Alex Yemenidjian (b Dec. 27, 1955). Grandparent emigrated from Armenia to Argentina, where Alex was born. Family immigrated to the USA when he was a teenager. Has been called Kirk Kerkorian's alter ego. Frequent tennis partner of Kerkorian.
New Tropicana co-owner and chief executive Alex Yemenidjian is still getting himself and his team acclimated to their new surroundings.
A former top executive at MGM Grand Inc., Yemenidjian is working 15-hour days trying to revitalize one of the Strip's remaining historic properties, which he acquired July 1.
Without the luxury of being able to tear the property down in the current economic environment, Yemenidjian and his partners, Canadian private equity firm Onex Corp.., are launching a nearly $100 million plan to renovate the 52-year-old property.
Source: THE STRIP: Historic Tropicana poised for pricey renovation
Q&A with Alex Yemenidjian, one of the new owners of the Tropicana
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Las Vegas, NV) August 16, 2009
BY ARNOLD M. KNIGHTLY, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
Alex Yemenidjian was named Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. in April 1999, a position he resigned from on June 8, 2005 " to pursue other opportunities".
He received a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting from California State University, Northridge in 1977, and a master's degree in business taxation from the University of Southern California in 1982.
After heading his own accounting firm for eight years, Yemenidjian took an executive position at the holding company of his role model, Kirk Kerkorian. From there, he became chief financial officer, then president of casino company MGM Grand. In 1999, he was appointed head of MGM, the movie studio that Kerkorian controls.
Yemenidjian has been Kerkorian's go-to guy since the two were first introduced by a mutual friend in 1988. After leaving his CPA practice to work for Kerkorian's holding company, Tracinda Corp., Yemenidjian led his boss's unsuccessful hostile bid to buy Chrysler Motors in 1995. Five years later, after helping overhaul the MGM Grand, he assisted Kerkorian in putting together a $6.4 billion merger with rival Mirage Resorts.
Yemenidjian and Kerkorian aren't just close associates; they're more like father and son. Both are of Armenian descent, they talk every day, and most weekends they play tennis at Kerkorian's sprawling estate in Coldwater Canyon, not far from Beverly Hills.
He's married to his high school sweetheart and they have two children. He designs his own shirts, known for their wide collars.
Film star Antonio Banderas, child advocate Cheryl Saban, and MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian joined forces to chair “Noche de Niños” (“Children’s Night”) in fall 2004, which was a star-studded benefit for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles.
Alex Yemenidjian has been listed in Forbes' America's Most Powerful People.
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M A R S H A L L M A G A Z I N E — S P R I N G 2 0 0 4 Alex Yemenidjian, MBT ’83 Chairman and CEO Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Century City, California MICHELE A. H. SMITH Page 2 31
U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H E R N C A L I F O R N I A A L E X Y E M E N I D J I A N
Page 1 30 A L U M N I P R O F I L E S A Balance of Art and Commerce Details of Alex Yemenidjian’s life are pieced together through quiet, incisive conversation. Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina (his grandparents had migrated there from Armenia), he attended private Armenian schools until his parents moved to Boston in 1968. Soon after their arrival,his father learned the only private Armen- ian high school in the U.S. was in Encino, California; within 24 hours they boarded a TWA flight and moved to California. Yemenidjian’s high school goal was to become an architect, but he soon felt that he lacked talent which led him to accounting. He graduated from Cal-State Northridge with a degree in business administration and an emphasis in accounting. Although he graduated with top grades,he only received one offer from the Big 8’s, Peat Marwick (now KPMG), which overlooked his long hair, European clothes and accent. As Yemenidjian puts it,“The world has changed since 1972.” In 1980 he started his own firm and then merged to form Parks, Palmer, Turner and Yemenidjian. Listening to Yemenidjian, one discovers he is analytical, earning his CPA first, then attending USC for his MBT to add to his knowl- edge; persistent, he worked during the day and took classes at night; creative, he designs his own clothes and the Mediterranean interior design of MGM’s new offices; athletic, he plays tennis every weekend. He is also an edu- cator, after receiving his MBT he taught in the same program for three semesters (until business responsibilities forced him to stop). And a risk-taker, January 2, 1990, he resigned as managing partner of a successful business firm to take on a six-month proj- ect with Kirk Kerkorian, his men- tor and friend. Those six months evolved from selling MGM, to total involvement in all of Kerkori- an’s boards, to buying and selling major business holdings, to help- ing develop the new MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, to his current position as Chairman and CEO of MGM Studios. Oh, and he has been married for 26 years to his junior-high school sweetheart; together they have a daughter who just graduated from USC and a younger son. But the details of his life are not where he is focused; he prefers the topic of managing creative industries.The discussion quickly reveals how the analytical and the creative sides of Alex Yemenidjian coalesce.
