What Happens In Vegas: Pandemic Edition

Tigi Bah

Age: 25

Job: General Manager of Beverage Operations, MGM Resorts International

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada

Tigi and I were connected through a YoPro interview with Kayla Duncan, which will be released later in the year. When Kayla connected us surrounding the COVID-19 crisis, I knew sharing Tigi's story in the hospitality industry at this time would be of interest to many of you. Though the current crisis has greatly impacted her job, Tigi is using this time as a way to reset, recharge, and grow personally and professionally.

What’s your background?

I was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and my family came to America when I was four years old. I lived in Maryland for a couple of years and then moved to Atlanta when I was in the seventh grade. I went to middle school, high school and college in Atlanta, so that’s where I really consider home. I graduated from Georgia State University in December 2016, with two degrees in Hospitality Administration and Managerial Science. I loved hospitality but I also knew I wanted to be a businesswoman and entrepreneur. I always knew I had a love for people and creating experiences, so I told myself I wanted to manage a casino in Vegas one day. It’s crazy because this dream ended up manifesting itself when I graduated in 2016 and applied For MGM Resorts Management Associate Program (MAP). I applied in November, got an interview in December and got an offer in January of 2017 to be a Management Associate in Food and Beverage. After my program ended, I transitioned into an Assistant Beverage Manager role to truly learn the daily operations of the Vegas food and beverage industry. After 18 months in that role, I was fortunate enough to have been promoted to General Manager of Beverage Operations in September at my property, which is the role I currently hold.

What does your day-to-day look like?

I manage and operate all of the bars and lounges that we have on the property. We have about 12 bars total: 4 service bars, 6 front-facing bars, and 2 showroom bars, so I manage and operate all of those including the cocktail service on the casino floor. My day to day consists of everything from handling employee and labor-related issues, to scheduling, reporting the department's financial statements, managing group dining events, and finding new strategies to increase overall employee engagement and productivity across our department. Needless to say, my day never looks the same in my industry.

What do your hours look like?

They are all over the place. I don't work a traditional Monday through Friday, nine to five, job. During the week, sometimes I’m off Mondays and Tuesdays or other days, so it just depends. Sometimes I go to work at 12pm, and sometimes I get off at 12am. If I have an early meeting, then I’ll go in earlier and get off later. The reason why my role was created was to increase employee engagement within the department as we were going through so many changes and technological innovations at the time of my promotion. We have a total of 256 employees that fall within our department, so as a result of that size, I try to overlap with both shifts to see the full team. Typically when I arrive at work, I will do a lap on the casino floor to check in with the morning/afternoon team, then I would do the same in the evening to check on the swing/evening team. In between those laps are meetings, conference calls, events, and more meetings.

The evenings are when most of our business is operating so I definitely make it a point to be present on the casino floor during those later hours. I think it is very important as a manager that you are overseeing everything so you know how your operation is running.

How do you remain professional in a crazy atmosphere like Vegas?

For me, I was 23 years old when I moved out here. I packed up my bags, sold my car, sold all my furniture, threw away most of my clothes and moved across the country by myself with no family and no one there that I knew. When I moved here, I put a lot of pressure on myself because I realized I had so much at stake. I knew I had to stay focused, so I tried to keep myself grounded and focused on my goal. There’s always going to be a time and place to party and have a good time, but it’s about balance and having the understanding that I have a lot to lose. So I remind myself all the time to “focus on the goal”.

What does your trajectory look like? What is next for you in the hospitality field?

I don't necessarily know what the next step is as far as my next role. However, one of my goals is to live in three different cities by the time I’m 30. I’m currently 25 and will be turning 26 in the next few months, so I do want to explore other cities. I would not be opposed to moving to Miami and working for nightlife there; I’ve also thought about Houston or moving back to Atlanta eventually. I do know that wherever I go, I want to gain a different set of skills. My goal is to consistently be challenging myself to constantly be learning.

What has been your biggest hardship since you graduated in 2016?

One of the hardest things was graduating and moving across the country by myself. I didn’t know anyone living in Vegas and the West Coast is very different from the south. I am a southern girl at heart, so it was really hard to adjust to not having that support of friends and family, and maneuvering and trying to figure out my own sense of community. Another difficulty is trying to find your place as a young professional and trying to figure out the whole corporate thing. You don't want to make a mistake, or at least, I was scared to death of making one. I was fortunate enough to come across people in my life who mentored me and helped mold me into who I am now. My greatest challenge was more the personal development side of figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do in this new city alone.

Tell us about what it has been like working in the current state of our country. How has this impacted your job?

In an effort to abide by social distancing regulations, The City of Las Vegas decided to close all of its properties and non-essential businesses on March 18th. As a result of this, I am currently on a temporary layoff from work. The first 10 days I just lounged around, watching TV and relaxing. Now that the new month is starting, I want to challenge myself with new goals. This is now a new reality that we're going to have to get used to and is not going to end anytime soon. One thing I've tried to challenge myself with is increasing my fitness. I'm running and walking a few miles a day, doing my workouts, and reading self-development books. I’m studying beverage knowledge and then taking time to think about how I could really build the business that I would like to venture into. This time can be tough and it's really hard, but you still have to maintain a certain level of positivity and productivity. I went from working 12 to 14 hours a day to now having my entire day free. I think the most important thing for me right now is focusing on things to keep myself occupied.

Can you give some examples of some of the professional development tools that you've been using?

I have been reading a lot of skills-based books. I’m reading more about different wines, so I'm currently reading Wine for Dummies, and then the Flavor Bible, which are really good for anyone who's interested in being in the food and beverage industry. I also have a passion for event planning, so I’ve been doing research on that and how to get certified.

What do you think other young professionals can learn from your specific experience during these uncertain times?

I would say this experience has taught me that sometimes you have to stop and reset and recharge, and it's okay if you don't necessarily know what's next. You have to take the time and force yourself to tap in, ignore all distractions, get rid of social media and meditate and reflect on yourself. Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I feel?

  • How is my current situation affecting me?

  • What is it that I can do differently?

  • How can I make myself feel better?

  • In what ways can I continue to challenge myself to make myself a better person overall?

What do you want others to know about being a young professional in your industry?

One thing I really enjoy about my industry, and I didn't realize that it would be something that I would actually enjoy, is the number of people you come across every single day. There's always a different experience and always something going on. My advice to anyone who’s interested in hospitality is to just go for it. In your current role, think about what you need to do in order to get your next role. If what you are doing now is not what you want to do, how can you use that to your leverage and capitalize on it? It is not always going to be a straight path and that is okay. As long as you’re consistently challenging yourself professionally and personally, it will all be okay.

We all are wondering: what is the craziest thing you’ve seen on the job?

You know Vegas. There is never a dull day and it’s really true: what happens here, stays here.

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

- Take this time to grow yourself professionally; get certified in something!

- You still have to maintain a certain level of positivity and productivity

- Sometimes you have to stop and reset and recharge

- It's okay if you don't necessarily know what's next

Check it out: Georgia State University, MGM Resorts Management Associate Program