Top Resort Casino Executive Says, “zài jiàn” to Trump & “ni hao” to China

No, “zài jiàn” does not mean what you might think it means due to Mark Brown’s abrupt decision to leave the Trump organization after so many years of loyal service. It simply means “goodbye” in Chinese. Contrary to what many thought, Brown, who walked away from a $1.8 million dollar per year salary, left on good terms with Trump. Very good terms, indeed! Brown’s buy-out for his contract was $2.5 million dollars.

The Atlantic City Weekly said it best: “Mark Brown, who had served as president of the Trump Organization’s casinos, resigned from the company last week. Brown worked his way up the success ladder from being an 18-year-old blackjack dealer to president of the Trump Organization. He took the company through its most trying times and continually steered that ship successfully. Though limited in spending dollars, Brown was able to keep the ship floating in the right direction."

Now, Mark Anthony Brown is the top casino boss at the Venetian in Macau, China, the “Las Vegas of the East.” We could not be happier for him, and we are not surprised by his decision. Over the past years, we have done several successful events for Trump Casinos in Atlantic City, and we have watched first hand over the years the continuing saga of Trump properties in New Jersey and the meteoric rise of this young executive. Actually, in the pre-Borgata years, the Trump properties garnered over 33% of gaming revenue in all Atlantic City, and operations were always brisk after the young executive took the helm in 2000.

At dinner last spring in Emerils at the MGM Grand, he was still indecisive about the decision to travel to China. He had many lucrative offers on the table from all the casino resort industry giants. In our opinion, he could have commanded the helm of any Vegas flagships, but seem more interested in creating his own legacy in China. So, it was not surprising to us, when several weeks latter, Brown boarded a Cathay Pacific Airways jet for a 15-hour flight to Hong Kong and then catch a ferry to Macau. Now, he oversees the Macau casinos for the Las Vegas Sands Corp., billionaire Sheldon Adelson's gaming company that is transforming the Chinese enclave into the celebrated “Las Vegas of the East” — or in this case, the Far East.

With $5.8 billion in gaming revenue last year, Macau is challenging Las Vegas as the largest casino market in the world. Macau continues its frenetic growth with the help of new megaresorts developed by Adelson, Steve Wynn and gaming giant MGM Mirage.

Brown, who worked his way up from blackjack dealer to casino CEO during his 25-year career in Atlantic City, said the excitement and challenges of being in the “most explosive economic region in recent history” proved irresistible. “Macau reminds me of Atlantic City in 1984, with all the building that is going on there right now,” he said. “It's exploding.”

Fans of “The Apprentice” will recognize the handsome youthful face on the first episodes when he replaced George Ross (pictured at left with Brown and Taj Mahal's Lady Luck Model winner Autumn Marisa).

Brown, 44, had been considering job offers in the United States and abroad since he resigned last year from his $1.7 million position heading the three Atlantic City casinos owned by Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. Brown said he quit voluntarily amid a management shake-up in Donald Trump's gaming company that followed its exit from Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May.

Trading one billionaire casino owner for another, Brown has left Trump behind to become president of Adelson's Sands Macao Casino and the Macao Venetian Casino Resort opening in 2007. The mammoth Macao Venetian, a replica of Adelson's Venetian Casino Resort in Las Vegas, will feature 3,000 hotel rooms, 5,000 slot machines and 700 gaming tables.

With stunning success, the Sands Macao Casino, which opened in 2004, made back its $265 million investment within the first year and even bigger things are expected of the new Macao Venetian, Brown noted.

Moreover, Brown will oversee Adelson's transformation of 500 acres of reclaimed land between the islands of Coloane and Taipa into a $4.5 billion complex of casinos and luxury hotels, including ones by the posh Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton and St. Regis chains.

“When he wanted to go to Macau, other competitors said this isn't going to work,” Brown said of Adelson's vision for a Las Vegas-style Chinese gambling hub. “Well, guess what? It worked.”

Macau, or Macao, is a peninsula attached to mainland China. The former Portuguese colony — the only place in China where casino gaming is legal — is a haven for affluent Chinese city dwellers and free-spending gamblers from nearby Hong Kong.

During an earlier trip to Macau, Brown was astonished at the intense demand for spots at a baccarat table where the minimum bet was $125,000.

“There were rows of people, two or three deep. Everybody was screaming. It was amazing,” he said.

Brown said he had to ask someone to explain to him exactly what was happening at the baccarat table because he doesn't speak Chinese. Now he plans to learn to speak Mandarin Chinese, although he noted that English commonly is heard in Macau because of the influx of visitors from countries where English is a first or second language.

“I really don't see any problems,” he said.

As part of his move to Macau, Brown will be resigning from his unpaid position as Chairman of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, the resort's top tourism agency.

