EMBA Student Spotlight:Michael Speagle - Cohort 15, Food & Beverage Manager, The Cromwell (Caesars Entertainment)
If celebrity chefs are the rock stars of the culinary world, Michael Speagle of Cohort 15 is Las Vegas’ superstar of high-profile chef restaurant branding and operations.
Google Speagle’s name and you’ll see photos of him with famous chefs such as Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri and Gordon Ramsey, for whom he orchestrated the openings and operations of their Las Vegas restaurants.
These days Speagle oversees a $25 million operating budget as the food and beverage manager of Caesars Entertainment’s The Cromwell. The 188-room boutique hotel and casino is home to the celebrity chef restaurant Giada.
Speagle has been sharpening his hospitality industry skills since 2006, initially rising through the ranks at Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. But it’s his innovative “recipes” for opening and operating celebrity chef restaurants that have earned him the reputation as a world-class operator who has mastered the standards for this prestigious niche.
In fact, when some Yelp reviewers rave about the food at Giada, they take special attention to also thank Speagle for the wonderful experience.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate and humbled to work with amazing chefs. They are exceptional individuals who have created world-renowned brands. With each restaurant, I embrace the challenge of upholding a chef’s reputation,” Speagle said.
During his tenure with Caesars Entertainment, Speagle has been recognized with a multitude of accolades. While at Paris Las Vegas, he won the Chairman’s Award for innovation for his execution of the “All-you-can-drink program,” which generated an additional $220,000 in beverage sales at Le Village Buffet and is now a program used around the city at each property’s buffet. He also received the Caesars Award of Excellence at The Cromwell in 2016 for diversity based on the success of the entire food and beverage department, as well as the outstanding success of Giada.
So, what brought this highly successful food and beverage industry expert to the UNLV EMBA program? His appetite for knowledge and thirst for innovation.
“An EMBA puts you in a whole new league. It’s the lynchpin in creating the best possible future,” said Speagle, who feels his UNLV experience is setting the stage for the next 20 years of his career.
After researching several EMBA programs that could provide the cohort and classroom experience he wanted, Speagle chose UNLV because “the program has a high-quality and influential reputation, “he said. “Plus, the time away from my family and job was minimal compared to commuting to out-of-state universities.”
Upon meeting his fellow UNLV EMBA cohort members, Speagle was instantly impressed by his classmates. “The cohort is extremely diverse in industry representation and experience. Yet, we shared the same set of values. Everyone was there to learn and expand their potential,” he recalls. “It’s simply part of the UNLV culture; everyone is willing to share their expertise."
Speagle can’t emphasize enough the importance of a well-organized cohort system when pursuing an EMBA. “These people become your colleagues, life-long friends, allies, and your inspiration for leadership in the workplace.”
Commenting on the program’s emphasis on teamwork and leadership, "Teamwork and leadership go together. To be a good leader you also must be a good team member. At UNLV, we constantly work in teams so there are numerous opportunities to be both successful leaders and effective team members."
Relating his UNLV team leadership experience to the workplace, Speagle offers the following insights. “In any organization, managers need to be cognizant of the subtle differences between their team members. The more diverse your team, the greater the potential for innovation,” said Speagle. “Ultimately, an efficient team depends on thoughtful and calculated leadership. Inspire your team by moving beyond self-interest and getting their buy-in on your mission. And, most importantly, broaden your problem-solving thought process. Remember, your way may not always be the best way.”
While considering a return to school, Speagle, like many executives who are juggling work and family responsibilities, was concerned about the time commitment associated with pursuing an EMBA.
“It is a big decision,” he said. Before he entered the program, Speagle made sure he had support from his wife. “When I started my EMBA studies, my youngest child was only three months old,” said Speagle, whose other children are 2 ½ and 19 years. “My wife had to be completely on board. Having strong support, not only in your personal life, but also from your employer, is essential to be successful in this program.”
Nevertheless, Speagle says that time management is by far one the biggest challenge for EMBA students. “But everyone, from my cohort members to the EMBA program’s administration to the UNLV faculty, is enormously supportive.”
Speagle’s best advice to someone considering applying to the UNLV EMBA program. “Jump in with both feet.”