An interview with Ben Farber, President of Bristol Associates, Inc.
If you ever have wondered how people get a job working for a casino, you’re not alone! URComped CEO Craig Shacklett was able to take a few moments out of his quarantined-filled day to speak with Ben Farber, president of Bristol Associates, Inc., Inc. Farber’s company is primarily a recruiting firm that seeks to place the best talent in the best companies. Click here to listen to podcast version.
Farber explains that he began his employment as a recruiter out of college and didn’t exactly understand what all the job would entail (1:02). As a young, hungry and eager employee, Farber studied every aspect of the business he had joined and managed to work his way up the corporate ladder. As Farber states, “I did it the good old fashioned way.” His dedication to his craft certainly paid off, as he now is at the top of that corporate ladder, holding the title of president for six years.
Finding highly skilled talent for the gaming industry is undoubtedly a specialized field. When asked how he ended up in this niche, Farber explained it was “the natural 24/7 nature of it and the energy of that industry” (1:27) that he gravitated toward. For Farber, it was almost a natural fit, since the gaming side of the business was always one of their largest facets, and he was fascinated with the “poker boom” that was going on at the time. As Farber notes, “I just love the entertainment. I love the people in it and never looked back.” (1:44)
Shacklett was curious as to how, if at all, the COVID-19 coronavirus shutdowns impacted Farber’s company. Farber acknowledges that the closures have been “difficult on everybody” and that his heart is with those who are facing challenges during this time. His company has been proactive in reaching out to those who may find themselves displaced. Farber explains that Bristol Associates, Inc. staff have been offering assistance to casinos, as well as individuals (2:19). For the companies, Farber says that his team is working with the casinos that are wondering how they will re-staff while assisting individuals with things such as updating resumes and looking for new roles within the industry.
Farber’s suggestion for those who have been displaced and are seeking new employment is to stay positive and “network, network, network.” (3:15) Farber notes that it’s important to try to maintain as normal a routine as possible. He says that those are the people who “usually bounce back the fastest.” If you have found yourself unemployed right now, Farber emphasizes that “you just have to get out there and network.” (3:51) Farber gives good advice when he states that it is important to continue networking – not just when the industry is in a downturn, but all of the time, since that is a key to being remembered by potential employers. As for the employers, Farber recommends that they try to retain as many of their employees as possible, since hiring and training new employees is both time and fiscally expensive (9:46). Farber adds the importance of taking this downtime to re-evaluate organizational charts, and to move quickly, since casinos have already begun to announce opening dates.
A possible wrinkle in the COVID-19 shutdown is whether or not employees have non-compete clauses in their contracts. Farber explains that a non-compete could factor into a lay-off situation, but it would be state-by-state, and probably on a case-by-case, role-to-role basis (4:13). Since certain positions like marketing and player development contain such “sensitive data” it makes sense that casinos might want to ensure that their former employees maintain a certain level of confidentiality. Farber mentions that some less-competitive casino markets outside of Las Vegas might not employ such restrictions.
Shacklett was curious about how Bristol Associates, Inc. goes about recruiting employees. The URComped CEO wondered if Farber starts with talent seeking new opportunities, or if Farber prefers to recruit based on what the casinos are seeking (5:28). Farber explains that Bristol’s primary focus is on working with the companies to fill open talent spots, but they help individuals seeking jobs, as well. Farber states that candidates seeking jobs through his company do not pay a fee – and that “it’s only to their benefit to be considered for the opportunities that are presented to them.” (5:57) Farber stresses that talent should “never have to pay a search firm for that opportunity.” With that, Farber does acknowledge that there are firms who represent candidates for a fee, but, for Bristol Associates, Inc., that is not where their compensation comes from.
Taking a deeper dive into the recruitment process, Shacklett wanted to know when in the hiring process a casino might reach out to Bristol Associates, Inc. to find personnel. Farber explained that they encouraged clients to avoid the “Post and Pray Method” of seeking employees (11:09). Farber says that they “find most of the time you have to proactively go after people who are engaged in their current employment” since those candidates who are working 50-plus hours a week and are successful in their jobs, are “probably not spending their free time seeing whether other opportunities are out there no matter how great your company is.” This is where Farber says that his approach is to “be honest and sincere” (12:31) with prospective candidates, remembering that you truly believe the opportunity could be a better one for them.
