Former Prof Atop Casino World

Back in his academic days, former Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Gary Loveman had to work hard to keep the attention of his 2 p.m. marketing class, his students’ third class of the day.

Now, poised to head the largest casino company in the world, he is having little trouble captivating the entire gaming world.

Loveman, the CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., announced last Thursday a $9.44 billion deal to purchase rival casino behemoth Caesar’s Entertainment, Inc. If approved by the companies’ shareholders, the deal would be the largest in casino history, creating a giant enterprise with 56 casinos, about 3.7 million square feet in gaming space and over 40,000 hotel rooms.

The transaction marks the end of an ambitious year of expansion for Loveman’s Harrah’s. The company has also acquired Horseshoe’s Gaming Holding Corp. and Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas over the past 12 months.

“It has been my view for some time that this industry will consolidate into two leading large-cap operators,” he said in a conference call last Thursday to discuss the Caesar’s deal. “Clearly the industry has now moved in that direction.”

In his meteoric rise to the top of the casino world, Loveman has drafted a few strategies from his business school years.

He taught service marketing at the business school until 1998, when, after advising Harrah’s for seven years, he was named chief operating officer of the company. He has made a name for himself by creating the Harrah’s brand and cultivating customer loyalty through innovations like the Total Rewards players card.

When he was first chosen, many company employees didn’t think he’d make it as a corporate executive.

“Most people thought I’d leave in two years and go back to Harvard,” Loveman told The McKinsey Quarterly last year. “They thought this would be like a kidney stone: It would hurt for a while, and then it would pass.”

But the success of his branding work landed him a promotion to CEO last year and a slew of subsequent accolades.

In an address to graduating students of the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis, Loveman—who called himself a “recovering academic”—said many of the lessons he had learned in his time at Harvard had helped guide him to success at Harrah’s.

He cited the importance of responsibility and meritocracy in running Harrah’s as ideas he brought with him from academia.

He also described his career path from business school professor to gaming executive as a “remarkable journey.”

“Life is a very unpredictable thing,” he told the graduating students.

For Loveman, the precise future of his journey leading a gaming empire is still unclear.

“We still need to work through the specifics of our branding strategy,” he said in last Thursday’s conference call.

But if a history is any guide, the former marketing professor shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a way to sell the new enterprise to consumers.

A spokesperson for Harrah’s said Loveman could not be reached for comment because he was in board meetings.

—Staff writer Stephen M. Marks can be reached at marks@fas.harvard.edu.