Every year, the UNLV Alumni Association honors Rebels who stand out because of their impressive accomplishments — and this year’s crop certainly doesn’t disappoint. They’ve climbed to the top of corporate ladders. Tackled problems in their communities. And garnered international awards. But sometimes, just as with all of us, their biggest life lessons have come from times they felt a little clueless.
For this series, we've asked our outstanding alumni leaders in business to tell us about A Moment of Doubt …
… facing cancer and corporate lawyers
"I know exactly my most clueless moment: Five years ago, after my dad had died, we decided to sell our casino property in Mississippi to Boyd Gaming. I had to walk into a room with about 15 of their lawyers for the negotiations. I’m always conscious that, still, there are certain perceptions because I’m female and because I’m the owner’s daughter.
"In the midst of all this, I was going through chemotherapy for breast cancer. I was very aware of how I looked. I didn’t want to look weak. And I certainly didn’t want the lawyers circling me. I felt like they’d eat me alive.
"I think you deal with not being taken on your own merits by building up an unshakable confidence. So I was really particular about how I covered my head and masked what was going on with my chest. And then I reminded myself that I grew up in the casino. That I had worked every position at some point before I ever became a manager. I knew I knew my business.
"When it was all done, I remember thinking, I just sold a casino! I went home, told my husband, put on my sweatpants, and had a glass of wine. It really was simple. And, I’m proud to say, we got a $10 million donation to my family’s foundation out of the deal."
The UNLV Alumni Association Alumna of the Year is Kris Engelstad McGarry, ’92 BA Psychology, ’95 BSW Social Work. She has made well over $100 million in contributions to UNLV and the Las Vegas community through the Engelstad Family Foundation. The foundation recently donated 100 full, four-year scholarships to the UNLV medical school. In 2009, the foundation also created the Engelstad Scholars program, the largest scholarship program in Nevada, which supports 100 UNLV students each year based on their community service, academic excellence, leadership, and financial need.
… on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
"I had graduated from UNLV just months earlier and was hired as a financial advisor by a national investment firm. The training included spending a day on the floor of the exchange, shadowing a team member to learn the ins and outs of the system. It was total chaos. At least it appeared that way to me.
"Once the trader I was assigned to learned I was from Las Vegas his face lit up and he said, “Then you’re gonna feel right at home here.” He felt the fast pace and movement of large sums of capital were something both places had in common. For the rest of the day, he helped me understand the intricacies and amazing history of the New York Stock Exchange. I quickly learned there was a clear system behind the chaotic sight of traders running, pushing, squeezing, and shouting past colleagues to execute orders for huge blocks of stock."
Lee Business School honoree Michael PeQueen, ’88 BS Finance, rose through the ranks at Merrill Lynch to become a senior vice president of investments and a senior portfolio manager. He is now managing director and partner with wealth advisory firm HighTower Las Vegas and co-founder of the nonprofit Dental Care International.
… at the right time.
"I went to work for Marriott Hotels in 1979. After a few years they started syndicating properties, and I was quickly promoted many times, eventually becoming the youngest general manager. Not to say that I didn’t deserve it, but in a different time, even if you deserved a promotion you wouldn’t have gotten it — there was a very strict hierarchy. I happened to be at the right place at the right time when things changed.
"That said, I stayed on a really tight path. If you have self-discipline and you stay focused on the task at hand — not the next task, not the last task — and you’re lucky enough to be born with a fairly good brain and a good social IQ, I think you can be very successful whenever you’re facing something brand new."
College of Hotel Administration honoree John Ceriale, ’75 BS Hotel Administration, is founder and president of Prospect Advisors, a hospitality consultant to the Blackstone Group. He played a key role in Blackstone’s acquisition of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Boca Resorts Inc., The Savoy, The Berkeley, and others. Previously, he served as senior vice president of operations for Westin Hotels and Resorts.
… during my first big interview
"I was quite excited to get a call from a company that was manufacturing computer enclosures. We started with a plant tour where they discussed their ambitions to automate. This sounded perfect and interesting. I asked many questions and then I finally asked, “Well, who would I be working for?” I was a bit shocked to learn I would be a one-man department. I had a deer-in-the-headlights look.
"There was no call back. Since then, I have learned that engineers are hired sparingly and often have to stretch beyond their current knowledge base to complete projects. Now I’m willing to plow into new skill sets while asking as many stupid questions as I can before it all gets too real."
College of Engineering honoree Bradford Colton, ’94 BS Mechanical Engineering, is a research engineer for American Pacific Corp.’s Halotron Division in Las Vegas. He has published several research articles related to fire extinguishing agents and holds two patents. He is currently the director of the Silver State section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a member of the UNLV Mechanical Engineering Advisory Board.
... and throwing up before class
"I think, for most Honors College students, when a subject is tough, we’re used to diving hard into the textbooks. One of my toughest classes was in economics. Everyone before me talked about how hard the professor was, how difficult the concepts were. After a few weeks, though, I realized it wasn’t that she didn’t follow the textbook; it’s that she used her own specific examples to illustrate the underlying economic models.
"After that I never missed a minute of class. One time I was violently ill and I threw up in the parking lot twice. It’s not a normal response to still go to class, but I think I would’ve felt even sicker not going — I wanted to hear every word that came out of her mouth. I had realized that I needed to change my strategy for learning information and that just reading the books wasn’t good enough. But it was also the first time I realized that I really could adapt when I felt out of my element."
Honors College honoree Nadin Cutter, ’05 BSBA Business Administration; ’08 JD, is managing partner of Cutter Law Firm. She represents clients in business litigation, family law, judgment and debt collection, and estate planning. Previously, she served as judicial law clerk in District Court and practiced for a national law firm in trial advocacy, civil litigation, and construction defect matters. She was voted by her peers as one of Southern Nevada’s Top 100 Lawyers in 2011, 2013 and 2015 by Nevada Business magazine.
… and unprepared to answer questions
"After more than 15 years of climbing the corporate ladder, I started building my own book of business as a commercial insurance broker. With all those years of overseeing huge revenue-generating divisions and having people report to me, I thought I was well prepared.
"Early on, I lost a sizeable account, which put me in a pretty vulnerable financial position. This account was with a company owner I had known for some time. One day he brought in a new CFO who asked a lot of questions that, quite honestly, tripped me up. I didn’t instill the confidence he was looking for. It was a difficult experience for someone who’d already climbed a high corporate mountain. But experience really is the best teacher. Were it not for that mistake, I wouldn’t be able to so easily anticipate and respond to client questions and concerns today. While I prefer not to remember that humbling situation, it’s one that helped me be successful now."
Matt Engle, ’91 BS Business Administration, is an insurance professional with Cragin & Pike, one of the oldest insurance companies in Las Vegas. He received the association's Achievement in Service award. As president of the Alumni Association from 2010 to 2012, he helped boost membership and create synergy between the association and university for recruitment efforts. He helped raise tens of thousands of dollars through personal donations and corporate sponsorships and by chairing the association’s silent auction committee. He also helped promote higher education funding during the 2010 Nevada legislative session.
Additional UNLV Alumni Association Honorees