To recruit top personnel, Shacklett asked if Farber had encountered situations where “premiums” would have to be paid by casinos located in less desirable areas (13:04). As Farber explained, “To a certain degree, that’s true.” However, he noted, even some of the most remote casinos have changed over the past 20 years, making the recruiting process easier for those properties.
Shacklett was curious about the possibility of licensing issues that Bristol could encounter while recruiting a candidate for a position. Farber stated that this, fortunately, does not occur often (6:49). As Farber explains, most of the candidates they find for open positions already have been vetted. In addition, Farber notes that many of their recruits “already have been licensed, often in multiple jurisdictions. So, if they’re just going from one state to another, you’re rarely going to have an issue.” That’s not to say that licensing issues don’t occur. Farber says that there have been occasions where a candidate wasn’t completely thorough or there is a communication breakdown regarding requirements from state to state; however, Farber says, those cases are few and far between.
Shacklett wanted to know if Bristol Associates, Inc. specialized in any particular jurisdiction or geographic area. Farber explained that the company is “across-the-board nationwide” and “vertical.” (7:53) Farber says his company has “a long history of getting into the new spaces and going, essentially, where the economy and the market go.” This includes entering into the digital and online spaces – specifically, sports betting. Farber says that they always are networking for new talent. With online marketing and sports betting, Shacklett wondered if that propelled the need for different skill sets or more data analytics than was necessary in the past (8:48). Farber agreed, saying that while the casino industry gets “a knock for being slower to change than other industries,” it is paying closer attention to data, while continuing to embrace other strategies, such as direct mail. Most interestingly, Farber says, is that in recruiting they continue to realize that “not only people with all skill sets have something to offer, but people from all generations have something to offer,” noting that “we’re in an interesting time now to where we’re seeing four or five generations of people in the workforce working together.”
The pair ended their conversation with Farber turning the tables on the URComped CEO. Farber wanted to know how Shacklett saw URComped’s line of work and offers to be impacted and changed during the rest of 2020 (15:50). Shacklett had good news for URComped members. He explained that the dramatic increase in cruise ship inventory has opened up opportunities for players to receive unprecedented offers right now, even if they might not have had the gameplay required for certain offers in the past. The reason, Shacklett explained, is that the cruise lines “don’t necessarily want to drop the price like you would expect in a supply and demand economy, where they start out of two thousand [dollars per cabin], and will keep dropping until they fill up all the cabins. They don’t want to do that, because the people who paid $2,000 will get pissed. And they’ll call their travel agent, they’ll cancel and then rebook.” Instead, he continued, the cruise lines will put a lot of inventory through the casinos, since the price is essentially hidden. For the URComped staff, who receive commissions only when ships are sailing, the shutdown has been tough. Once cruises resume, Shacklett is excited about the cabins his staff has booked, which should lead to a very good fourth quarter in 2020 and first quarter 2021. The best part, according to Shacklett, is that URComped’s team has managed to stay together as this storm has been raging.
If you are interested in being recruited by Bristol Associates, Inc., email Ben Farber at bfarber “at” bristolassoc.com, or take his advice and network. You will find him on LinkedIn at Benjamin Farber Bristol Associates, Inc. (20:41).
Throughout the COVID-19 period, industries across the board have decreased their employment. URComped CEO, Craig Shacklett, interviews Bristol Associates President, Ben Farber, to learn more about how Bristol Associates assists with Casino Employment. Effects from COVID-19 on employment, what casinos are doing with employment in order to follow the market trends, and what casinos should do for a strong recovery are just a few of the topics discussed.
Full transcript below
(0:00-0:28) Craig Shacklett: Hi everybody, Craig from URComped here with a special comp travel interview with Ben Farber, President of Bristol Associates, Inc. It’s a recruiting firm specializing in casinos. I know if I keep going, trying to explain it. I will not do it justice. Ben, first of all, thank you for being here. And won’t you tell us what you do and what Bristol Associates does?