Paul Ryan who served as President of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority has nothing but good things to say about his old boss. “Mark is a great communicator,” exclaims Ryan. Brown's greatest asset is his easy way of relating to people. "I guess he grew up with working people and worked his way up through all the ranks, so he really does have an open-door policy and can relate easily with everyone," Ryan adds. Ryan (pictured at left with Brown and Vittorio Gai, International General Manager 5 Star Diamond Award and his guest at the 11th Annual International Star Diamond Award Ceremony at Hotel Adlon, Berlin, Germany)

Ryan has just recently taken over Fantasy Springs Casino in the Southern California desert outside of Palm Springs also followed Brown as Chief Operating Officer at the Marina and subsequently became Executive Vice President of Hotel/Food and Beverage Operations for all Trump properties before moving to Southern California.

Before leaving Trump, Brown served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of THCR’s Casino Operations Group since June 2000. Also since then, Brown served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Taj Associates, Plaza Associates, Marina Associates and Trump Indiana, Inc. From November 1997 to January 2000, Brown served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Marina Associates. From July 1995 to November 1997, he served as the Executive Vice President of Operations of Marina Associates. Brown is also Chairman of Atlantic City’s Convention and Visitor’s Authority.

Brown took over as President and CEO in 2000 because of his outside-the-box thinking, a reward for turning the once-struggling Trump Marina into one of the hippest, hottest casinos in Atlantic City, attracting a young, affluent crowd with a series of rock concerts by groups such as Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Sting and Prince. Employees said Brown made the Marina "the cool casino." Donald Trump promoted Brown from the Marina to the Taj presidency Jan. 1, 2000 hoping -- no, demanding -- that he make it profitable.

In short order, he made Trump Taj Mahal the real jewel of Atlantic City. The Casbah nightclub, Brown’s brainchild, a place to see, and be seen, is very much an icon on the Boardwalk. One of the first things Brown did at the Taj was scrub unprofitable entertainment contracts. One headliner was signed for 11 appearances that year at $100,000 a pop. Brown used an escape clause to drop that to three appearances and use the savings to sign different entertainers who will attract their own followings. He also restructured and coordinated critical departments such as Marketing and Slot Operations, terminating some high-level executives in the process. That savings alone was reflected in the quarterly financial report. Also reflected were common sense issues. At one point, Brown said, "We were running three simultaneous promotions to the same customers."

Less tangible, but also important to the bottom line, Brown says, is employee morale. "I want everybody on the same page, working in the same direction," he says. “To do that, the employees have to know the direction,” Brown adds. As he did at the Marina, Brown held meetings with employees soon after he arrived at the Taj to tell them exactly what he intended to do with the property and how he intended to do it.

“The Taj Mahal has always the must-see property in Atlantic City. It was really the employees who were the key to the property’s success. The excellent customer relationships that have been established since the property opened continue to this day,” said Brown.

Lynn Rublack, (pictured at left) Executive Assistant to the President & CEO, started with Brown at the Marina in 1998 and has been with him ever since. She began at Trump Marina in 1995 in slot operations, and has seen a lot of change over the past 10 years.

"I know he is making the right decision, but I hated to see him go," said Rublack, "In my view, the most important measure is how he was regarded by the people who worked for him, and Mark Brown was well-liked by the people at Trump gaming at all levels. He surrounded himself with talented, competent and loyal people from the ground up." Rublack is right and we have had the fortune to meet many of them. They are all in agreement.

Lou Crescenzo, (pictured at right at Trump Style Finals) Senior Vice President of Slot Operations for all Trump Casinos was with Brown for over six years. Crescenzo has subsequently joined Ryan in Southern California at Fantasy Springs Resort and Casino as Director of Casino Operations.

"Mark Brown is a very hip, young guy who instituted all the cutting edge ideas that comes with his operational style," says Crescenzo. "I've was with Trump Gaming for over 10 years and through a lot of presidents, and he's was the best leader Trump ever had. All of us admire him a great deal, miss him dearly and wish him the best of luck in China."

“The Taj will always be on the cutting edge of entertainment thanks to Mark's vision,” said Steve Gietka, Vice President of Entertainment (pictured at right with Trump Style winner Suzie Tran). "The best business advice given to me by Mark Brown was 'just book it, we will make it work.' It continues to work. We strongly believe our company under Mark's guidance revolutionized the entertainment market in Atlantic City and we will continue to do so long after he is gone.”

"Mark has so much class and a sense of style that all the Food and Beverage employee’s loved working for him," said Chef Freddy Rieger who oversees the restaurants of Trump Taj Mahal. “The respect that he showed us, just turned back into loyalty towards him. For Mark’s 40th Birthday our Italian restaurant was renamed Mark Anthony’s in his honor."

Brown was born in Atlantic City and grew up in adjacent Brigantine. He started out as a dealer and worked his way up. He knew the one thing the city always needed was a cool place for young people to hang out. He gave them the Marina, with its Wave nightclub and Rock the Dock summer concerts, and year-round concerts by contemporary stars. The Wave has become so popular many “locals” consider it the place to go.