Grant Bowie (pictured in a file photo) retired as chief executive of Macau casino operator MGM China Holdings Ltd on May 31 after embracing senior leadership roles at the brand since 2008.
In Macau, a gaming firm CEO role involves generally a high profile in community affairs as well as casino operations.
Professor Wang Changbin, director of the Centre for Gaming and Tourism Studies at Macao Polytechnic Institute (MPI), suggested to GGRAsia that Mr Bowie, as an expatriate, had a certain cultural sensitivity regarding his gaming industry role.
The academic’s dealings with Mr Bowie relate to the time the New Zealander has served as an advisory board member for MPI’s ‘business administration in gaming’ bachelor programme.
“The fact that he, as the CEO of MGM [China], wanted to assume this ‘not-so-important’ role and to attend our meetings shows that he is really passionate about education,” Prof. Wang told us.
The scholar further noted: “What he said in an advisory board meeting two years ago was quite impressive to me. Because most of the business administration programmes in Macau are taught in English, Mr Bowie believed that our programme teaching in Chinese – plus intensive English classes – was valuable to Chinese-speaking students who hope to work in a management position in the gaming industry.”
Prof. Wang added Mr Bowie had also suggested adding an internship element to the programme, “so that the students have opportunity to apply what they have learned and make improvements”.
The academic stated: “His suggestions were professional and valuable to us.”
Another important cross-cultural role for Mr Bowie was his professional relationship with Pansy Ho Chiu King, co-chairperson and executive director of MGM China. She brought to the table for United States-based MGM Resorts International, parent of MGM China – at what turned out to be the modest price of US$200 million – Macau gaming rights spun off from her late father Stanley Ho Hung Sun’s SJM Holdings Ltd concession.
Although no successor has so far been announced for Mr Bowie, a number of investment analysts has suggested the MGM brand might decide to look in-house and choose a Chinese executive to lead MGM China as the latter grapples with the anticipated public retender for Macau gaming rights associated with the expiry in June 2022 of its current licence.
MGM China IPO
Mr Bowie’s stint at the top of the Macau industry was at a time of unprecedented capital spending on resort infrastructure, and opportunities for Macau gaming firms to raise money on the public markets, including via initial public offerings (IPOs) conducted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Mr Bowie did not launch the MGM brand’s first Macau casino resort, nowadays known as MGM Macau, in downtown Macau, which opened in December 2007. But he was involved at an early stage, and helped to build up its business, joining MGM China’s Macau concession-holding entity MGM Grand Paradise SA on August 1, 2008 as president.
Prior to that, he was president and general manager of Wynn Resorts (Macau) SA from 2003 to 2007, i.e., including the period that the Wynn Macau property was being constructed and then launched in September 2006.
Within a few years of landing at MGM’s Macau operation, he was standing on a stage in Hong Kong on May 19, 2011 for a news conference ahead of MGM China’s IPO. The latter exercise eventually raised the equivalent of US$1.5 billion after the stock was priced at the top of its indicative range.
As of December 31, Mr Bowie had a 0.6 percent long position in MGM China, via 22.9 million share options allotted under the firm’s stock options scheme, according to the company’s 2019 annual report issued in April. If fully exercised, it would make him on paper at least, a U.S. dollar multimillionaire, with more time now to engage in his fondness for golf.
MGM Cotai performance
His time as MGM China boss has not been the subject of unqualified praise. Mr Bowie did oversee from start to launch, MGM China’s second project in the Macau market, MGM Cotai, which opened in February 2018 at a capital cost of HKD27 billion, or about USD3.5 billion.
But there was analyst commentary that the resort was slower than its peers to ramp up its gaming business, with some voices focusing on suggestions that the hotel room inventory was not greatly appealing to the biggest high rollers, and that there had been – initially at least – a lack of villa accommodation for the sort of super-rich players that can move the dial in gross gaming revenue (GGR) terms.
Mr Bowie has nonetheless earned respect from his peers for his brand-building efforts in Macau.
“I admire the fact that Grant always had the longevity of the business in mind when making key decisions rather than defaulting to short-term trading when the going was tough,” Kevin Clayton, a former chief marketing officer for Macau operator Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, told GGRAsia.
“He built very respected premium brands in MGM Macau, MGM Cotai and Wynn Macau,” and thereby “established three new integrated resorts, each with a reputation for exemplary service and product quality,” said Mr Clayton, now an independent consultant.
“He’s been at the forefront of community relations and attracted some of the very best talent in Macau as a result,” he added.
Mr Bowie’s retirement is another event in a momentous year for the MGM brand. As well as grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic along with other casino operators, in February a consortium consisting of MGM Resorts and Japanese financial services group Orix Corp achieved sole qualified applicant status to partner the Japanese city and prefecture of Osaka in their tilt at getting a casino resort.
Only days before that news, it had been announced that James Murren was stepping down as chairman and chief executive of MGM Resorts, a move that was completed in March.
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