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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How Not Taking No for an Answer Can Lead to the Career of Your Dreams

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When Brandi Ellis got a job as a switchboard operator at Harrah’s in 1990, she was 20 years old and unsure where her career would take her. “I took a huge risk, left home, and showed up in Vegas,” she says.

But that roll of the dice was a lucky one: “Almost 27 years later, I’m with the same company. I didn’t have a plan or a dream job, but it has evolved to what I have today.”

Today, she is Senior Vice President of VIP Marketing for Caesars Entertainment, a role in which she oversees strategy to keep big spenders engaged nationwide. How’d she get there? Brandi credits her achievements to a natural curiosity, a willingness to work hard, and a determination to never take no for an answer.

Get the Job by Being Persistent

After she spent nine months answering phones and making room reservations, Brandi’s boss suggested that she should be interacting with customers. She landed at the hotel front desk, notching up promotions until she supervised the entire front-of-house team.

During that time, she kept seeing a cluster of people who stood out from the crowd. Well-dressed staff members, sometimes holding balloons or cell phones, laughed with customers and took them to boxing matches. Turns out, the people she eyed were hosts who take care of VIP customers. Brandi instantly wanted in and applied for the position.

She was turned down three times.

That didn’t stop her, though—she just came up with a new strategy. She had lunch with a couple of hosts, asked to shadow them, and offered to ease any of their frustrations on the hotel end.

Sure enough, she was eventually given a shot at the job. But she only worked as a host briefly, because she wanted to manage the host team and solve problems. She’s worked in VIP strategy ever since.

For many years, Brandi worked for Tom Jenkin, now the Global President of Caesars, who started his own career as a fry cook at Harrah’s. He promoted her to vice president when she was just 29, entrusting her to manage the VIP services team at both Harrah’s and sister property Rio. A few years later, he asked her to do the same for all of the company’s properties in Las Vegas.

At one point, he hired Brandi a business coach to improve her presentation skills and persuasion tactics. She didn’t know it at the time, but her boss wanted to prepare her for a new opportunity: to restructure the company’s entire VIP market.

When You’re Passed Up, Push Even Harder

Brandi had what it took to bring together the two brands, which were competing against each other for VIPs. She created structural changes to help drive business, which leadership approved. There was just one hitch: In the new structure, her own position was redundant. Unless she got the top role on her new organizational chart, she was out of a job.

“Everybody else was picked to oversee the area that they reorganized, so I thought I had a chance,” she says. But senior management wanted to offer the position to someone else. “I was devastated. Mind blown. For the first time in my career, I actually thought about leaving.”

But she turned that devastation into a decision to be bold. Taking everyone by surprise, she put her name in the hat for the job anyway. She interviewed alongside other candidates—and was ultimately selected for the SVP position she holds today.

It was an important lesson, especially for people who may be hesitant to raise their hand for a job. “If you feel like you have value to add, you should speak up,” she says.

Though the leadership team seemed to have decided on another candidate, after interviewing Ellis, they decided that she indeed was the best person for the job.

Now, she’s in charge of growing the $3.5 billion VIP business and guides strategy for 40 properties across the United States. She’s always learning new digital and analytics tools to keep up with changes—of which she’s seen plenty in her nearly three decades at the company.

Of her journey, she says, "Don't give up before you give something it a shot. I don’t think you’re born with confidence, but you should have self-awareness. Don't be afraid to go on a new journey."