At the heart of Las Vegas lies gaming and at the heart of gaming lives International Game Technology

By Jennifer Florendo

Walking through the halls of IGT, every staff member smiles, greets you or strikes up a conversation over the sophisticated coffee machine, even if they’ve never met you before. That is a true testament to the environment established by CEO Patti Hart.

Hart takes great pride in that environment she created at IGT for its employees and their families. A wife and mother herself, Hart understands the importance of not only finding her own balance, but creating balance for her employees. “I have 5,000 employees and their families. That is probably the thing closest to me emotionally; thinking about every employee I have going home to their family and making certain that they go home in the right spirits and with the right kind of motivation,” says Hart. “Employees are number one to me here in Las Vegas, in Nevada and around the globe.”

Hart willingly admits that keeping the balance isn’t always the easiest thing to do. “I don’t do as good of a job as I should. I am better at preaching about it than doing it. There is no question about that.”

When Hart took on the role of CEO at IGT in 2009, she didn’t quite fully grasp what that role would mean to not only the gaming industry, but also to the city of Las Vegas. Self-described at Las Vegas’ greatest advertising campaign, Hart talks about life in Las Vegas as “more than I ever dreamt” and translates what it is like to live here to those with curiosity. “Wherever I go in the world, when people ask, ‘Where do you live?’ I say ‘Las Vegas’ they are like, ‘Really? How is it to live there?’ I tell them it’s GREAT! It is the greatest place I’d want to live.”

Las Vegas Woman spent the morning with Hart to find out what it is truly like to be at the heart of Las Vegas.

Start us out with a “typical” day for you:

I am a gym rat. Most mornings start with an hour in the gym, waking up at 5:30 a.m. and then I get ready to come into the office. Because we have people around the globe … I will use this morning as an example: I was on a conference call with London on the drive in here. I try to get some morning time with that part of the world and some evening time with the folks in Asia. It makes for a long day … When I don’t have a business dinner, (it ends) about 8 p.m. When I do have a business dinner, maybe 10:30 p.m.

Well that is a great segue into work-life balance …

Well I (already) said there isn’t any.

You are a wife, a mother and a CEO, how do you maintain all of that?

I am very fortunate that my husband and my son understand what it takes to do what I do at IGT. The weekends are my sacred time. From noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday, I really turn it all off and really spend time with my husband and my son or whomever in my life. That work-life balance is so much greater than just your spouse and your children or your parents. That is really my private time most weeks and that is when I have a chance to catch up.

The interesting thing is (that) I travel a lot and you can really make productive use of your downtime, sitting on an airplane or sitting in an airport terminal. One of the things I do … my grandmother is still living, and 101 years old, and I send her postcards from everywhere I am. I spend a lot of time sitting, in what normally would just be wasted time, writing a quick note to her or my mom or my two goddaughters. I also send them postcards from around the world. It really is just taking time that is normally unproductive and making it productive.

You still believe in the handwritten note?

I do, I do. I think it matters. Last year, I gave all of my executive team personalized stationery for Christmas and said the old-fashioned, handwritten note means something to people. So yes, I do … I do write a lot of notes—too many sometimes.

You are the epicenter of what is Las Vegas: the gaming. What does that realization mean to you and your role?

It is a huge responsibility. If you think about (gaming) and how much our state and our city rely on it for its health, it’s the difference between a state being economically healthy or unhealthy. It’s a huge responsibility. It’s a great blessing to have the opportunity to be a part of this, but it also comes with a burden. In other industries I’ve worked in, I’ve never found myself in a single-industry environment where that defines my community or my state. That is probably something that I underestimated when I came to IGT. I love the gaming industry, and I love that it is a second-generation industry. You have a lot of the people who created the industry still around and available to share their wisdom. That is unlike most industries that are fourth- and fifth-generation industries. I think that we are fortunate in Las Vegas to still have the benefit of the people who defined and created this industry. That is really something that is beneficial and helpful.

You come from a technology background, how did your path lead you to IGT?

I joined IGT’s board three years before coming here, and I have to say that I had honestly only been to Las Vegas one time in my life before that, and it was for a business trip. I really thought about what I could do as an individual and as a woman. There aren’t as many female leaders in the industry as there are in other industries. I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring my history, as well as my gender, to an industry. If you think about it, gaming is female dominated; the people who participate with our products are largely female. But most of the companies are run by men, and I thought it was interesting. It would be the equivalent of any other female-oriented product being run by men, so I thought this is an interesting opportunity to bring technology, my experience running companies and my gender to Las Vegas and to the industry. And it has been great; it’s been really great.

How do you use your role here at IGT to motivate others or impact lives?

As a CEO, it’s so interesting (that) you have an impact on people that you don’t even realize. What I really want people to see in Patti Hart is that I am a person who came from nothing and made my own way with great cheering on the sidelines from my family, but no additional help. I think what people should see in me is that you can be anything you want to be. Whatever it is, whatever you aspire to be in life … it’s there for the taking, if you make the decision that you are going to develop yourself, you are going to make the sacrifices and you are going to be the kind of person that others can depend on.

I hope that is the way people, when they look at me, that’s what they see. I wasn’t given anything in life. This was all hard work. I hope to motivate people to set their goals really high and work for them. Don’t wait around for someone else to do it for you. Just do it. I try to lead by example. I try to be the person that my mom, my grandmother and my mentors would be proud of in the way I live my life and treat people.

You are surrounded by gaming almost 24/7, do you ever slip a few bills into a machine?

