Among all the very big mergers and
acquisitions in the travel industry recently (and big rumors about
pending announcements), it would be easy to overlook a
less-publicized deal: the takeover of Hard Rock International by
the Seminole Tribe of Florida earlier this month.
underplayed in the trade press due to any lack of effort on the
part of the public relations companies hired to handle the
announcement. "NATIVE AMERICANS TO SHOCK BUSINESS WORLD," trumpeted
the subject line of an e-mail announcing a press conference.
Without giving any clues about how the shock might be administered,
the release said only that the upcoming development would "make
As it turned out,
Hard Rock's seller, U.K.-based Rank Group, made its announcement
before markets opened in its own time zone, and details about the
sale were already in my e-mail inbox hours before the Seminole
event began at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square.
And what a press
conference it was. It opened with a blessing from a medicine man in
traditional garb. (Hands down, his attire drew more attention than
any of the flamboyant rock-star wear in the Hard Rock's display
cases.) While ultimately the event may be more historic for the
Seminoles than for the business world in general, details that
emerged during the conference demonstrated the extent of the
tribe's (and other tribes') involvement in tourism-related
Consider for a
moment this claim by James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming, whose
previous casino experience was with Trump, Hilton and Park Place
Entertainment: "Las Vegas gaming amounts to $5 billion a year;
Indians' total is $22 billion."
That's not to say
that Native American casinos in aggregate have more economic impact
than Las Vegas' tourism industry in aggregate; Allen's statement
may reveal as much about Las Vegas' diversity as it does about
Native American focus. But other data points show that the
Seminoles not only may be the most experienced tribe in gaming --
they were the first to open a casino -- they may also be the
Consider: In total, Hard Rock International operates 124
restaurants and seven hotels in addition to retail shops, online
ventures and concert venues. It posted annual revenue of $493
million and net income of $68 million. Though the Seminoles own and
operate only two of their casino-hotels, those two alone accounted
for 25% of Hard Rock's total global profit last year.
contrast between the Native Americans at the dais and the gaming
and Hard Rock executives couldn't have been more
Americans, when they spoke, were reflective, putting the deal in
the larger context of Seminole history.
Allen and the other
suits were clearly excited. They talked faster, louder and
(figuratively and literally) at a higher pitch.
Which led me to
wonder: Are we about to witness the ultimate corporate culture
On the surface, the
reflective Native Americans and the independent-minded sensibility
of Hard Rock might seem in conflict.
The Seminoles spent
a fair portion of their presentation educating the audience of
journalists about Seminole history. At the time, I thought it a bit
odd, but later I concluded that there were some important messages
in there, perhaps directed as much to Hard Rock's current
management as to the reporters.
"We never signed a
peace treaty or surrendered," Max Osceola Jr., of the tribe's
Hollywood (Fla.) reservation, said pointedly. "Now we're looking
beyond our borders, beyond our corner of the world.
"The Indians sold
Manhattan for a few trinkets," he continued. "We're buying it back,
one hamburger at a time."
It will be
fascinating to watch what happens when the unconquered meet the
independent-minded. I'm beginning to think they might not be as far
apart as one would first suppose.