Degree: '88 BS Hotel Administration
Occupation: Hotelier (Owner & CEO, The Palms Casino Resort)
The World in His Palms
UNLV alumnus George Maloof takes success in stride
Once you've been called "the nicest and sweetest person" by Steve Wynn, what comes next? Well, for George Maloof '88, owner of the Palms, staying true to his beliefs while providing the best possible service to his guests are his goal. "I don't know if I'm really the nicest and sweetest person," says Maloof. "But I have so much respect for Steve that any comment he makes about me is special."
Growing up in Albuquerque, Maloof discovered his love of hospitality while working in his late father's Classic Hotel and for the family's New Mexico beer distributorship. Although he started college in San Antonio, he transferred to UNLV during his sophomore year in 1985. "We always used to visit Las Vegas and, because I was interested in hospitality, I thought I would give UNLV a shot," says Maloof. "I had taken a liking to the hotel business, and I thought, where better to go than Vegas?"
"I really liked living in Las Vegas. I knew every buffet in town, I liked spending time in the casinos, and I learned firsthand what a great community this is," says Maloof. "One of the first people I met when I came to town was Dean [Jerry] Vallen, and he was very accommodating. And, of course, I loved playing football for UNLV."
'Face' of The Palms Maloof recalls that his first year in the Harrah Hotel College was his most memorable. "I was focused, and I really fell in love with my classes. Hospitality was a great major in a great city." In 1994, the Maloof family bought the Fiesta Casino for $8 million, selling it in 2000 for more than $185 million. The money was reinvested into the development of the Palms hotel and casino. Maloof, one of the youngest and hippest hoteliers around, has become quite recognizable as the owner of the Palms. Did he set out to become the "face" of his popular property? "I probably knew that I would be," he says. "It's not my favorite thing to be so out there, but I want people to understand that I care about my guests and am available."
The Palms has become the hangout of choice for many celebrities, and although Maloof has developed friendships with some of today's hottest stars, he has a decidedly down-to-earth perspective about it all. "It's fun, but I don't take it too seriously. They're friends and it's great to meet a lot of people that I wouldn't have otherwise."
When asked who is the most interesting of the celebrities he's met, he ponders the question a moment before answering, "Paris Hilton. People are absolutely fascinated by her, and she's really quite a respectable young lady." He also enjoys his friendships with Mario Lopez ("he's continually reinventing himself and has worked hard during his career"), George Clooney ("I have lots of respect for him"), and of course, Hugh Hefner (not a coincidence since Maloof helped open the world's only Playboy Club inside The Palms in October 2006).
He also mentioned a good buddy, chef Kerry Simon. "I've known Kerry for about ten years, since he was at Prime [steakhouse]. We've always wanted to do something together. We had a lot of fun figuring out his restaurant Simon at Palms Place, and the fact that it overlooks the pool is great."
Beyond Star Power
But when it comes to finding new industry talent to bring into his Palms empire, Maloof doesn't just draw on star power. He knows that providing a supportive workplace environment that encourages employee growth is the key to building a devoted workforce. "We search for the right people, and we've actually had very little turnover from the start," he says. "We offer a thorough benefits package, and we track our employees very strongly."
What's his advice for future hoteliers and hospitality experts? "Stay focused and work hard. Have a feel for your guests and how to best accommodate people and service. If you don't focus on service, you're wasting your time," says Maloof. "The most important part of hospitality is being hospitable—if you're not, then you better move along to something else fast." He adds, "You also need to have a little humbleness. You're there to serve."
In addition to being a great advocate of the Harrah Hotel College, Maloof also serves as a member of the UNLV Foundation's Board of Trustees. "It's crucial to give back to your school and your community," he says. "I believe in UNLV and think it's important to have such a great institution right here.
"Dean [Stuart] Mann has done an outstanding job, and he recognizes the globality of the hospitality industry today, with the Singapore campus and soon-to-be campus in the United Arab Emirates. I'm proud to be associated with the college."
And, obviously, the admiration is mutual.
"We are so proud to showcase George Maloof as our graduate," says Stuart Mann, dean of the Hotel College. "As successful as George is as an entrepreneur he is even more successful as a citizen of the Las Vegas community. Wherever and whenever possible he gives of his time and resources to help others. It's terrific that his UNLV education was the foundation for his many achievements."
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