’06 MHA, Hospitality
William F. Harrah College of Hospitality Alumna of the Year
Like most teenagers who are first introduced to Las Vegas on a family vacation, Rikki Tanenbaum was instantly mesmerized by the glitz and glamour of the Strip. Unlike most of her peers, though, Tanenbaum’s fascination with the desert oasis didn’t fade away with the neon lights in the rearview mirror.
Despite knowing very little about the city or the hospitality industry, 15-year-old Tanenbaum returned to her East Coast home and began envisioning a day when she would live and work in Las Vegas. In fact, she would regularly attempt to steer family vacations back to Las Vegas.
“From that first visit, I never found anything else that really appealed to me as much,” she said. “So fast-forward to the end of college. When most of my University of Pennsylvania friends were pursuing careers in New York and Boston as investment bankers and consultants, I kept pointing westward.”
She started work in Bellagio’s Human Resources department and enrolled as a part-time graduate student at the William F. Harrah College of Hospitality, eventually completing her master’s degree in hospitality administration online. She continued with MGM Resorts in other roles while simultaneously earning her MBA at Duke University. Tanenbaum went on to work for Viejas Resort & Casino, Penn National Gaming, and Caesars Entertainment in marketing capacities, taking her to Southern California, the Deep South, and the Midwest.
Tanenbaum came back to Las Vegas in 2015 when she accepted a marketing position at Golden Nugget Casinos. Three years later, she returned to tribal gaming as chief marketing officer for San Manuel Casino outside of Los Angeles. After a year, she assumed responsibility for marketing and related responsibilities for the tribal government, and in 2020, she was named the organization’s chief operating officer.
While career opportunities have taken her away from the city she fell in love with as a teenager, Tanenbaum works to stay connected to Las Vegas. She serves as chair of the Dean’s Global Advisory Board for the College of Hospitality, is vice-chair of The Animal Foundation’s board of directors, and keeps a home in Summerlin.
When Tanenbaum takes stock of her career path, she notes that there have been so many important and influential mentors who have shaped her thinking — and more often than not, these mentors have passed through UNLV halls at one time or another.
What’s the biggest professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome, and how did that experience shape you?
In my late 20s and much of my 30s, I moved around the country a lot, accepting new assignments because they were learning opportunities or interesting work. A byproduct of this was I overinvested in the job, and to a large degree let work define my identity. So when a job for which I had relocated wasn’t a fit, I responded by working harder, not getting any traction, working harder, still not getting traction — all of which undermined my confidence and led to a level of self-doubt that was new for me.
Eventually I had the sense to quit — a tough decision, since I’m generally a muscle-through kind of gal — and in doing so realized I needed to become a more well-rounded person with stuff I cared about outside of the job. In that moment, I also decided that if I were ever in a role where I could help a well-intentioned person who was flailing, I would do what I could to try to save them from a bit of torture, as a dear friend and mentor did for me.
From a personal perspective, I recently became a working mother when my son, Nicholas, was born in May. I had never realized what a challenge it is to balance work and raise a family, and I’ve quickly gained immeasurable respect for those who do; there are a lot of trade-offs, and priority-setting are required. I’m still in the early stages of motherhood, but I hope it’s shaping me into a more grounded, empathetic manager and human.
Drawing from personal experience, what three attributes should every gaming/hospitality professional strive to have a boundless supply of?
My role today straddles gaming and hospitality with a variety of government work in support of advancing a mission-driving Native sovereign nation. But I can tell you that the attributes — whether in gaming/hospitality or government — apply across the board:
- Integrity: Do what you say you are going to do.
- A desire to serve others: To me, this means do the work for your stakeholders really, really well — and do it with diligence and humility.
- Curiosity: Understand the why behind the what. Ask questions and never stop listening.
What has motivated your continued connection to the Hospitality College through philanthropic contributions as well as past and current service on various boards?
The College of Hospitality is a crown jewel of UNLV, and I believe UNLV is fundamentally important to the sustainable growth and diversification of the industry. If I can be useful in serving, I’m grateful to do so.
If you could go back in time, what one piece of practical advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
Patience, young grasshopper. In the past 20 years, I’ve refined my skill at strategically doing nothing on certain matters; and it turns out a lot can work itself out if you don’t overheat. This isn’t to be mistaken for complacency or indifference; it’s simply an acknowledgment that certain things take time.