Mary Smith began her tenure at Four Winds Casinos in 2007 as a single mom whose “shifts were all over the place.” It was a sacrifice she made to provide for her family.
“I would sometimes work 3:00 a.m. to noon shifts, and a couple days later it would change,” she says. “I had to miss out on holidays, and my parents, my brother, or my sister would pick my kids up to take them. It was a lot that I sacrificed, hoping it would pay it off.”
Sixteen years later, the senior vice president of hotel operations is proud to say that it has. That challenging journey—in addition to the struggles she faced growing up in South Bend, Indiana—gave nurtured her compassion and emotional intelligence. Today, those values are inseparable from her approach to a role that encompasses property management, maintenance, support services, valet, retail, and more.
As her team works to build up the Casino’s attractions, Smith works to build them up individually, letting them know that they belong and that they’re valued.
“You have to know your audience to get the best result possible from an interaction, so they at least know you care,” she says. “You’re going to have employees who won’t be happy with certain decisions, or some might want to just express themselves. As a leader, you need to adjust your approach to each individual, so they know why a decision was made and at least feel that they were heard.”
She’s observed how that approach has not only encouraged strong relationships but also boosted morale amid Four Winds’ growth plans. Those plans have seen the organization revamping and upgrading its portfolio. Some exciting projects have included adding new office space to its buildings, constructing a 23-story hotel in South Bend while adding table games and expanding the gaming floor at the South Bend Casino.
“We’ve been building more than ever in the last 16 years, whether we’re expanding, adding a restaurant, or upgrading a floor,” Smith says. “There’s been more projects and constructions than not. We continue to focus on projects up to five years out, while also looking for other opportunities such as continuing growth in South Bend by preparing to build a new bar/lounge with entertainment.”
Smith’s emotionally intelligent leadership style developed early on.
“I grew up in a not-so-great neighborhood here in South Bend and saw a lot of things that I couldn’t imagine my kids being around,” she says. “Going through a lot of that not only pushed me to be the best but made me want to see that for everyone else. My whole life, I’ve always wanted everyone to be treated equally and for no one to be overlooked.”
After graduating college, she started her career at Four Winds in an hourly revenue audit job. She went on to garner deep institutional knowledge in a wide range of roles with various responsibilities that exposed her to the front and back side of the business. During that span of time, she built an inventory depletion system for the organization’s food and beverage area, performed financial analysis and reporting on market initiative, and went into property management.
Those things helped prepare her current role by providing experiences with budgets, expenses, labor, and customer relations. They were also a crash course in navigating different personalities and managing people.
“Being on the floor with employees, learning how operations worked, and keeping in mind the things I learned about profitability early in my career was a gamer changer,” she says. “It also taught me to have people skills. If you want your team to be happy, you have to have that human element of relating to them.”
Smith, who came of age intimately familiar with struggle and hardship, advises young people to never give up, no matter what their circumstances are.
“Everyone has a fair shot if you don’t give up,” she says. “There’s time’s you might have to adjust, take constructive feedback, and tweak ways you handle things, but as long as you’re open minded enough to accept, reflect, and actually act on those things, that’s a huge step to being a leader.”