on personal excellence.

Both are fierce competitors, although they maintain that they have never competed against each other. Nor do they intend to. Although their loyalty and commitment to MGM Grand is something both speak of often, their closeness and commitment to each other exceeds all.

The brothers developed the traits that would make them successful in Las Vegas back in the small town of Seguin, Texas. Their divorced mother, Joann Cleaver, raised her three boys (brother Don is one year older) in Austin. Yet they spent most weekends and vacation time in Seguin on the 250-acre ranch owned by their maternal grandparents, Suzie and Lawrence Crenshaw.

The Crenshaws owned two mortuaries, a small convalescent home and an ambulance service. As far back as they can remember, the boys were involved in it all. At the mortuaries, although Dana notes they would always find something else to do around embalming time, there was no escaping attendance at funeral planning sessions between their grandparents and grieving families.

"We'd be out playing ball or something, and my grandparents would come get us and pull us into their office and sit us on a couch in the corner," Dana recalls. "The people would walk into the room all sad and crying over their loved one, and somehow they'd walk out smiling and comforted and feeling so much better."

Countless sessions like these made a particular impact on Dan, who says, "We never actually participated in these meetings. Half the time, we'd fall asleep. But I remember the difference in the people coming in and going out. My grandparents knew how to make people who were facing one of the worst times in their lives feel good. I thought that was a great skill."

Dan and Dana went together to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas with two goals: to play basketball and study mortuary science in further preparation for taking over the family business. Neither goal would pan out. First, Dan, the more passionate ballplayer, injured his knee and got sidelined. Then, after one year's worth of mortuary science classes, they both realized they'd rather focus on the management side of the family enterprise. So they switched their majors to business administration.

As a sophomore, to help pay for his car, Dan joined the labor union so he could get a job in Vegas' main industry, gaming. Dressed in his interview best, and armed with his homegrown business acumen and lots of natural charm, he applied for a position at the Sands Hotel and Casino. It was 1972, a time when casinos relegated women and people of color to jobs as housekeepers and kitchen help. "I figured I could at least get a job as a bellhop," Dan recalls, "but they offered me dishwasher. So I took it."

But he didn't keep it for long. Almost weekly, he searched the internal job postings and was soon maneuvering himself up through the ranks. By the time he left the Sands in 1979, he was assistant hotel manager, and there would be no going back to the Crenshaw family business. (Today, it is run by their brother Don, with help from their mother.)

Dana's entree into the industry bore striking similarities to Dan's. In 1976, he joined the Tropicana Hotel and Casino as a dishwasher. "I did it for a weekend, went to human resources and said, `This is a good job, but I'm a business major in college.'" He was moved into accounting, where he handled the food and beverage accounts. Then, one day, a colleague suggested he become a table games dealer. After seeing a dealer cash in one shift's worth of tip chips, Dana agreed.

In 1980, after a stint as a dealer at the Las Vegas Hilton, he joined Caesar's, where he spent the next 15 years rising through a number of supervisory and management positions, all on the casino floor.

Dan's career flourished also. In 1982, having spent a decade rising through the ranks of hotel operations, he decided to learn the gaming side of things. He spent four years dealing twenty-one and baccarat at the Golden Nugget, then moved to the Mirage as a casino floor supervisor.

In 1993, he joined the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino while it was still under construction. Once it opened, his job, to host and assist high-end customers, was one that he seemed born to do.

Spencer Christian, former weather anchor for Good Morning America, met Dana in the late '80s at Caesar's. Then, in the early '90s, Dana hosted him at the MGM Grand. "I've met a lot of people in the hospitality business over the years, but when it comes to high rollers, hospitality is a different animal, and a lot of people don't succeed at it," Christian says. "High rollers so vary from individual to individual, you can't approach every customer with the same smile and the same trinket. These are people who are accustomed to being enticed with the best of everything--free transportation on private jets, beautiful flowers, the best champagne, suites that, in some cases, I could fit my whole house into.

"With Dan and Dana, there's all of that, but they also make a real personal connection with you," adds Christian, now with KGO-TV in San Francisco. "They are so genuine and down to earth. They seem to be interested not just in your celebrity, but in you as a person. That's not something you can teach people. You either have that or you don't."

CEO Lanni agrees. "Marketing executives tend to be extroverted but, like everyone, [they] tend to get along with some people better than others. Dan and Dana get along with everyone. They truly have the ability to be all things to all people."

LEAVING LAS VEGAS

It was Lanni, who was COO of Caesar's before joining MGM Grand in 1995, who first raised the idea of bringing Dana into the fold. "Shortly after I started here, I told Dan he should talk to Dana about what he might want to do, and whether there was an opportunity we had that would appeal to him."

That opportunity arose last year when the company won its bid to launch the Detroit operation. The fact that Dana is part of the team breaking into new, uncharted territory for MGM is fitting, since Dan likens the two of them to Lewis and Clark, the fabled explorers of the West. Dana laughs at the comparison, but appreciates its rationale. Kit's true," he says. "We're trailblazers."

But both men credit the officers of their company with blazing new trails too. "We have a leadership team that is progressive, that is aggressive, that wants to be the best and is going to be the best," says Dana. "Both of us being here is a part of that."
COPYRIGHT 1999 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:Dan and Dana Napier of MGM Grand Inc
Author:Clarke, Caroline V.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:2341
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