(0:28– 0:54) Ben Farber: Thanks for having me Craig and you’re not alone. I didn’t even really understand what executive search was until I joined myself right out of college. It is an interesting business and it’s a big business that a lot of people do across the country. But essentially, we have an industry focus. One of those industries is the casino gaming industry. People come to us. People within companies, come to us to help them find talent.
(0:54– 01:00) CS: And you’re now the president but you didn’t start out as president, right? You worked your way up.
(01:00– 01:15) BF: That’s right. The good old-fashioned way. I learned every aspect of the business and all the industries that we worked in, helping out our senior leadership team. And slowly but surely worked myself into this position, and been in it for about six years now.
(01:15– 1:23) CS: That’s amazing. How did you kind of gravitate to the casino industry?
(1:23– 1:47) BF: It’s always been one of our busiest. And I think just the natural 24/7 nature of it and the energy of that industry I gravitated towards. It was also a Poker Boom at the time that I think fascinated everyone, especially my demographic in my twenties. There was that piece. I just love the entertainment. I love the people in it and never looked back.
(1:47-2:12) CS: Wonderful. A lot of industries are being hit hard right now due to COVID-19. I guess, aside from the grocery stores, but pretty much everything else is shut down. Casinos are especially hard hit. What are you seeing from your perspective with how the COVID-19 has affected unemployment in the casino space?
(2:12-2:54) BF: It’s hit everyone very hard across-the-board. Our heart goes out to those folks. And we reached out to offer our help any way we can to people that need help looking for new roles, they need help with their resumes. And even for those companies that have lost a lot of people not sure if they can get those people back. And they’re wondering how they’re going to fill these key roles again? This hasn’t… In our opinion, hasn’t really discriminated any particular person or role. With that said, I think the finance people seem to be the safest from what we’ve seen. That aspect of the business is always a very important crucial especially during tax season, right? That’s what we’ve seen so far.
(2:54– 3:13) CS: The folks that have been hit hard. It’s every department outside of finance and even finance have been hit to some extent. But what… The people that are, unfortunately, been laid off… What should they be doing right now to prepare themselves for the next role?
(3:13– 3:53) BF: You’ve got to try and maintain your routine. Whatever positive routine you had that got you to this point of success before the downturn. You got to keep doing that. On top of that, you have to network. Always tell everybody, “Network, network, network.” And maintain those relationships. And not just in a time of need, but all the time. Because those people are going to remember you, the good person you are, and the value you bring to a team. People that are successful at that, are the people that we see usually bounce back the fastest. And if so, that if that’s what somebody’s looking for, I think we all are looking for a rebound as quickly as possible. You just got to get out there and network.
(3:53– 4:11) CS: The casino industry from my perspective, it seems like it uses non-compete clauses made more than some others that I’ve seen. Maybe that’s true or maybe it’s not. But the question remains, do non-compete agreements still factor in if somebody has been laid off?
(4:11-5:04) BF: Yeah, I mean, it’s going to vary state to state. But from what I’ve read so far that seems to be the case. And it really even varies role to role how concerned a company is with that. When you talk about marketing and player development, specifically in casino, that’s a touchy subject because you’re talking a lot about a lot of sensitive data. So yeah, I mean, that’s still certainly maybe a point of contention. I can see why a company would want to keep that solicitation in place. For other less competitive markets outside of Vegas, casinos are more remote depending on the relationship that people have with senior leadership. They might be able to get out of those contracts. And I’m just speaking on more so what we’ve seen over the years as opposed to what companies are doing right now.
(5:04– 5:28) CS: In your role, in your function, recruiting, headhunting, do you generally start with the talent? Like you guys, you got some folks that maybe just recently lost their job, but you know, they’re amazing candidate. Do you start with that, you go looking for roles? Or is it generally, a casino comes to you and says, “We’re trying to fill XYZ position.” and then you find the candidates.
