Movie Inspired Career in Finance

Rick Arpin, Corporate Controller & SVP, MGM Resorts International

Rick Arpin says "Wall Street," Oliver Stone's 1987 movie, led to his career in finance. "When I was in high school, I saw the movie "Wall Street," and I thought I would be an investment banker," says Arpin, now corporate controller for MGM Resorts International. "But in college, I had an accounting instructor who inspired me to look into accounting. I ended up with a dual major in finance and accounting. And from there, the clearest career path was through public accounting, so I became a CPA and went on to work at Arthur Andersen."

After a stint at Arthur Andersen, Arpin joined MGM Resorts in 2002. He is responsible for external reporting and accounting policies at the $5.9 billion gaming company and also oversees more than 200 employees in its finance shared services center. Arpin, 38, has participated on the teams for deals such as MGM Resorts' $8 billion acquisition of Mandalay Resort Group and its $750 million sale of Treasure Island. He has a B.S. in accounting and finance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Derrek Gafford

What's been your biggest challenge?
The recession. I think anyone who works in any industry affected by the events of the past two years--which is most of us--would have to say that it was getting through the financial crisis beginning in late '08. [MGM] faced significant financial challenges: we were trying to build a large resort here in Las Vegas, CityCenter, which faced challenges just getting constructed. So a big part of the corporate finance team's effort was raising the financing to see that through. We were able to make some financial magic and raise funds when we needed to, and get our lenders to cooperate with us and survive that period.

Can you tell me a little about this financial magic?
We raised $3 billion in the capital markets last year and another $3 billion this year. In some cases, we were able to extend debt maturities and in other cases, we issued equity to improve the overall health of the company so that it wasn't such a leveraged entity. It's still probably more leveraged than we want to be, but moving in the right direction.

What has been your most rewarding project so far?

In terms of magnitude and impact, getting the financing in place for the Las Vegas CityCenter project has been the biggest. It felt like all 60,000 employees in the company were rooting for us and we felt an obligation to get to the finish [line].

What do you like best about your job?
The best part of being in finance is the ability to see so much of what an enterprise does. And the thing about finance over the past 10 years is that we've become front and center for the business enterprise. First it was the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and now it's the recession. It's clear just how important finance is to the overall enterprise.

And at MGM, that's even more the case: our CEO, Jim Murren, used to be our CFO. He believes in the finance team being a really strong team. It's also a very lean group so each of us gets to see lots of things. We're not specialists; we're really a lot more generalists.

I was struck by your involvement in corporate finance--it's not an area that I usually associate with the controller.
Yes, that's the beauty of MGM. Both my direct report above me--the chief accounting officer--and I have been involved in mergers and acquisitions, dispositions, lots of capital markets transactions. So it's been great for us.

How did you get on the career fast track?
It all starts with the career path out of college, public accounting. It's by definition a fast career path. At a public accounting firm, as with law firms or investment banking, people are being evaluated and the good ones are being moved forward.

And since I've been here at MGM, my growth has been the result of the opportunities I've been given to be involved in so many different areas. Some folks in a public company in a corporate finance area wouldn't raise $3 billion in capital in 10 years--and we've done it in each of the past two years.

Did you have a mentor? If so, how important was that?
I've had several at different stages in my career. One of the beauties of public accounting is that there are many opportunities for mentorship. My current supervisor is a mentor. And our CEO, Mr. Murren, has been incredibly supportive. He's given me opportunities and I have never felt fearful because I knew he had my back.

What advice would you give newbies starting out in treasury and finance now?
I'll take a step back: When you're in college, I suggest people take one or two extra accounting classes. It provides a foundation of a lot of what we do in finance and business. And then once you're in a specific industry, just be an absolute sponge. There's a lot of what we do that can only be learned through experience. But just try and learn everything you can through those individual experiences.

What finance area now offers the most opportunity?
The area of systems in finance and accounting. If you can speak those languages, it's really important. I think that the area of treasury has been important over the last few years and my guess is that it will continue to be important for a long time after. It helps to pay bills later and collect them sooner.

What skills are the most sought after now?
Systems skills--there's not enough supply to fill the demand in terms of people. Analytical skills are critical these days because decision-making has to be razor sharp. And a little creativity helps too these days. Because we're going through times that we've never seen before, and so the playbook has to go right out the window.

What skills of your own would you like to improve?
About a year ago, I was assigned to head our internal finance shared service center, which is about 200 folks. Obviously in my past jobs, I was dealing with a lot smaller teams. Right now, I have some work to do to be that leader who inspires people, who motivates them, and who gets people to buy in to my vision.

What are your goals in the next 2 years? The next 5 years?
For the next 2 years, I'd like to see a growing improvement in my ability to lead the shared services group. Five years: I love being at MGM. For me, my ultimate goal is to one day be the CFO of this company. And from there, who knows.

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