I must have been living under a rock to somehow miss this information in the past few weeks as it was coming to light – but one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for has retired today. Renee West has stepped down as the President and COO of both Luxor and Excalibur resorts in Las Vegas.
This hits close to home, because while I lived in Las Vegas, I worked in the casino at Excalibur under Renee’s management, and it was absolutely one of the most exciting, inspiring experiences I have ever had. Renee was a true leader; visionary, exciting, incredibly personable, strong, and passionate as well as compassionate about Vegas, her employees, and the betterment of the resorts she managed.
Renee is one of the greatest “casino bosses” Las Vegas has ever seen. In an industry where CEOs and COOs are mainly male, she broke down barriers and blazed trails during her 15 years with MGM Resorts International. She began her incredible career in 2000, where she worked at State Line as Vice President of Human Resources at Primm Valley Resorts. In a meteoric rise to power, Renee was soon named President of the three Primm casinos; the first time in MGM’s history that a woman had been given the opportunity to oversee any property, let alone several at once. In 2005, Renee was moved to The Strip, where MGM put her in charge of Excalibur. That is when I had the opportunity to be one of her employees, and I absolutely adored her style, skills, and uncommon decency that she showed to everyone, regardless of status or position within the company.
During her time at the helm of Excalibur, the resort saw some amazing changes; many of them desperately needed and necessary. For probably the first time since its opening in the summer of 1990, Renee had the entire casino (and surrounding areas) re-carpeted. Under her direction, one of Excalibur’s two towers was completely renovated, as was the property’s swimming pool. There was an air of excitement around the castle, and you could feel the pride all of us had; we were one big family, and Renee absolutely fostered that.
In 2009, MGM moved Renee from Excalibur to Mandalay Bay, and then shortly thereafter, the company moved her one final time, where she was in control of both Luxor and Excalibur. Today was Renee’s final day with Luxor, Excalibur, and MGM Resorts, International. Her retirement after just 15 years with MGM comes as a shock and surprise to me, as I am sure many former and current employees feel. While everyone wishes her the very best and knows that she has some amazing adventures ahead, there is definitely a huge gap that will be left in her absence.
While at Excalibur, I participated in many classes and programs under Renee’s direction, and am very proud to be what the company once referred to as a member of its Royal Guard. The people I had the pleasure of working with were phenomenal; many of them are still with Excalibur or Luxor, and some of them have moved on. We all were enamored by Renee’s leadership strengths, and I was particularly awed every time I heard her speak publicly – something I personally hate doing; everything was always so relaxed and came rolling off of Renee’s tongue perfectly that it was ridiculous. Some people are natural leaders, and Renee was definitely one of them in a big way. She has also waived off focus or attention that she was the first female in Vegas history to control a major Strip property; the male vs. female aspect of her career never seemed to be of importance to her and I saw her downplay that on several occasions, although the rest of the world sees it as quite an accomplishment, let alone in such a very short amount of time with MGM.
Below, is a great example of the type of speaker and leader Renee West is.
Moving Renee from resort to resort seemed to screw with the “big picture” ideas for the future of Excalibur, which included a total renovation of the other hotel tower, as well as a physical make-over that would drastically change the look of Excalibur from a bright “family” castle to a more adult and perhaps contemporary one. Those things didn’t happen – and may not any time soon, given the economic climate in Las Vegas, as the city still struggles to recover from the past several years of brutal recession.
One of the more amusing aspects of working at Excalibur was that I share the same last name as Renee. In the short time I worked in the castle, I became heavily involved with special classes, etc. and was very interested in learning the ins and outs of the business. Very often, people assumed that we are somehow related – you could tell by their demeanor around me, especially when she and I would cross paths and she would offer a big hug and stop and chat. It didn’t really “freak people out” – but it sure was funny watching the gears turn behind their eyes when the two Wests were sharing a conversation or laugh on the casino floor or at an employee meeting/gathering! No, we are not related at all; I just have the utmost respect and admiration for Renee West.
Even in times of unease, Renee was an outstanding leader. Without going into specifics, I had an issue with someone else employed at Excalibur. It was something that bothered me so much, I approached Renee about it directly. Instead of blowing me off or having someone else handle the situation, she invited me to her office – a very expansive, old-school space – and she asked me to discuss it with her openly and honestly. She was an incredibly busy person, but that afternoon, she made sure I was heard and her attention to me was laser-focused. That is what separated her from so many other bosses I have worked for, and no doubt, the friendship and incredible humanity she showed me and others is the reason she was and will always be so revered by employees past and present.
Renee West leaves The Strip a better place than when she arrived. She was a true leader and that is so very rare these days in the corporate world. Perhaps this feature will be perceived as me simply gushing – but for those who know and have had the opportunity to work alongside Renee, they will tell you it’s well-deserved and spot-on.
I wish Renee the very best in life, wherever her next adventures take her; she made such an impact in countless peoples’ lives that she deserves every bit of fun and relaxation that retirement offers her!
– Rick West, proud Excalibur Alumnus