Mission accomplished. As part of its long-term management succession plan, leadership of Sol Casinos will be transferred to a Pascua Yaqui Indian tribal member by early June.
After seven years as CEO of Pascua Yaqui Gaming Enterprises, Wendell Long will yield his executive duties to one of five tribal members being considered for the top post. None of the candidates has been publicly identified.
“This is the outcome of our management succession program. I was brought here in March 2006 to be the last non-tribal member CEO. We have succeeded in this goal,” said Long. “We’ve done some pretty fantastic things here and as planned, I worked myself out of a job.”
Through its innovative STEP (Supporting Tribal Employment Partnership) program, tribal member-employees receive training in professional development and management succession. It is a flexible mix of training based on an individual’s interests.
STEP includes on-site workshops, on-the-job training, classes at Pima Community College, shadowing department heads, self-study and personalized coaching. The goal is to promote from within and have a tribal member prepared to take over a position before an opening occurs.
“I’ll be replaced by someone already working here, already trained to do this. I’m confident any of the five tribal members can do this job. Now is the time for them to manage their own casino and resort,” Long said. “The tribal council was happy to have me and I liked it here.”
The Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council will select a successor and Long will collaborate with the new executive through the transition. At the latest, Long will stay until June 9.
Pascua Yaqui Gaming Enterprises owns and operates two casinos. Casino Del Sol Resort, Spa and Conference Center, 5655 W. Valencia Road, includes an outdoor amphitheater performance venue, and a new $100 million hotel and convention center. It also continues to operate its original Casino of the Sun, 7406 S. Camino De Oeste.
Of the approximately 300 employees hired at the hotel, opened in November 2011, 87 percent are tribal members. None had any prior hotel experience.
“We brought them on three months early for training. As a testimony to the success of STEP, the hotel already has earned the AAA Four Diamond Award rating,” said Long. The tribe’s overall operations employ about 1,400 people.
Since coming to Tucson, Long has been active in volunteer leadership positions and community service. He is a member of the Tucson Conquistadores and serves on the boards of the Tucson Zoological Society, Tu Nidito, Southern Arizona Red Cross, and Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities. Last year, he was chairman of the board for the Tucson Metro Chamber.
“We worked very closely on a number of major initiatives, like upgrading the chamber’s political clout, creating new ways to serve small business, promoting improvements in education, economic development and how the chamber could positively impact the quality of life in Southern Arizona,” said Mike Varney, CEO and president of the chamber. “It was obvious from the start that Wendell is a man of vision who believes in possibility thinking.”
Long, 49, began his gaming career 30 years ago at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City where he also worked for Trump Organization. In Connecticut, he worked at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. He then served as general manager at Treasure Island Casino in Minnesota prior to joining Pascua Yaqui Gaming Enterprises.
He holds degrees in business administration, finance and marketing, and law. He is married and a licensed commercial pilot.
Since Long has a no-compete clause in his employment contract and plans to continue his career in gaming, he most likely will leave Arizona.
“One thing for certain, I’ll stay with the skill I know best. I’d like to help out another tribe somewhere,” he said.
Indian gaming’s unique conditions and business goals appeal to Long more than those of a traditional, commercial operation. Although both have the goal of making money, tribal gaming has different priorities.
“In a place like Atlantic City, all the profits go back to the owners,” said Long. “In tribal gaming, I like seeing the tangible results of hard work, like funding a new wellness center or a new senior citizens center or a new school.”
Contact reporter Roger Yohem at email@example.com or (520) 295-4254.