(5:28-6:17) BF: Yes, it’s that. And it’s a great question. And it’s one we get often. We help again. Help the client companies that are looking for talent. We’re trying to help the candidates looking for positions, as much as possible. But that’s not our primary function. And that’s not where the compensation comes into play as well for our firm. And that’s key for candidates. So now if candidates are working with the search firm, it’s only to their benefit to be considered for the opportunities that are presented to them. They should never have to pay a search firm for that opportunity. Now on the flip side, there are companies out there that will specifically help candidates to get their name and get their resume out there. And there is a service and a fee attached to that, but that is separate from executive search. And that is separate from what Bristol Associates does.
(6:17– 6:49) CS: With our business URComped, with the casinos we deal with, we have to often jump through very arduous licensing processes. And I know, I think from what I understand, to become a General Manager or a very key position, the licensing can be even more thorough than what I’ve had to go through. So how often does that become an issue where you may have the perfect candidate for a role, but the licensing just derails it? Does that happen very often?
(6:49– 7:43) BF: Fortunately, not. And that’s one of the things we love about the casino industry, and working at a management level and above: your directors, your VP’s, your C-level folks. They’ve been in the business ten to twenty five years or longer. They’ve already been vetted. They’ve already been licensed often in multiple jurisdictions. So if they’re just going from one state to another, you’re rarely going to have an issue. Once a blue moon would have you want once a solar eclipse, as I say, you’re going to have somebody that maybe they weren’t as forthright as they should have been with us throughout the process. Or maybe we just give the benefit of the doubt. I’m thinking, “Hey, they didn’t realize that Indiana and Illinois was going to be a tougher jurisdiction than maybe Oklahoma or Florida or Atlantic City would have you.” And they’re asked the question that they haven’t been asked before. And that trips them up. And the process falls apart. But again, it’s pretty rare.
(7:43– 7:52) CS: You’re throwing out a few different jurisdictions. It sounds like you guys deal nationally? Is there any geographic area you specialize in or it’s just across-the-board?
(7:52– 8:22) BF: It’s across-the-board nationwide, which is another question we get often. And it’s important for people to understand. And it’s also any vertical. So it’s your common operations, marketing, finance, food, and beverage. But we also have a long history of getting into the new spaces and going where, essentially, where the economy and the market go. So we’re doing a lot in the on-line space, the digital space. Sports’ betting now, specifically, as it pertains to gaming. So we cover it all and we’re constantly networking for new talent.
(8:22– 8:46) CS: You mentioned a couple things their on-line marketing, sports betting. How have you seen over the last couple years, Maybe the skill sets that people are looking or casinos are looking for? Let’s say a marketer. Are they looking for more analytics than they did in the past? Or you seen any trends with qualities that casinos are looking for?
(8:46-9:30) BF: Very much so. Unfortunately, our industry gets a knock for being slower to change than other industries. But I think in fairness, we are paying more attention to data, more attention to data analytics. But we also can’t forget the fact that direct mail still works. And not just in the gaming industry. It still works with retail. I see new businesses as a consumer all the time that send direct mail. And they must be doing it for a reason. I think it’s important to remember it’s a combination of both. And that not only people with all skill sets have something to offer, but people from all generations have something to offer. And then we’re in an interesting time now to where we’re seeing four or five generations of people in the workforce working together.
(9:30– 9:44) CS: With so much talent, unfortunately, coming available now in the casino industry. What should smart operators be doing at the moment to prepare for a strong recovery?
(9:44– 10:31) BF: I think they should really be trying to keep the talent they can. I realize it’s hard with revenue just for a lot of properties being closed just now and they’re trying to hang on and make their funds last. But I really encourage them to keep who they can because it’s going to be just as costly to rehire and retrain people that aren’t used to their system, their organization, the flow, and how it works. When you need to hire, do so as soon as possible so that you don’t miss a beat. You don’t want to open your doors and have key positions unfilled. So trying to take this time to re-evaluate your org chart, see where you want to improve, how you want to move and make those decisions as quickly as possible. Because, fortunately, looks like opening dates are just around the corner.