“This is a fascinating business—a very delicate balance of art and commerce. On the one hand you have to make sure that you nurture the creative process, and on the other hand you have to make sure that there is a financial discipline in place. There’s a sweet spot and every day you have to make sure you stay within it, that you don’t let the creative side totally control the business, because then the inmates are running the asylum; yet you can’t allow the accountants to take over because then you would never produce something of creative quality.”
In determining where the sweet spot is, Yemenidjian says it is very important to ask the right questions: “Who is the audi- ence? Who is going to care enough to go to see this picture? What are the challenges in production? Can you really pull this off? Is it going to play in the heartland? Is it going to play in the major cities? Is it going to play foreign? Even before you decide to go forward, you need to know how you are going to market the film. There are many considerations that go into making a decision, and then there’s the pure creative aspect of it. What’s different? What’s fresh? It’s not a science, it’s an art. And you quickly realize you’re not always going to be right. But when you juxtapose a financial discipline, then you create a rational busi- ness which creates a good risk/reward profile, and both of those are very important elements.”
When asked his criteria for determining the financial side of movie-making, he replies that in making pictures the concept is the star, and the budget has to be reasonable. “We finance so that no one picture can have a devastating effect on the eco- nomics of the company. On certain pictures we sell some or all foreign rights, or we do a partnership with another studio, and on many pictures we keep worldwide rights.”
Their best economic profile is a picture that costs less than $25 million and appeals to an audience that is less than 25 years old.“Not all of our pictures are in that category. Our last James Bond picture cost $125 million.We produce pictures of all sizes, but it’s very important to understand what the financial disci- pline is going to be for a particular picture before you make the commitment. If a movie has to win the Academy Award to make sense, we won’t make it. We make a good movie that we think makes a lot of sense that might win the Academy Award.” MGM has two divisions: the MGM label is for mainstream wide release pictures; and United Artists, a specialty film label which produces more artistic pictures with a lower budget. “More often than not art overrides economics in those pictures. We use it to create relationships with new artists, new directors and new producers with talent. Many times, what begins as a labor of love ends up being critically acclaimed and sometimes also financially rewarding.” MGM also produces movies that have a very definite social conscience and sometimes movies with a positive message, even though it might be in a commer- cial film such as Legally Blonde, “which was about empower- ment, believing in yourself, speaking your voice.” “It is very important to trust your instincts, probably more so in the entertainment business.And you have to trust the peo- ple responsible for making it happen.” He says that the biggest challenge in managing a creative industry is twofold. “When you are managing creative people oftentimes there is no right answer, and that’s extremely chal- lenging because you are trying to decide today what people want to see two years from now. The other big challenge is that we are in a fiercely competitive environment where not only what we do has to be right, we have to live with what our com- petitors do.”Yemenidjian’s business philosophy is, “We’re going to treat everyone the same way that we would want to be treat- ed if we were in their shoes. In the short run you might get hurt because people don’t reciprocate, but in the long run it’s the right way to do business.”
Asked how he defines success, Yemenidjian does not point down the hall to the accumulated Oscars or other awards over MGM’s 80-year history. “Number one is having a great work ethic, there is just no substitute for hard work. Shortcuts almost never work, and working very, very hard, is the foundation for success. Second, it’s very important to treat everyone else with respect. There is a misconception that people will respect you because you have a big title or because you have money, and in reality it doesn’t work that way. People respect you if you respect them back. My favorite saying is ‘be nice to everybody on the way up because you are going to be seeing them again on the way down.’ And finally, if somebody asks what I want to be graded on, it’s how I raised the next generation, not on how much money I’ve accumulated or how many titles I have.” Yemenidjian concludes with, “It’s a fiercely competitive environment out there and good enough is not good enough anymore. All professionals are divided into three groups: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that wonder what happened. Early on in your career you have to decide which group you want to be in.”
“There’s a sweet spot and every day you have to make sure you stay within it, that you don’t let the creative side totally control the business, because then the inmates are running the asylum; yet you can’t allow the accountants to take over because then you would never produce something of creative quality.”