Women in Leadership

‘We’re Making Tremendous Ground’

Caesars Entertainment Vice President Lisa Messina says she is pleased by the advances made by women leaders — and is working toward even greater gains in the future.

Caesars Entertainment’s Vice President of Sales Lisa Messina

Lisa Messina wants to make an impact in her new role as Caesars Entertainment’s vice president of sales, based in Las Vegas. Leading the company’s sales strategy for meetings and events globally, she believes she’s in a position to do just that.

“This feels better than any place I’ve ever been as far as what I feel like I can achieve,” Messina said. The New Jersey native and Cornell graduate brings more than 20 years of leadership sales experience — in addition to a passion for workplace diversity and inclusion — to her new position.

You just joined Caesars. What attracted you to the company?
When I was considering my next career move, there were a few things about Caesars Entertainment that really stood out to me. What really attracted me to the company was the caring, responsible culture of Caesars Entertainment and the impact Caesars Entertainment has on the meetings industry. The company is in a time of tremendous growth. Innovative programs are continually being introduced such as the partnership with the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative [BJKLI] with a commitment to have 50 percent of our management and senior leadership be female by 2025.

Fifty percent, really?
Yes. BJKLI is a non-profit endeavor, founded in 2014 by social justice pioneer and sports icon Billie Jean King, to promote equality and inclusion in the workplace by inspiring future leaders and motivating those in positions of power to challenge the status quo. This is exciting.

You’re a proponent of diversity, inclusion, and women in leadership. Are those efforts you’ve pushed for a long time and was Caesars an opportunity to make a big impact on those fronts?
Caesars Entertainment is going to give me the opportunity to make a big impact when it comes to women in leadership. It was important that this is a priority for our company. Hiring the best people to run our organization is key. So regardless of what your background is — male, female, culture, nationality — everyone has the same opportunities to grow. I’ve always sought employers that make that a priority.

What are you seeing in regard to women and leadership in the wider business world?

I am pleased with what I am seeing. More and more women are achieving great things. I have to thank the women in the generations that have come before me such as baby boomers like my mom. I value the people who have carved the path, and made organizations realize that they have a lot more to gain by putting the right people in the right positions. Diversity brings more ideas and helps organizations move forward faster. Recently, Heineken announced Maggie Timoney as their CEO, and that’s a first in their industry. Hopefully, we will see more of this.

Caesars Entertainment is opening a new conference center. Can you tell me about the different women who have been involved in this project?
Absolutely. Caesars Entertainment just broke ground on CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas in July and we already have more than $70 million in business on the books — it’s very exciting. There are several women leaders who have their hands in this project. Vice President of Construction and Design Karyn Steenkamp has played a tremendous role in developing our new conference center. She has been on the project from the start and has a lot of experience designing conference centers, as she was instrumental in the building of Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City as well. It’s great to see a woman in this role. Our director of marketing for meetings & events, Reina Herschdorfer, has also been key in the development of CAESARS FORUM, coming up with lots of ideas on how we can differentiate ourselves in the market. In addition, our interior designer for CAESARS FORUM — Chelsea Lavell, interior designer and partner of KGA in Las Vegas — is so creative and is open to our feedback. The facility will be ultra modern and state-of-the-art with lots of natural light.

What about women in leadership in the business-events industry? Is it an industry that’s lagging or leading?
Women play a big role and the meetings industry is dominated by women. On the supplier side, women have worked in the business for years. On the planner side, we see lots of women as well. I would like to see more women in senior leadership roles and I am confident this will happen, as it has already started. It’s important for women to support each other and help each other grow. Attending conferences and continuing to learn and develop are key to this.

Where I think we’ve been behind, but we’re making tremendous ground, is women in operational leadership positions. General managers and vice presidents of operations have predominantly been men, while females have taken the sales and human resources route. I am proud that at Caesars Entertainment we have quite a few female general managers both in Las Vegas and around the country. Our youngest — and female — general manager is right here at NOBU Hotel at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

You mentioned your mother as a groundbreaker for women in your generation. What did you learn from her?
My mother was a full-time school administrator while raising four children, and still found time to pursue her personal passion, horse racing. So, to say that I grew up in a good pressure cooker, as far as seeing that your mom can raise four children, have a career — and then eventually, when she did “retire,” go into horse racing, would be an understatement. It showed me how powerful women are.

What advice would you give to women who are balancing work and motherhood?
As a result of seeing my own mom balance it all, it makes me respect women on another level. I have so many great and powerful women on my team, those who have young children, going for their MBAs and at the same time working with so many clients. Ashley Lowe, who is my director of sales over all of the Las Vegas properties, has oversight of 16 team members and nine hotels, and she is getting her MBA at USC, with two young children at home. She is an amazing talent. I do everything I can to support my team, to make sure they are as successful and as balanced as possible. The advice that I would give to women who are balancing it all is to remember that we are all in this together, so stay focused and surround yourself with people who will support and be there for you.

Cristi Kempf

Cristi Kempf is executive editor of Convene.