Wanda Gispert

A Woman of Substance

—-By Frederick A. Hurst—Some names relating to MGM Springfield readily come to mind. Mike Mathis is one. Alex Dixon is another. But the name Wanda Gispert is rarely on the tip of people’s tongues; yet, she has been in and around town for a few years drumming up employment support for MGM’s grand opening. Not only is Wanda a functioning example of the possibilities for personal growth at MGM but she is also an influential, powerful representative for women.Some names relating to MGM Springfield readily come to mind. Mike Mathis is one. Alex Dixon is another. But the name Wanda Gispert is rarely on the tip of people’s tongues; yet, she has been in and around town for a few years drumming up employment support for MGM’s grand opening. Not only is Wanda a functioning example of the possibilities for personal growth at MGM but she is also an influential, powerful representative for women. I met Wanda quite by accident when former City Councilor and current State Representative, Bud Williams, directed her to the Point of View office a few months ago. She was as surprised as I was that she had been working in Springfield on behalf of MGM for months and had not been made aware that Point of View was the “voice of the community” and could assist her in her mission to drum up interest in the many jobs that MGM Springfield was creating.   Wanda did not shy away from the assertion by Rep. Williams, who also had just met her, that she was missing an opportunity to interact with a substantial number of people whom he represents. She committed immediately to a date to work with Bud to put on a workshop at Rebecca Johnson Elementary School, which was held on February 13th before a crowd of several hundred people.   Two days later Wanda fulfilled a commitment to hold a small informational tête-à-tête before a group of about 15 influential people at the Point of View office where she committed to those present to schedule a time to do the same for each of their groups. She is a whirlwind whose capacity for informative dialogue is inexhaustible. She stayed for a good two hours and, if not for a prescheduled event at the Urban League, probably would have stayed much longer.   After she left, the consensus of those present was that she had been a valuable source of information that calmed their concerns that Springfield’s Black community was being left behind, which didn’t surprise me at all because I had the opportunity to speak to her beforehand and to interview her for this article. And to say that I was impressed by how she arrived from a desk clerk to become a regional vice president at MGM would be an understatement.   Though she is just as accomplished, Wanda likes to joke about how she is the least accomplished of her siblings who transitioned seamlessly from high school to professional degrees and careers. Wanda took a tougher route. She graduated from the private “Atlanta Adventist Academy” which focuses on six distinct areas of academic growth, one of which is technology. And it was technology that turned out to be the area that served as the foundation for Wanda’s future professional development. Wanda’s work ethic came from a father who insisted that the entire family participate in running the family business. Wanda and her siblings spent most of their spare time working with him which made hard work for them a natural way of life. Combined with her strong spiritual foundation grounded in her Seventh Day Adventist religious affiliation, Wanda was primed to grow.   At age 18, Wanda began working the desk at the Atlanta Holiday Inn where she remained for several years. The end of her tenure might be considered serendipity. One day an independent vendor came to change the hotel computers and she assisted them. They were so impressed by her performance that they hired her. She worked for them for a few years performing similar work for other hotel clients including the Hilton, which eventually hired her away from the independent vendor.   Between the two jobs, Wanda became an expert at assisting in setting up computers, developing interfaces with hotel service charges, room service, televisions and phone systems and much more. After several more years, Wanda joined the human services department of Noble Investment Group, a hospitality company that owned a fleet of hotels. It is where she was first able to integrate her computer skills with the human side of the hospitality business, which enhanced her value considerably and positioned her nicely for her move to MGM as Regional Director for Talent and Workforce Development.   After three years, Wanda moved from Noble to become Director of Human Relations for the Marriott at its high end boutique hotels in Savannah and eventually ended up working for three years at multiple properties ending up at their St. Augustine, Florida property where she began to make some major, life-changing decisions.   Wanda wanted to work in a more diverse environment and move closer to her sister in Baltimore, Maryland who was suffering from sickle cell anemia. At the suggestion of a friend, she applied online for a position at MGM and was hired as Regional Director for Talent and Workforce Development and was eventually promoted to Regional Vice President which is her current position. She is based in Baltimore and reports directly to Bill Hornbuckle and Jim Murren, both of whom she gives high praise. Wanda is responsible for assuring that the employment needs of the six casinos in her region are continuously met. She is responsible for casinos in Memphis, Tennessee, Biloxi, Mississippi, National Harbor, Maryland, Atlantic City, New Jersey, Detroit, Michigan and, most recently, Springfield, Massachusetts. Each has its particular needs and struggles with different talents and she responds to those needs. Although she always has the same six properties, which one gets the most attention is determined by the level of need which, of course, made Springfield a priority item. Springfield stood out as being the first place in the state where an integrated casino resort was being established and, as such, had unique needs. As a first, there was no trained workforce for jobs that had never been needed before. The talent simply did not yet exist; following its normal approach of hiring from within a community, systems had to be put in place for developing the talent, which meant that Wanda had to come into Springfield and connect with those with the knowledge and resources to assist MGM in fulfilling its manpower needs. It was and remains no small task, one that Wanda has been working on for the last two years and to great effect. Wanda has met with almost every major and minor player in the region to set up systems to fill 3,000 specialized casino jobs which appears, on its face, to be a relatively straight-forward, simple task. To the contrary, the task is extremely complex. An example is in a question: “How do you hire locally and prepare 600 dealers to run the casino table games?” That’s a lot of people! And there is no local talent.   And no school or college in the area had any training program for casino dealers. So MGM worked in conjunction with Springfield Technical Community College and Holyoke Community College to set up a dealer school named “Massachusetts Casino Careers Training Institute” where anybody can apply. Those who complete the training are guaranteed a job interview with MGM.   Similarly, though there are culinary training resources in the area, they are not sufficient to fulfill MGM’s needs so MGM invested in an expansion of Holyoke Community College’s culinary facilities and now along with Springfield Technical Community College, the two colleges have a culinary training program for those interested in working for MGM. The difference between the culinary job market and the dealer job market is that some culinary expertise already existed so MGM will hire some people who will not need training. As an aside, MGM can train about 1,000 people in-house for other jobs that require only a short training period.   Wanda’s job is to make certain that all of these things happen while others are organizing for the grand opening in September. It is a responsibility she doesn’t take lightly. She is directly involved in the hiring of executive level positions and often assists in job fairs and other group hiring situations. It is not unusual for her to interview a dishwasher. She recalled when they had to rent a stadium in National Harbor to interview 5,800 people in two days and she and everyone else participated. But her job responsibilities go way beyond hiring.  Wanda has that special combination of compassion for people and toughness. She will go out of her way to explain, advise, encourage and guide people to the opportunities that MGM has to offer. But she will not cut corners or allow those with whom she interfaces to do so. The casino business may be fun but those who work in it handle a lot of money and honesty and integrity are as important as talent. And she is absolutely dedicated to her job and to those who made it possible for her to be a major part of the MGM team.   Wanda, who was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, has been married for 25 years to Michael, who works as a procurement manager for Stanley Black and Decker, and they have two kids, a sixteen-year-old daughter who attends Spencerville Adventist Academy (which happens to be where Ben Carson’s kids went) and Justin who is in graduate school at the University of Maryland specializing in criminal justice. Along the way she has managed to complete an undergraduate degree and masters and is planning to go for a doctorate.   Wanda will get that doctorate. She is always growing and encouraging others to do the same which is what has made her a woman of incredible substance.  ■


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