It’s a long way from branding cattle and tending sheep on an Idaho farm to running the world’s largest hotel and casino. But to Larry J. Woolf, chairman and chief executive officer of MGM Grand Hotel Inc., the journey was all but predestined. “I can’t imaging anything more fascinating,” he says today. “My whole life, since I was a teenager, had been geared to the gaming business.”
It all started with a Basque shepherd who worked on Woolf’s family’s farm. “He spent all year out tending the sheep. Then when he came in for them to be sheared, he’d take his year’s wages and spend them in Reno. He’d come back and tell me about the city, and I thought that it was very exciting.”
After serving in the Army, Woolf moved to Nevada, starting as a change boy. He spent 11 years at Harrah’s Tahoe and another 11 at Caesars Atlantic City Hotel & Casino and Tahoe Resort, serving as senior VP of operations in Atlantic City and president and chief operating officer in Lake Tahoe before moving to Las Vegas to serve as president and CEO of the MGM Desert Inn from February-December 1991. He joined MGM Grand Hotel Inc. in June 1990.
“My whole career had taken me to a level where my next move should be major,” he says, “and I wanted to be head of the biggest, most fantastic, most ungodly place that’s ever been built in the gaming industry.”
A vegetarian of 20 years whose cultural heroes include peace activists Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi, Woolf has created many innovations in the resort/casino industry. Among them are mandatory drug screening of new employees; the availability of inexpensive medical care, educational facilities and drug, gambling and alcohol counseling for staff; and the implementation of ecology-friendly standards. “I’m in a position where I can effect some long-term meaning other than financial,” he explains, adding that he receives the full support of Kirk Kerkorian, Robert Maxey and other MGM Grand management in his efforts.