I don’t. I can’t, because of regulations. But I will tell you that I have become a student of the casino. I love to stand and watch people interact and to ask them questions. I stalk these people, I am sure it makes them crazy. I am so curious about what attracts them to different gaming experiences. Not just slot machines and our products, but the tables and the restaurants. Why did you choose this restaurant and not another restaurant? The same with the clubs and the shopping. I find the business so fascinating because it is this great collision of entertainment between shopping, clubs, restaurants, gaming and shows, and I’m just curious on how people make decisions. I spend way, way too much time in the places; although I’m sure our customers would be happy that I do and I really force myself to immerse myself. I’ve seen almost every show you can see on the strip, I’ve eaten in almost every restaurant. Every week I try to eat in a new one because I think that it is all a part … we are a subset at IGT of this great experience of gaming, but you have to understand the whole to be a better subset. So yes … my husband will tell you when he gets the credit card bills every month … I even go the casinos to have my hair done and my nails done. I don’t do it in other places because I really want to be where my customers are appealing.

Do you have a favorite game you like to watch?

I won’t say that because I then have to charge my competitors an advertising fee, but I like to watch two of my competitors’ games. I love to watch the ways people interact with them and then compare that to how they interact with my games.

For IGT games, my current addiction, I love to watch people play The Hangover. When people play The Hangover, they are just laughing, which is really unusual. American Idol, Ghostbusters, they are more communal and fun to play with a group. It is a very different experience than when you are playing one-to-one person to machine. Each person has a different approach when you watch them come up to the machine, they circle it for a while; try to decide should they sit down or not. You will see people sit down and they have very different opinions on who they want to sit by—do they want to sit where it is pretty empty or do they want to sit in a group.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

It’s hard for me to choose one, so I will go two for two. One is parenting my son. He is an amazing human being. Trying to be the right kind of role model for him and balancing my career … now I see the kind of young man that he is, it’s pretty humbling. When you find out the baby is on the way, you don’t really think about 27 years later, how you are going to feel. You think about the cute crib that you are going to buy, and I am really proud of the fact that I have really given back to the world an amazing human being who is kind and considerate and productive and respectful of others. So that is No. 1 for me.

Second, from a business perspective, is when I look out into the world and see all of the people who, at one time, worked for me, and I see all of the great leaders that they have become … A number of CEOs in the world worked for me along the way, and I am so fortunate to have been able to produce something. I love really seeing people accomplish more than they think they can accomplish. Looking around the world at all of these great people contributing to great businesses of all sorts and having had an opportunity to contribute just one little piece to that is probably the thing I am most proud of.

What is next on your list to accomplish that you haven’t yet?

Oh … that is a very good question, I don’t spend much time thinking about that. I would say from a business perspective and at IGT, my next thing to accomplish is to create the environment for IGT to become a true global force.

For me personally, one of the things I haven’t been able to (accomplish) is to learn another language. With my current environment, just trying to get through my current days, it just isn’t practical. When this stage in my life is over, and in the next stage, I would really like to master another language. I don’t know if I will ever do it, but I’d really like to.

Have you thought about the language tapes when you are flying all over the world?

That is actually a really good idea. I have to put some of that stuff on my iPad and plug in and go. The Rosetta Stone, right? Thank you for that idea! I could get a head start on my retirement. I think the world is globalizing so quickly and the notion of being a single-language human being is going to be a thing of the past soon, and I don’t want to be a thing of the past.

Do you have any guilty pleasures you willingly admit to?

Shoes. There is no question about that. When my husband reads this article, he will vouch for that. Shoes are my guilty pleasure. I just can’t walk by a shoe store without going in, and I rarely can go in without coming out with a pair. And I love them in all colors and shapes and sizes and heels and flats and boots. I have so many pairs of boots. I lived in Paris at one time and I think that was when the guilty pleasure took off. I really grew to just think about shoes as pieces of art, as opposed to pieces that were just functional and I would say that is the guilty pleasure for me, no question.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received and ever have given?

It came from my grandmother when I was probably college age, and it was probably her telling me to love myself before I love others. Loving yourself is required in order for you to have the capacity to give to other people and that all of your feelings in the world have to start with being comfortable with who you are. First of all, get comfortable with yourself and if there is anything you don’t like about yourself, address it and get right with it. It has to start with a feeling of self before it can manifest itself into caring and feeling for others. She still reminds me of that at 101 years old. I remember this as a child: She encouraged me to be on the boy’s baseball team. I didn’t want to be the only girl, but she told me I can play baseball better than some of the boys. You have to be good with who you are and the gifts that you were given. Find a way to exercise those gifts and not be ashamed of any of them. That is the thing that probably still rings true with me today. We all go through those times where we don’t feel as good as we should and I go back and remember those words and say, “I am not perfect, but I have to get right with who I am.”

The best advice I give to others is to set your sights high and be aware of the sacrifices. Any goal that you make, whether it is you want to lose a few pounds or whatever, it comes with sacrifice. Nothing just happens. Set your goals high, be aware of the sacrifices and go for it. Don’t set the bar too low. So really go for it and realize that you are more than you think you are.

Thank you for the incredible interview, Patti. Any final thoughts?

I’m just a girl, right? I am just a girl and I have all the capabilities and resources that every other woman in the world has and it’s about what you do with it.

Clothing provided by Saks Fifth Avenue

Looks styled by Laura Rubeli Image Consulting

Hair by Charles Azzi

Makeup by Alana Kelly

Photography by Adrienne Griffin of Dragonfly Portrait Design