(10:31– 11:08) CS: Now another question. I’m curious about… Like where in the process does a property generally engage you? Is it right when… I mean, is it before they even open the position? Like is it sometimes, “We got a VP of marketing that just isn’t working. We’re going to open a job search soon.” And like they’re still there and they’re already talking to you. Or is it right after? Or is it sometimes, “We’ve been trying to do it on our own for a month. We’re not getting anywhere, then come help us out.” When do they generally reach out to you?
(11:08-12:07) BF: We get the full range. Another big question. We get the companies and the people that are really prepared. It’s a newly created role. And when they’re ready to kick it off, they come to us first thing. We get the other companies that have been trying to do it on their own for some time. And they throw their hands up and say, “Look, we need help.” We encourage companies to try and avoid what we call “The Post and Pray Method.” Just put it out there and they expect that all these amazing people are going to come flock to them. Now sometimes that works and if you can get a good person that way, by all means. But we find most of the time you have to proactively go after people that are engaged in their current employment. If somebody’s busy working fifty hours a week being successful in the role, they’re probably not spending their other time seeing whether other opportunities are out there no matter how great your company is. It usually takes somebody to proactively tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, what about this?” for them to consider something else.
(12:07-12:29) CG: And that’s interesting. So what’s your… Without giving away your secret sauce, what are some ways that you can get somebody that isn’t looking for a new position? They’re successful in their current role. And often like you said, these are the most desirable people to get. What are some tactics that you might use to get somebody on the phone that actually listen to a new opportunity?
(12:29-13:03) BF: It’s a great question. My personal approach is just to be honest and sincere. I feel like, if your heart’s in the right place and you’re really trying to help people out, then the reason you’re speaking to them is because you truly believe that this could be a better opportunity for them. And if it’s not, then you don’t want them to pursue. And so by building and starting off those relationships on a place of trust and good intentions, essentially, you get people that are actually willing to open up and listen to you. Maybe take a minute of their time to see if it really is a better opportunity.
(13:03– 13:37) CS: Another question. Do any properties that are… Because now it’s not just Nevada and Atlantic City. There’re casinos all over the country. And some maybe in a more desirable location than others. Do you find that the casinos that are in a place that not a lot of people would put at the top of their list of wanting to live, do they have to pay a premium to get top talent versus somebody that’s on the beach or in somewhere, otherwise, very desirable?
(13:37– 14:25) BF: Yeah, there is… How do I describe it? There’s… No, if it’s… Rumor meant fact, essentially. But there always has been this understanding that what you’re describing is the case. That phenomenon, essentially, that properties in more remote locations have to pay more to get people to come out there, and help their property out. And I say, to a certain degree that’s true. I also think that even some of the more remote properties in places have changed a lot over the last twenty years. And a way becoming even less remote. It’s where they… Maybe now they have a Costco where they didn’t ten-fifteen years ago. And those sorts of things are changing. So it’s becoming a little bit easier. But yes, I think what you’re saying and explaining is true.
(14:25– 14:46) CS: And is there any instance, I’m sure there have been, where you’re like, “You know what, this just isn’t a role we want to fill.” Maybe it’s… Something wrong with the property management. And you’re like, ”I’m not getting a good vibe here.” or “The salary isn’t realistic.” What would be some cases where you’re like, ”I’m just not going to do it?”
(14:46– 15:30) BF: We rarely throw our hands up at a client. Because we really do want to help everybody. But there are those times. Simple view of the properties that if they’ve had a windmill effect in a particular position, they’ve had three people in that role in the past year, it’s going to make it really challenging for us to find somebody who, essentially, want to take that risk and be the fourth person in that role and say, “Well, I can do this.” That would really be the only reason. Or at least one of the few reasons that we may just, kindly decline working on a search. And that’s because we want to be able to succeed in the search. We don’t want to spin our wheels or waste our clients time to go to the market and say, “Look, we really just can’t find you the level of person you’re looking for for this role.”
(15:30– 15:43) CS: Wonderful. Well, this has been super interesting from my perspective. I hope you enjoyed it. Are there any… Is there any question that maybe I should have asked? Or anything else you want to talk about?
