News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jeff Simpson, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 4, 2004 - CHERYL FISH
Vice President, MGM Mirage Events
As Vice President of MGM Mirage Events, Cheryl Fish strives to create memories that will last a lifetime.
MGM Mirage executives consider Cheryl Fish one of the Strip power's biggest assets.
The woman who stages important parties, weddings and other special events for Bellagio, MGM Grand, The Mirage, Treasure Island and New York-New York is a big advantage for the company, they say.
"Cheryl Fish and her team at MGM Mirage Events are a significant plus for Bellagio," said Randy Morton, Bellagio vice president of hotel operations. "They are the absolute best at what they do."
Morton's boss, Mirage Resorts Chief Executive Officer Bobby Baldwin, was more succinct.
"She's the best," Baldwin said.
Fish and her 50-member team produce megaevents that can cost millions of dollars, including parties for big-betting casino customers, holiday celebrations, corporate events and spectacular weddings for the rich and famous.
MGM Mirage Events occupies a nondescript former dance club behind The Mirage on the west side of Industrial Road, but the building's 50,000 square-foot interior resembles the back of the house of a Hollywood studio.
Colorful artwork is everywhere, in various stages of preparation, and giant woodworking, fabric and computer-assisted design shops are filled with the signs, decorations and interiors MGM Mirage Events creates.
Fish was lured to Las Vegas by former Mirage Resorts boss Steve Wynn, and she says the corporate bosses of MGM Mirage continue to allow her and her team the opportunity to be creative, and to be the best at what they do.
QUESTION: You and your team spend so much time and effort preparing events, yet they're over in less than a day. Does that take getting used to, the fleeting nature of what you create?
ANSWER: We hope that the memories and the experiences are lasting, not fleeting. But most events last only four hours, so we want to maximize the experience during that time. We all know we're creating interiors for parties, but we do try to use our creations more than once. Our hope is that (the decorations and themes for) our events get used over again.
Q: How many events does MGM Mirage Events produce in a year?
A: We do almost 600 jobs a year.
Q: Do any of the other big Strip operating companies -- Mandalay Resort Group, Park Place Entertainment or Harrah's Entertainment -- have an in-house, event planning outfit?
A: There isn't another casino in town that has a full-service production company like we have. Our customers can bill everything for their events at once. It's seamless, and our talent is unmatched in this town.
Q: How many full-time employees do you have?
A: We have 50 full-time employees, but we have a large pool of free-lancers to draw on as well.
Q: What distinguishes your employees from others in the event-staging business?
A: My core group of artists, the top people, are passionate about what they do. They continually try to top themselves.
Q: What do you do when things go wrong when you're staging an event?
A: We try to troubleshoot before an event, but art is done by hand, and problems do come up. But the beauty of this facility is that we're so close. If something needs to be repaired or replaced, we're right here.
Q: Can other casino operators, or other businesses, hire MGM Mirage Events to do a function that's not at one of your properties?
A: Absolutely not. We produce the most incredible events in the world; why would we want to do that for a competitor?
Q: You support a handful of different properties. While they're all MGM Mirage hotels, each general manager's concerned about his place. How do you please them all?
A: Well, it get's tricky, especially for New Year's Eve. New Year's Eve is different. Of course, each property has its own event, and each property want to outdo each other. Each property wants a new event, something edgy.
Q: What events are your bread and butter, predictable events you'll be planning year in and year out?
A: New Year's Eve events, of course, at least one at every property. And there are big events during the early part of the year, with Chinese New Year and Super Bowl parties. After those events, each company property hosts big employee of the year parties, and they really go all out. During the rest of the year we support a number of casino events, ranging from baccarat tournaments to specialty slot tournaments.
Q: What would you do to stage a party for a slot tourney?
A: (Laughs) Slot tournaments usually have a kitschy theme, something like money, or luck. We'll prepare the reception room, the slot tourney area and the banquet room.
Q: How does corporate headquarters handle your company's finances? Do you bill the individual properties?
A: Yes. We stand on our own two feet. We produce our own revenue.
Q: What's the price range for the services provided by MGM Mirage Events?
A: Let's say a client wants just a marquee. That could cost only $1,000. We've also had events that run as high as $1.5 million to $2 million.
Q: What kind of events cost seven figures?
A: The big baccarat tournaments could cost that much, and the big weddings, the star weddings, could as well.
Q: What's your busy season?
A: The busy season starts during the middle of October, when we start with the Halloween parties. Every one of our properties does wild, outlandish events for Halloween. Before that, we're heavily involved in planning for our New Year's Eve events; those are presold by mid-October.
Holiday decor comes next, we do the front lobby decor, plus back-of-the-house decor for our employees, including the employee dining rooms. We have the New Year's Eve events, of course, but on New Year's Day and the next day or two we also have a lot of college bowl game parties.
Q: What events do you enjoy the most?
A: More and more wedding clients want destination weddings. These events are neat. The brides know what they want and they'll often have special items for each of the hotel rooms (for the guests in their party). It's fun working with the brides and their grooms.
Q: With so many events, is it stressful?
A: Bobby Baldwin once told me the key was hiring the right staff, and he was right. Having such great people minimizes the stress and gives me confidence in what we're doing.
Q: What events do you take a personal interest in?
A: I'm involved with the bigger events, the high-roller functions. Right now I'm intensely involved with three events, either high-end weddings or executive functions. I probably personally handle about 25 events per year.
Q: What do you and your people find rewarding about creating these events?
A: Most people come into an event and they think it just happened. But for us it's like the birth of a baby, except it's the birth of a party. Personally, I find it gratifying when we have a happy customer, giving him or her a magical event that's even better than I dreamed it would be.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration, and how do you nourish your creativity?
A: I try to go to a lot of plays, as they're really innovative. Because of my close association with Los Angeles, we know the people who do the Oscars and Emmys, and we try to bring some of that kind of innovation to Las Vegas.
Q: You said you'd do 600 events in 2003. Is that number up from 2002?
A: This year we were flat, but I anticipate growth in 2004 and 2005.
Name: Cheryl Fish
Title: Vice President, MGM Mirage Events
Education: University of Arizona, bachelor of arts in interior design
Work experience: Owned a personalized gift shop in Los Angeles, 1979-81; owned It's the Main Event, event planners, Los Angeles, 1981-95; vice president, Mirage Events, a subsidiary of Mirage Resorts, 1995-2000; vice president, MGM Mirage Events, a subsidiary of MGM Mirage, 2000-present
Family: Daughters Hayley, Melissa and Alianne
Favorite books: "Vera Wang Design"
Favorite movie: "An Affair to Remember"
In Las Vegas since: 1995
Birthplace: San Pedro, Calif.
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