The Most Influential Person I worked With

I studied power and leadership for 35-plus years. I am still fascinated by what this means to the world, here in our own country, all people’s organizations, and to the typical family. Power is ubiquitous and almost impossible to avoid. In fact, it may be us that is the power, and being ignorant of this becomes one of the most critical conditions between people who are significant to each other.

I admit to my ignorance of power when I had the power. Ignorance is no excuse. I had power over my staff and children, and not until I began to work with professionals and their staff issues did I see this as me and the person I was. Only then did I have the epiphany that the leader (their power) is what created the picture and life within their organizations. And in their own families.

I had no choice but to become a student of power. Desperate to understand, I read history, political essays, and philosophies from pre-Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and well into the 20th Century. Interesting that my most significant resources were the Old & New Testaments. Power and leadership issues are found throughout the Bible. Not pleasant, but enlightening.

I made the “big” decision that I would only work with professionals and entrepreneurs who committed themselves to become students with their staff and participating as one of the staff. Additionally, they had to accept that I was the power during a workshop, and they reclaimed their power only after the workshop was over. When this happened, the organization began to prosper, problem-solve, and grow. And me too.

I am about to write the story of the most influential person I have ever worked with. He, my student, I, his. We both grew. 
He was small in stature but massive in presence. He was the president and the power within the hotel he ran and maybe all of Las Vegas. And maybe not, and maybe yes, if he pointed his finger at a wall and demanded it part, it would. His power and influence covered all of Las Vegas, and he was the handpicked man to build and operate the International Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, by the “Kerkorian Corporation” one of the richest in the world at that time in the mid- 60s. The hotel was one of the costliest at that time.

The president picked the best executives and casino people that Las Vegas had to offer. In their executive board meetings, they also discussed building a children’s program within the hotel for the people they would be wooing for their guests. they would be some of the world’s wealthiest people. When they traveled, most traveled with their children and an entourage to care for them. So, the program had to be the best possible that money could create.

They approached Cal Berkley and NY University. Their graduate programs offered recreation degrees. The casino people wanted the best possible programs and facilities for children so their parents could be at the gambling tables for as long and as often as possible without concern for their children and safety. The board gave considerable time to this issue.

One of the executives had his child in one of our programs we ran in Las Vegas and thought it the finest anywhere. He suggested in a meeting that the board and the president invite me and throw the problem at me for feedback. Not for me to build or run anything, but for information.

I was the first to speak, and I asked about their clientele. I listened and then took over the meeting, telling them that the children they wanted to entertain had everything. They have their own pools, tennis courts, maybe Arabian horses, and anything they could ask for and want. But what they did not likely have were honest relationships. I explained in detail what I meant, and the president asked that I write a brief on the subject and bring it to them. The meeting was over.

I wrote a 3-page description of what I meant and titled the paper “Instant Involvement.” I made copies for all and presented the paper a week later. In essence, I wrote that a child (most any age) would be connected to one young adult staff member, and they would generate dialogue with the child or young person. Finding out what “they” would like to do and simultaneously offering a wide range of activities from gymnastics to arts and crafts. If it was an idea, it usually became a reality.

Once an activity was picked, the two would get involved. As soon as the visitor was in the activity, the “connection person” would disconnect, but with the assurance that they could be reconnected anytime. And this rarely happened.

The president said, “you are either a madman or a genius, and I am willing to hire you to find out.” Lenette was tasked with designing the 10,000-square-foot indoor facility and a vast playground. And this becomes another serendipitous story. I immediately interviewed and employed 50 college students, and we began to train them all. This was almost a year before the Hotel opened with “Elvis” in the showroom.

As the Youth Hotel gained a reputation for its remarkable success with children, hotels throughout the strip called, asking to have their VIP casino players’ children be allowed to participate. The International Hotel agreed, but with the understanding that the parents gamble at the International while their children were in our program. The success of the Youth Hotel brought the president of the Hotel to visit frequently with me.

Our success was his success, and he began to establish a relationship with me. Trust grew between us, and although we began our relationship with him doing most of the talking and I listening, our respect and regard for each other were planted and nurtured. As I learned from his personal secretary, he envisioned my, one day, being his replacement as president of the Resort. As others have before, I was being misread. I can’t be led by another or an organization.

In time I became his therapist. Every Saturday morning, he would come to my office, take off his shoes and be ready to share what was on his mind. In time and apparent trust, I began to ask questions about certain of his actions. He never failed to answer my questions or “need to know.”

About his power: Often, he would call for a meeting with all executives at Two AM in the morning, when all were fully dressed in suits and ties. I was always invited to be there and would go as an observer. He and they ran the Resort, and I ran the Youth Hotel. They talked about marketing, entertainment, conventions, and food. That night he brought up the expenditure of multimillions of dollars for marketing and advertising. He wanted feedback on what each thought of the programs planned. 

The president’s power and how he used it was something I had never come across before. Not only that, but I also never thought in terms of power. Even if I encountered it, I would not accept it, and either spoke out, reacted against it, or departed from it. I understood authority: my parents, older brothers and sister, the principal at school, my teachers, the playground director, and a few others. Beyond them, power repelled me even as a young kid.

It was either run and hide, in one form or another, or stand and fight, and I chose to fight. Having made this choice, I was fearless, and my reputation went before me. It was not power that drove me but my reactions against power. And I saw power not as being in the hands of leaders nurturing and doing good but as abusive and unnecessary.

I understood the president of the International Hotel. He had a huge responsibility over people and money, and I mean fantastic amounts of money. He was taking a big gamble when he accepted me and my thoughts, and that’s all they were. Nothing of this kind had ever been done before, and he decided to do it. So, his power, in this case, was amazingly well used. He gambled with us and won big.

What Lenette and I created added to his reputation as the best executive Las Vegas had to offer. He not only led the International Resort & Hotel to world fame, but all of Las Vegas benefited. Imagine Las Vegas, the most adult of adult towns, with the finest children’s program in the world. Lenette designed it, I staffed, trained, and led it, and the top executive supported it, having total faith in us. He became an incredible mentor to me, as I would to him. We both became entirely open to each other. Dialogue was our way. 

Power when used well—Is beautiful, a gift—How lucky when this.


Author: Sy Ogulnick

Sy Ogulnick received a BA from UCLA, Teacher’s Credential from Los Angeles Board of Education and completed phase I (Master’s portion) in a Doctor of Behavioral Science program at California Coast University. Sy leased and operated a summer day camp in LA. He and his wife then purchased virgin wilderness land in Northern CA, where they built and operated a coed summer camp. They moved to Las Vegas, NV, and purchased, built and operated a community children’s program for families staying in a major resort casino in Las Vegas. They have created programs for children nationwide that employed many people and in the process developed successful training programs for personnel. This led Sy to lecture on how to train staff and the creating of community within the workplace. Sy was then invited to speak at professional conferences on how best to hire and train employees, which led to his becoming a consultant in the art of improving relationships in a work environment and eventually to his epiphany that “Leaders are the primary problem and the answer to the personnel issues that arise in the workplace.” Sy has written numerous papers on the subject of interpersonal relationships, leadership and power. He has lectured throughout the United States, has been interviewed by the media and has appeared on many radio and TV talk shows

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