(15:43– 16:05) BF: We covered a good amount. Let’s see here. I’m curious to hear from your perspective if I can throw back the ball, back in your court. And your line of work in our space, what have you experienced? And how do you expect your line of work and your offers to change for the rest of 2020, if they are going to change?
(16:05– 17:58) CS: How we’ve been from our perspective, we mainly deal with the cruise lines. Our business is we recruit, I shouldn’t say… That’s kind of recruiting. (16:20) We find players, we qualify them, and we match them with the offers in the cruise lines. and casinos they’ve never been to before. Right now with the situation, there is a lot of inventory with the cruise lines especially in late 2020. The offers have been especially aggressive. We’ve been able to book more players now than we ever have before. We only get commission when the ships are sailing. So right now, it’s lean times because we’re not… There’s no ship sailing so there’s no commissions being generated. But Q4 and Q1 2021 are going to be very strong. The question is, “Will players play as much?” I think that without a doubt the bankrolls are going to be smaller. But from a number of volume perspective, it’s looking very strong. What’s interesting is with the cruise lines, if they have sailings, they have a lot of availability. They don’t necessarily want to drop the price like you would expect in a supply and demand economy, where they start out of two thousand, and will keep dropping until they fill up all the cabins. They don’t want to do that, because the people that paid two thousand will get pissed. And they’ll call their travel agent, they’ll cancel and then rebook. So the cruise lines end up putting a lot of inventory through the casino because there’s… The price is hidden, right? Just tell us like… It could be a case where it’s like, “Listen, if they have a pulse and they’ve never gambled just put them in the room.” In some ways, it’s been good for us. But obviously, not getting commissions for three-four months is rough from a business perspective. But we’ve been able to keep our team together which is good.
(17:58– 18:13) BF: And that’s what you got to do firstly. We’ve been… Not only my firm, but myself have been through this enough times to know that you’re going to come back stronger. You’re going to get that next quarter wave and come back if you can just hang through this rough patch.
(18:13– 18:26) CS: So are you getting hit up a lot with folks on LinkedIn asking… I mean, are you feeling it more? You’re getting a lot more demands from candidates or inbound inquiries?
(18:26– 19:06) BF: Yes. And not only do we track our own inbox, our own newsletter blog activity. LinkedIn shows you, essentially, your rates. And yeah, we’ve seen a spike and it’s interesting to see it changed. Ultimately, I would say in the first week or two, everybody seemed to run to LinkedIn. Even the people that aren’t normally on LinkedIn ran to it to… Wanted to know what was going on. That was a resource. And then I think people got over that initial wave and it subsided. It’s kind of come and gone. We we’re always on all those platforms because it’s our day-to-day. But yeah, there have definitely been spikes.
(19:06– 19:23) CS: That’s so interesting. One more question. How crowded is your space? Is there a lot of competition with regards to what you do? Or is it kind of, you guys and maybe a couple other people? What’s the industry like?
(19:23– 20:07) BF: I think there’s an appropriate amount for how big our industry is. But the folks that are in that seem to be doing it for a while, I think we’re all pretty familiar with each other well or from a distance. I can name a couple people off the top of my head. I hope that our name would come up if you ask somebody else. But that’s another thing I like about the casino industry. Is that it’s big, its nationwide, but it’s also small enough to where if you’re in it long enough you really get to know the people. As opposed to some of the larger industries that we work in. I could go my entire life recruiting in food or hotel and I’m just never going to meet everybody. There you have it.
(20:07-20:17) CS: That’s a great point. It really is. It’s a small world, especially when you get up to that VP, SVP level. There are not a lot of people in there. They tend to move around.
(20:17– 20:19) BF: Yeah, that’s right.
(20:19-20:24) CS: Well Ben, this has been fascinating. If somebody wants to get a hold of you, what’s the best way to do so?
(2:41-20:45) CS: Wonderful! Thank you so much, Ben. I really appreciate it and let’s do it again sometime.
(20:45-20:51) BF: Yeah, please do. Thanks Craig.