One Course At A Time prepared Caesars exec for change

Colin M. DeVaughan ’94 holds the title “Enterprise Leader, Labor Effectiveness” at Caesars Entertainment. His career with the world’s largest gaming company started at a craps table in 1997, and now he oversees the labor management practices for nearly 40 domestic casinos and resorts, 40,000 hotel rooms, 200 restaurants, and the 65,000 Caesars employees nationwide. He and his team travel around the country, meet with leaders, codify best operating practices, and work to syndicate the best ideas throughout the system. “It’s a fancy way of saying that we try to stay out of the way, let the properties innovate, then catch the good ideas when they happen,” says DeVaughan, who is based in St. Louis.

Photo by Val Nye '93
Photo by Val Nye ’93

Q: How do you see the gaming industry changing?
A: Well, there’s a reason that we use the word “entertainment” in our name. Domestic casino resorts continue to be less reliant on gambling revenues and more reliant on “non-gaming” amenities such as concerts, hotels, flagship restaurants, spas, and retail shops. And Gen X and Gen Y customers demand a different experience than the Baby Boomer. The technology in our industry has been changing to adapt to those new requirements. I see a very near future in which the overall customer experience is driven not by the win or loss at a blackjack table, but the uniqueness of that experience. As technology continues to dominate our world, we need those personal touches more than ever. And most of the greatest customer feedback stories I’ve heard revolve around an employee’s understanding of a customer’s needs, and tailoring the experience to them personally. If you want a slot machine, you don’t have to look very hard to find one. But if you want a memory, you need an employee or a group of employees to connect with you.

Q: What’s the most important thing you learned at Cornell?
A: I attended Cornell because of One Course At A Time, and that academic calendar prepared me for my career. Changing gears when life surprises you is a valuable skill in a business world that is ever changing, and it’s a skill that the Block Plan offers you without you even realizing it at the time! And since I’m in job #12 in 14 years with Caesars Entertainment, I’d like to believe that I can change gears with the best of them.

Q: How did Cornell change you?
A: I didn’t expect Cornell to affect me the way that it has. I thought I would do my time, get my paper, and move on to the next thing. But there’s just something about the Hilltop that has never left me. Frisbee golf in the dead of winter, a semester abroad, Summer Slam, Opera Workshop, my final class (Business German) with an enrollment of two, and all the off-campus adventures that Block Breaks allowed me to have—I feel connected to the campus even now.

Q: If you could go back and tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
A: Don’t sweat the tuition—stick around for a fourth year. It’ll be okay.

Q: What person on campus had the biggest impact on you?
A: I was very fortunate in the network of friends that I developed at Cornell. Christopher Clark ’94, Sean Flanagan ’94, Val Nye ’93, Jeanne-Marie Bakehouse Ragan ’93, Joel Yelich ’94, Tony Karna ’95, and others too numerous to mention were instrumental in helping me find my voice as an individual and make the transition from flannel-wearing misanthrope to productive member of society. I’m grateful for their influence every day.

Q: Who are your favorite authors?
A: I actually made a list of author’s names into my senior quote. My No. 1 then is still my No. 1 now: Douglas Hofstadter. Godel, Escher, Bach remains one of the most influential books I’ve ever read. But more recently, I’ve also read pretty much everything by David Foster Wallace, Chuck Klostermann, and Neil Gaiman. Traveling for work equals reading time on my Kindle!

Q: What qualities do you most admire in others?
A: Zeal. People who want to do a good job will do a good job. People who seek to improve their lives or their world will always find a way. Skills can be taught, but desire can’t be faked. Do what you love, and it will show up in your performance.

Q: What makes you happiest?
A: Solace.