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Isle of Capri Corporation grows with Hinkley as president

BILOXI- The Isle of Capri Corporation is a growing gaming company with headquarters on Popps Ferry Road in Biloxi. From that command post, president-for-less-than-a-year Tim Hinkley directs 16 casinos and more than 11,000 employees. He says having corporate offices here works well for the Isle and the casino is happy to be here. In fact, the Isle is expanding its corporate facilities.

When Hinkley took the reins as president last July, the transition was a smooth one, partly because he knew the company and the company knew him. He has been with the Isle of Capri since its early days, opening the Biloxi Isle, the Gulf Coast`s first casino, as general manager in 1992, a position he held for five years. In 1997, he was promoted to senior vice president of operations and moved to the corporate office.

He says being president is different because now he must look at everything – day-to-day operations, marketing and financing – more globally.

“I knew the company and the culture and I knew there would be severe taxes on my time,” he said. “My day is structured more differently and the expectations are different. I spent a lot of time with Jack Gallaway when he was president and that helped prepare me.”

Hinkley says as president he spends more time with the Isle`s founder and chairman of the board, Bernard Goldstein. On a lighter note, he says being president also means he gets any seat he wants in meetings and people step aside for him to go through doors. Plus, he talks to reporters a lot more.

“It`s funny little things like that,” he said, “but working with the people in this capacity has really been the most rewarding.”

The biggest change of assuming the presidency has been leadership in the development needs of the company. On Hinkley`s brief watch, the Isle of Capri has moved from 12 casinos in five states and one racetrack in Florida to being a global gaming company. There are now 16 casinos, including one in the Bahamas that opened in December and one in England.

Last fall, the Isle became the first U.S. gaming company to get a license in the U.K. The company owns a casino near Dudley, England, just outside Birmingham, in partnership with a British company and plans to build additional ones in England if Parliament deregulates the country`s strict laws governing gambling.

Additionally, the Isle is currently trying to get licensed in St. Louis.

“We will always take a look at growth opportunities and take them as they come along,” Hinkley said. “Some come along that we turn down. It must be the right opportunity for us.”

He says he`s more concerned with how the company operates, getting a good return and taking care of the customers and employees than he is with having a certain number of casinos.

“I’m concentrating on how we take this company to the next level,” he said. “Looking at development needs has been the biggest change for me as president. We look at new jurisdictions and will continue to do that.”

A graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management, Hinkley began his career in restaurant management. A position with cruise dining led to a job in riverboat gaming for the Steamboat Development Company in Iowa.

He signed on with the Isle of Capri when the small company was granted a license to operate casinos in Mississippi. At that time the corporation had four casinos in Iowa. Hinkley recalls the hot, humid August day when a cramped riverboat from Iowa, now docked in the Mississippi Sound, opened its doors to staggering crowds and ushered in a new chapter of history on the Gulf Coast.

“At 10 o’clock that morning, if a reporter had asked me how many casinos I thought there would be on the Gulf Coast, I would have said three or four,” he said. “By that night, after watching the volume of people trying to get in, I would have upped my estimate to six or eight casinos. I never thought there would be 12 casinos here.”

Hinkley is positive about the future of gaming on the Coast. “This market has all the physical and natural attributes to grow,” he said.

“It has a good location sitting in the corridor between New Orleans and Mobile, good infrastructure that`s getting better, warm weather, good community support, good golf and restaurants.”

He thinks the state and communities, as well as the gaming industry, did a creditable job of working with laws and integrating the new industry into the state.

He sees the future for the Isle of Capri Corporation in an equally upbeat way, saying, “It`s a solid business that`s well managed.”

Hinkley says his management practices include building the right team, setting clear goals, clarifying and communicating expectations and avoiding the urge to micromanage.

The Ocean Springs resident says he learned a lesson in management early in his career. As the young manager of a restaurant, he experienced an alarming turnover in employees. Needing help one night, he had to call in the reserves, his eight-month pregnant wife, Dawn. He gave her a choice of mopping floors or washing dishes.

“I thought I better figure out this management thing right then,” he said. “I expect everyone to work but I want them to enjoy it. That`s what sustains us.”

Noting that he is competitive by nature, Hinkley says he always wants to do better than the year before and that has played a role in his management style with the Isle of Capri. He says he often thinks outside the box to keep things challenging and interesting.

“We’re not dealing with widgets. Human beings are all unique,” he said. “I believe in providing lots of employee training to better serve our customers. The customers have a choice and we want to give them a reason to not go next door.”

Since he arrived on the Gulf Coast, Hinkley has been involved with numerous community organizations.

“I got involved because it was the thing to do and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought it very, very important to show that we would be a member of the community to give something back.”

He has held leadership positions with the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, YMCA, United Way of South Mississippi, Boys and Girls Club, Leadership Gulf Coast, Mississippi Gulf Coast Economic Development Council and Coast 21.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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