Jim Allen received another accolade for his 40-year gaming industry career Oct. 26.
In a virtual event, the chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming was inducted into Nova Southeastern University’s 2020 Entrepreneur and Business Hall of Fame, along with two other South Florida business leaders. The hall of fame is part of the school’s H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship, named after the late owner of the Dolphins, Marlins and Panthers and founder of Waste Management and AutoNation.
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t like a lot of recognition, but it truly is an honor to be nominated for this award,” Allen said after being inducted. “I knew Mr. Huizenga; he was a neighbor. I always respected his career path, his success and what he has done for South Florida and NSU. His philanthropic efforts were truly amazing. I will always cherish being involved with something with his name on it.”
Allen is responsible for all gaming, hospitality and entertainment operations of the Seminole Tribe. He joined the tribe in 2001, led its acquisition of Hard Rock International in 2007 and since then has expanded Hard Rock’s global presence from 46 to 76 countries.
“He has done more to positively affect the tourist industry in Broward County, Florida and the world,” said Charles L. Palmer, chairman of NSU’s board of trustees and president and CEO of North American Co. LLC, who introduced a video about Allen. “With a steady hand and calm demeanor, he is steering the company through this pandemic.”
The video highlighted Allen’s life and career, from working in a pizza restaurant to leading Hard Rock International. He was determined to work his way up in the hospitality industry. He started in the Bally’s management program in Atlantic City. He also worked at the Trump Organization, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hemmeter Companies, Park Place Entertainment and Sun International Resorts.
“My career path was driven by a belief that life doesn’t come to you, you have to go to life,” he said in the video.
In his acceptance speech, given via Zoom, he said when he went to work for the tribe he saw the contract with the Hard Rock was not favorable to the tribe. He told them they could renegotiate it or buy the company outright.
The rest is history.
His style of working is to stay measured and not get too emotional.
“Never get too excited when things are good or when things aren’t,” Allen said. “Be a good listener and try not to react with emotions.”
The pandemic has thrown a wrench into most businesses, Hard Rock International and Seminole Gaming included. To help employees get through the closing of properties, the company distributed $4.4 million in grocery store gift cards to about 22,000 team members in the U.S. and Canada.
“One of my proudest moments was in the pandemic, we stepped up for our employees,” Allen said. “When they realized we were looking out for them, it hits you hard in a good way.”
The other inductees in the Hall of Fame were Dan Doyle Jr., CEO of DEX Imaging Inc. and Kristin Johnson, CEO of Hotwire Communications.
Dr. George Hanbury, president and CEO of NSU, talked about the university’s core values, which are academic excellence, student centered, integrity, innovation, opportunity, scholarship/research, diversity and community.
“The people we honor tonight epitomize those core values,” Hanbury said. “They are all business leaders, philanthropists, humanitarians and they all give back to the community. This award is one to be coveted.”
Andrew Rosman, dean of the Huizenga College of Business, posed questions for the inductees in a live panel discussion following the induction ceremony, which was attended by 384 people. The first question was about what the pandemic meant to the inductees’ companies.
“The first thing was the significance of how we felt about our employees and their families,” Allen said. “We knew this would cost millions of dollars and lost revenue, but we are proud of what we were able to do. It was also an opportunity to revisit our business and we came out a little leaner. We took a second look at the efficiency of the business for the long term.”
What were the most important management and leadership skills prior to Covid and will they be the same in a post-Covid world?
As a global company, Allen said HRI had to close European locations months ago and were able to reopen them. Now they may need to close again.
“A crisis always brings out the best in great managers and we are proud of what it brought out in them,” Allen said. “If you have to close down again, it affects morale. We have to wear a mask and do the right thing until a vaccine is available.”
The inductees were asked about who inspired them in their careers. Allen mentioned both good and not-so-good leaders who inspired him.
“No doubt there were people who inspired me, but I also think you learn through leaders who don’t do things the way you would,” he said. “It is a combination of recognizing a person who is willing to be a mentor and tough it out when your boss doesn’t do that. It’s important to have someone who gives you a shot, but also to work for people who don’t treat you the way you would do it. The most important thing is not to give up.”
Allen stressed the importance of balance.
“I don’t do a good job at this, but there needs to be a balance of community, family, spiritual connection, career and loved ones who matter most,” he said. “If you don’t have balance, you could wind up being in a situation where you question if it was worth it. Stop, smell the roses, pursue life and your dreams, but find the balance.”
When asked about structural changes to the industry as a result of Covid, Allen said he doesn’t expect live concert events until late 2021 or early 2022. Restaurants are a challenge; Hard Rock Cafes are in cities all around the world. Regional gaming markets are doing well, but Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore are challenged. Hotel business is down.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Allen said. “There are some benefits to employees working at home, but working as teams and in groups is not as good on WebEx or Skype. But we will take the next steps, be optimistic and move forward.”
The hardest business decision Allen ever made can’t be described in a single incident, but he adheres to certain principles.
“Be a good listener, never react in an overly negative or positive way, be humble and know life will throw curve balls at us on a daily or weekly basis,” he said.
Allen’s business ethic is simple and fits in well with HRI’s mottos: Love All-Serve All, Take Time to Be Kind, Save The Planet and All Is One.
“Always start with being humble, work hard, be patient, persistent and polite,” he said. “Giving back to others brings as much reward as the material things and is more important than net worth. Never give up.”