On January 27th, Steve Wynn will turn 70.
It's a big milestone for the man who many credit with re-making The Strip. Competitors like Sheldon Adelson have shown that you can successfully run a gaming company well past that age (Adelson will be 80 next year) and The Steve will likely be at the head of Wynn Resorts for quite some time.
Still, it's worth exploring: what is the succession plan at one of hospitality's most admired companies? One of the advantages that Wynn Resorts has is a deep bench of talented people. That said, there's only one Steve.
We lost Steve Jobs in 2011 and there are parallels here. Both men built companies very much in their own image and were well known for being 'Tastemakers in Chief' - a powerful trait that allowed both Apple and Wynn Resorts to delight millions of customers as their leaders have had a good sense of what people are willing to spend money on.
Today, Steve Wynn serves as both CEO and Chairman of the Board at Wynn Resorts. Beyond that, he's the defacto head of the design apparatus, working closely with both Roger Thomas and DeRuyter Butler to imagine new projects and renovations.
My guess is that when Steve does eventually step down, we'll see not only a split of the CEO and Chairman roles but beyond that, others in the Wynn organization stepping up to fill the enormous hole that's left by him moving on. No one person can replace him.
When it comes to the Board of Directors, the two obvious choices for the chair are ex-wife Elaine Wynn or partner Kazuo Okada. Given Okada's desire to stay out of the spotlight until now, the smart money here is on Elaine. She knows the company well and would be an excellent steward, assuming she would want to serve. As a major shareholder, her interests are in the right place and let's be honest, her name is on the building too - she'd do the right thing for the company. If Elaine is unwilling or unable to serve, I'd look to Linda Chen as a possible chairwoman, assuming she didn't get the CEO nod (see below).
The CEO job is harder to call but I think there are at least three likely candidates. First off, you can forget about them going outside to find someone - this is a company that elevates to the top job from within. My picks for the corner office: Marc Schorr, Linda Chen or as a longer shot, Matt Maddox.
Marc Schorr: Perhaps the obvious choice - the current COO has been a Wynn confidant for decades. Interestingly, when at Mirage Resorts, it was current MGM exec Bobby Baldwin, not Schorr, that Wynn trusted with Bellagio, the company's most important asset (Schorr was president of The Mirage at the time of the merger). That said, Schorr proved his loyalty by coming along with Steve to Wynn and has been rewarded with a lot of responsibility. People familiar with the executive suite will tell you that there are few major decisions that don't touch Schorr's office. If Steve Wynn has a number two, it's definitely Marc, making him an obvious choice. Would he want the job? My impression of Schorr from afar has been as more of a background guy - the kind of person that every big company needs in the number two spot - someone who can crack heads and deal with the knucklehead stuff that shouldn't be on the CEO's desk... but who knows, maybe this is the gig he's been training for.
Linda Chen: Another long-time Wynn employee, Linda has been bringing in massive amounts of international business since The Mirage era. A member of the board as well as the president of Wynn International Marketing, Chen is also COO of the Macau subsidiary. Steve Wynn has indicated that Wynn Resorts is becoming more of a Chinese company and our own analysis has shown that from a financial perspective, that's undisputed. Macau is where all of the growth is and will be for some time. It would make good sense to have a Chinese-American running the company in the 21st century.
Matt Maddox: The 35-year-old CFO is an undisputed financial wizard. One of the company's strongest assets of late has been their balance sheet and financial structure, allowing them to weather the 2008-era storm that almost caused MGM and Las Vegas Sands to default. Maddox was the executor of that winning strategy and is thought to be well liked by Wynn and other managers. Putting him in the top job would be a bold move and is probably a long-shot... but I would not at all be surprised to see him running the company someday. Former Mirage CFO Dan Lee, another financial genius who worked with Wynn, eventually left to run Pinnacle. That may not have ended well but things with Lee there could have easily gone differently - Pinnacle made a lot of progress with Dan at the helm. Will Maddox end up running a Wynn competitor down the road?
Who do you see as the next generation of Wynn Resorts leadership?