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Singleton touts diversity for Beau Rivage, Jobs for Mississippi Grads

Maurice Singleton has done a lot of different things in his career after graduating from Bay High School in Bay St. Louis in 1971 and then working his way through college to graduate with a degree in journalism from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in 1979.

Singleton taught English as a second language for several years before graduating, and then was an admissions counselorrecruiter with USM through 1984. After that, he worked for many years in the pharmaceutical sales industry, being promoted by E.R. Squibb Pharmaceutical Company to resource manager — a job that entailed building relationships and solving problems — for a five-state area, and then being promoted to Los Angeles district manager for the company

“It was a gratifying job, but it required a lot of time,” Singleton says. “Having three young boys in youth sports, I wanted more time for my family, so we moved home to Bay St. Louis in 1994. I sold advertising for WLOX television for a couple of years, and then I published my own magazine for five years, Mississippi Star. That was a very demanding job. Even in my dreams, I was dreaming about what I had to do the next day.”

While the magazine was very well received in the southern part of the state, Singleton found it extremely time consuming to sell advertising, write stories, take photographs and do the many other different jobs required to keep the magazine afloat.

“It was the toughest job I ever worked for the least amount of pay,” he says. “I just couldn’t generate enough revenue out of it. It was difficult to find enough advertisers to support it on a monthly basis.”

After the first three years of the magazine, he also did public relations for the Pass Christian schools. His work included a monthly newsletter circulated in the local community to parents and business leaders, and also regular weekly press releases to area media outlets. Singleton had just signed a contract to be full-time public relations specialist and teacher at the school district when he got a call about a job opening as director of diversity for the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi.

“The superintendent of education says, ‘I will certainly understand if you want to consider it and accept it’,” Singleton says. “That was in 2001, seven years ago.”

Since then, it has been Singleton’s job to oversee programs designed to create a work environment where all employees feel valued. The programs include training for all new employees and diversity training for supervisors. Starting in April 2007, Beau Rivage started Diversity Champion Training, which had already been very big at the Las Vegas properties owned by parent company MGM Mirage.

“All of our executives from Beau Rivage and Gold Strike went through three full days of intensive training where people are made uncomfortable about their belief systems about diversity,” Singleton says. “These are introspective programs that help you look at where you really are, not where you said you were, as regards to how you accept people who are different than you. The exercises are geared to take a tough, in-depth look at yourself in front of your peers. The exercises are very intense. They ask very tough questions. Some are very uncomfortable, but the executives held in there for three days and did what they needed to grow. The program has been the beginning of something very powerful.”

The training started with the company’s top executives, and now has grown to encompass 94 “Diversity Champions” on the Beau Rivage property with a couple more diversity training exercises planned for 2008.

“The most important benefit is our top-level executives experienced the training first, and now it has filtered to the next level of directors so everyone understands the importance of including everybody in the process of making our company better,” Singleton says. “We all want to do the right thing and treat all our customers as important and valuable to us. This exercise makes you focus on the value in everyone as a customer, and the value of everyone as an employee. If employees have something to say, they can do it without being reprimanded by their boss. It sounds good to say we value everyone, but when you really do it, people enjoy their jobs more.”

Internally, Beau Rivage practices what it preaches by celebrating different cultures at its property in a variety of different ways, such as cultural displays and food representation in the employee dining room.

Beau Rivage also has programs to help with advancement of women and minorities in the company. All executives have programs to make sure everyone is aware of positions open allowing promotion opportunities, and awareness of ways employees can develop themselves to become available for promotions at the next level.

Singleton’s job also includes community outreach such a presentations to local schools and talking to different community groups. That includes working with a dropout-prevention program, Jobs for Mississippi’s Graduates (JMG). He recently received the Jobs for America’s Graduates National “Above and Beyond” Award. The award was presented to Singleton for his “extraordinary leadership contributions” to the program helping high-risk young people to succeed in school as well as in pursuit of a career and/or postsecondary education.

Sixty schools in Mississippi are involved in the program. As a member of the board in Mississippi, Singleton has worked to help find funding for the program through donations and other sources. He believes that reducing the 50% dropout rate in Mississippi is a goal vital to the success of Mississippi residents and businesses in the state.

“When Beau Rivage arrived to build a casino resort in Biloxi, we said we’re going to be a good community partner, and this is one of reasons I got involved in the Jobs for Mississippi Graduates,” Singleton says. “It is an outstanding program, and the program does work. There is a 94% graduation rate for at-risk students who become involved in the JMG program.”

The program has an employee at every school affiliate program who takes the kids, mentors them, guides them, teaches them job skills and encourages them through the graduation process. There is also help with job placement.

“They pay close attention to the student to provide something the student may not be getting at home,” Singleton says. “Encouragement is a big component of that. They are job specialists. They include retired teachers or just someone with an interest in helping young people develop. They help students identify their strengths and help put them on a course to graduate so they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of students get frustrated and disgusted, and sometimes want to quit. A little guidance goes a long ways in getting that student on track.”

Singleton is also vice president of the board of directors for the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which is planning to open in 2010.

“It is wonderful group of people with a great museum, which is going to be incredible for the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he says. “It is a great community-building project. It will be a beautiful facility. The plan is incredible. To have a Frank Geary-designed museum in our area is remarkable.”

Singleton, who is married to Vonretta Singleton, has three children — the youngest of whom is a senior at USM — and three grandchildren.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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