Jim Murren, MGM Mirage’s new top executive, is ready for battle.
To no one’s surprise, the casino giant’s board of directors on Tuesday elected Murren, current president and chief operating officer, to the post of chairman and chief executive officer five days after his predecessor’s resignation announcement.
Murren was tapped for the posts by outgoing Chairman and CEO Terry Lanni on Thursday, when Lanni announced he was leaving the company after 13 years. Lanni will remain as a company director and join MGM Mirage’s Diversity Committee.
The 47-year-old Murren, who takes over Dec. 1, said the company is well-equipped to face the challenges of the worldwide recession.
"We’re in a battle as a consumer-oriented company," said Murren, who has seen his company’s income decline 58.9 percent in the first nine months of 2008. "And I do believe we have the best-trained, best-equipped troops to win the battle."
"I understand the issues at hand," Murren said. "I understand the need to provide as much financial flexibility as possible. I am very comfortable operating in that environment."
Kirk Kerkorian, the billionaire investor who holds a majority stake in MGM Mirage, praised Murren’s selection to head the company.
"Jim is a remarkable and multifaceted leader in whom I have the utmost confidence," Kerkorian said in a statement.
Murren, who will keep the titles of president and COO, said the challenges facing the company when he takes over include delivering the $9.1 billion CityCenter next year, a project he is credited with envisioning.
Other challenges facing the company, Murren said, will be attracting customers and maximizing cash flow during the current global recession.
Murren joined MGM Grand Inc. in 1998 as chief financial officer after spending 14 years on Wall Street as an equity analyst and managing director at Deutsche Bank.
Murren said his Wall Street background and his 10 years with MGM Mirage will equip him "well to face the challenges we have."
Murren was named company president in 1999, before the company’s buyout of Mirage Resorts.
Murren resigned his CFO duties last year to take on the role of COO, overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company’s hotel and casino properties.
Lanni, 65, announced his retirement Thursday, saying the challenges facing the company "are best addressed by a younger person."
Lanni’s departure, however, has been marred by questions surrounding his academic credentials.
Some company materials through the years have stated Lanni had a master’s of business administration in finance from the University of Southern California although the university has said Lanni never earned an MBA at the school.
Murren said the company has "no concern" about having Lanni continue to service on the board.
"We are proud to have Terry as part of our board and very much desire that to be a long-term tenure," Murren said.
He described Lanni as the "most ethical, honest and forthright and careful person" he knows.
However, if Lanni included false information about his education in any jurisdiction where MGM Mirage operates, those regulators could deny him a seat on MGM Mirage’s board.
"We have no reason to believe," Murren said, "that there is any confusion or lack of clarity between Terry and any of the gaming bodies around the world."
A pair of jurisdictions on Tuesday, however, indicated they are looking into the question of Lanni’s educational background.
Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, where MGM Mirage co-owns the Borgata in Atlantic City, said regulators were "looking into the situation."
Aseltine, however, declined to discuss details of an investigation or possible penalties that could follow if false information was provided on any gaming applications.
Eric Bush, public affairs director for the Michigan Gaming Control Board, which oversees the MGM Grand Detroit, said if any applicant provides information that may not be truthful, it would come under review.
Mississippi regulators, where the company is involved with two casinos, did not return a call on Tuesday.
Nevada gaming regulators, where MGM Mirage operates 13 casinos, did not return inquiries Monday or Tuesday asking if regulators are looking to see if Lanni falsely reported his education to the state agency.
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at email@example.com or 702-477-3893. The Associated Press contributed to this report.CASINO PLANNED FOR VIETNAM MGM Mirage’s newest joint venture agreement will put a Las Vegas-style casino in Vietnam. The company said Tuesday it was working with Asian Coast Development to place an MGM Grand-branded hotel-casino as part of a $4.2 billion complex. The facility will be part of Asian Coast’s Ho Tram Strip resort complex and include 1,100 rooms, a gaming and entertainment component, meeting space, retail and restaurants. The MGM Grand Ho Tram is targeted to open in 2011. Asian Coast Development Ltd. will own and finance the project; MGM Mirage will provide development assistance, brand equity and operate the resort upon completion. The Ho Tram Strip is in the Ba Ria Vung Tau Province of southwest Vietnam, 80 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as Saigon during the Vietnam War. The announcement comes the day after newly elected MGM Mirage Chief Executive Jim Murren told an investment conference the company was looking at selling several of its assets to improve liquidity. Murren, who was tapped Tuesday as chairman and chief executive officer, said the company could sell some of its undeveloped land on the Strip and elsewhere, which could raise about $300 million. "We have an awful lot of land on the Strip, in the county and in the state," Murren said. "Land prices may be down, but in many cases they are still far above what we have on our books." HOWARD STUTZ / REVIEW-JOURNAL