Atlantic City – When high-paid CEOs cloistered in fancy executive suites claim that they know how ordinary workers really feel, somehow it often rings hollow.
Rosalind Krause talked of her kinship with rank-and-file employees the other day while strolling through Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, Donald Trump’s kitschy gambling fantasyland of white elephants, genies and minarets overlooking the Boardwalk.
„I’ve been there. I know what the workers are going through,“ Krause said in a reassuring tone.
This time the boss isn’t being disingenuous.
From humble beginnings as a cocktail server and blackjack dealer, Krause climbed the ranks during a 28-year casino career that has taken her to the top levels of a fiercely competitive industry.
Krause, 45, was recently named the general manager of the Taj Mahal, joining Cathy Walker of Trump Marina Hotel Casino and Pam Popielarski of Tropicana Casino and Resort as the only women in town in charge of a casino.
Downplaying her own success in shattering the glass ceiling, Krause instead focused on the importance of building a relationship between management and employees to help revive the aging Taj Mahal.
„I’m all into the team,“ she said. „It’s not about one person at the top making decisions. A joint venture by the management team and employees is what’s needed to be successful.“
From the first moments she began working in a casino in 1978, Krause sensed that she would make the gaming business her career — even though she was still in her teens at the time and hustling tips as a beverage server.
„I knew that it was a step in what was going to be my career in this industry,“ she recalled of her first job at Resorts International, Atlantic City’s first casino.
She spent three years as a cocktail server, then joined the action on the casino floor as a blackjack, baccarat, craps and roulette dealer.
To this day, she notes, “I can deal any table game.”
Her first management job at Resorts, in 1984, was as a box person at a craps pit. She left Resorts in 1988 to work in management at Caesars, but returned to Resorts in 2000 and served as senior vice president of casino operations and marketing.
In 2003, her career path took her to Las Vegas, where she was the senior vice president of casino services at Caesars Palace and then assistant general manager of Paris Las Vegas.
The president of Caesars Palace, Mark Juliano, recruited her in Las Vegas and then brought her back to Atlantic City when he became chief operating officer of Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. last year. Krause was appointed assistant general manager of the Taj Mahal in September and promoted to the top job as general manager in April.
Juliano has been Krause’s mentor. Their careers have been remarkably similar, each of them rising from low-level jobs to become senior executives in the same organizations. Juliano started as a maitre d‘ at Resorts in 1978. Krause met him in her early days at Resorts when Juliano was a casino host.
„He’s one of the best people in the business,“ she said. „I can’t see myself working anywhere else.“
Krause, who was born in Vineland, raised in Brigantine and now lives in Linwood, was anxious to return to her Atlantic City roots when Juliano offered her the assistant general manager’s job at the Taj. She said she wanted her 12-year-old daughter, Natalie, and 10-year-old son, William, to grow up in a community that had a small-town feel — not the frenetic pace of Las Vegas.
But Atlantic City’s own rapid growth is drawing comparisons to the Las Vegas of the 1980s, when it evolved from a gambling town to a full-fledged tourist destination featuring an array of retail and entertainment attractions to complement the casinos.
Now in better financial shape since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, the three Trump casinos are belatedly joining the trend for more nongambling attractions. The flagship Taj Mahal is the focal point of the company’s post-bankruptcy turnaround plan.
Krause will oversee badly needed upgrades and a $ 250 million expansion as the cavernous casino embarks on a three-year makeover into a more upscale gambling and entertainment palace.
The centerpiece is an 800-room hotel tower scheduled to open in summer 2008. Other pieces include a facelift for the Taj’s main entryway, new restaurants, a high-end slots area, a baccarat pit and an Asian games room.
At the same time the Taj is changing its physical appearance, an equally important transformation is taking place with the nearly 5,000-member workforce, Krause said.
„With all of the new construction going in, the morale of the employees has really been going up,” she said. “Suddenly, they’re all very excited after all these years.“
Trump has restored sick pay and is now underwriting the cost of gaming licenses for employees. The company is also reviewing compensation levels across the board to reward its workers and attract top-notch new employees, Krause said.
Brian Mazzoni, a craps dealer who has worked at the Taj Mahal since it opened in 1990, said the pay improvements seem to be a genuine effort to change workplace relations after years of stagnation.
„They’re a lot better now,“ Mazzoni said. „There had been no changes for so long. People finally needed a change, because the employees didn’t like the direction we were heading in.“
Recalling the experience she gained on the front lines, Krause said she is committed to bringing employees from all levels into the decision-making process.
„The bartenders are involved with the new bar. Cocktail servers are picking out their new uniforms. The dealers are picking out new chips and other products. Now, everyone is involved.“