Staying Ahead Of the Game

Vision and innovation have enabled Valerie Murzl to deliver on executive mandates she began to tackle 10 years ago.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007
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In a town where gaming is the headliner 24/7, the name of the game for Valerie Murzl, one of this year's HR Honor Roll inductees, is maintaining the culture of Station Casinos.

During her 10-year tenure as corporate vice president of human resources/training for the thriving organization in Las Vegas, Murzl has committed her efforts to: remaining union-free, becoming an employer of choice and supporting tremendous growth. And in each area, she has excelled.

She decided "honesty and openness about the operation" should be the hallmark of a union-free work environment, she says. She doesn't hesitate to communicate personally with employees, from top-level executives to hourly staff.

"Most of my communication is to the homes [of employees] because I believe that the spouse or the significant other plays a part in how team members react to things," she says. "My style is very direct and straightforward."

Personalized notes include thank-you letters for employees' help in making the company a Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For, and "We're Here for You" postcards emphasizing the company's open-door policy.

"She doesn't change who she is for anyone, anytime," says Heather Ripley, corporate director of human resources for Station Casinos, which operates 16 hotel, entertainment and gaming facilities in the Las Vegas area. Her easy rapport with employees is unique, Ripley says. "She's got vision like nobody I've ever seen."

Murzl, 54, has continued to emphasize the company's "true" open-door policy, encouraging any employee to speak openly and freely about concerns. She has distributed business cards, displaying her photo, in both English and Spanish, to the company's current 15,000 workers, inviting them to contact her at any time. Also included is the corporate HR hotline that last year took in more than 3,000 calls.

"We get to talk directly to our [employees] about everything," Murzl says. She prides herself on flexibility and a willingness to accommodate employees.

Determined to make her organization an "employer of choice," Murzl developed several programs designed "to inspire trust in the company." She says that "if the [employees] and their families benefit, we will have automatic loyalty."

In 2004, Murzl distributed a "dream survey," asking employees to share their life's dreams. Did they dream of owning a home, or earning a high-school diploma, or purchasing a computer? Of the 9,000 employees at the time, more than 5,700 responded. With a new starting point, she "prioritized and strategized" deciding "to have a program for everybody," she says, adding that she developed programs based on employees' own desires and needs. "I didn't worry about the ROI."

The survey highlighted the absence of child care available for employees in Las Vegas. Murzl went to the company's president, Lorenzo Fertitta, to present the case for an on-site program. Pitching it as a "recruitment attraction," she says she knew "we'd have a strong competitive edge" if the company offered it.

Two years later, the company built free-standing child-care facilities at four of its properties. Staffed by management companies, the facilities operate 24/7, just like the city where they're located.

Murzl also instituted programs offering the use of payroll deductions to purchase personal computers for employees' homes and U.S citizenship assistance for those wishing to become naturalized.

She established diversity initiatives, including one aimed at identifying minority and community organizations her company could partner with to recruit qualified job candidates. She also organized adult education/GED assistance, partnering with the local school district's adult-education program.

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"Things people struggle with was the focus of the programs," Murzl says.

Her success has been rewarded by Station Casino's selection for three successive years as one of Fortune's Best Companies to Work For.

Murzl continues to build the corporate infrastructure to support tremendous growth. During her tenure, the company has tripled its number of properties and more than doubled its employees -- from 7,000 to nearly 15,000.

Chairman of the Board and CEO Frank Fertitta III, Lorenzo's brother, says he hired Murzl with the expectation that she would develop the infrastructure to facilitate the growth he envisioned. Noting her "progressive, dynamic style of leadership," Fertitta says she strategically designed and implemented HR and training functions that led to the company's designation by Fortune among the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

To handle the tremendous volume, Murzl brought recruitment vendors on board -- formerly On-Call Systems, now Taleo Corp. -- to help her staff sort through and interview between 40,000 and 60,000 prospective employees for each new casino opening.

Over the years, she has built a strong infrastructure, designing, developing and creating policies and procedures to centralize the organization's operations where such policies and procedures didn't previously exist.

"I have always sat at the table," she says. "I've been involved in every move this company has made for the last 10 years."

Frank Fertitta says Murzl's programs have inspired employee loyalty and reduced turnover. "She has a passion for our culture that is unmatched," he says. "Valerie is truly a critical part of our executive team."

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