Michael Massari’s long journey to the top of Caesars Entertainment’s sales department began with a trip to the bathroom. Then 15 years old, Massari dropped off a friend at September’s Place, a catering hall in Springfield, Pennsylvania. Massari only stepped in to relieve himself but couldn’t help but notice the goings-on inside.
“The manager was running around like a lunatic,” he recalls. Then something crazy happened. That manager, Bob Moody, offered Massari a job.
Despite growing up outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, or maybe because of it, Massari hadn’t given a moment’s thought to working on events. Besides, he had a job working at a metal packing plant.
Moody, whom Massari now counts as a lifelong friend, proved persuasive. The teenager found himself wearing a tuxedo, while staffing a funeral luncheon and two weddings on a hot day in summer 1985. Both the outfit and job fit.
“I haven’t done anything except work in events since,” says Massari.
You can argue Massari was destined to become senior vice president of national meetings and events at Caesars. And he is the first to admit serendipity played a role in his rise to the top of the hotel and casino empire.
But during an interview in Las Vegas—a destination Massari helped transform into a meetings magnate—it becomes clear fate and luck only went so far. This is the rest of the story.
Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip is as opulent as it is massive. Inside, famous guests eat at restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs. Elaborate events happen almost every night. Whether you’re walking the casino floor or tucked away in a boardroom, there’s always the chance of witnessing a major transaction.
It’s no wonder hundreds of companies and organizations—to say nothing of millions of leisure travelers—escape their daily routines to spend a few days there.
In many ways, it is the polar opposite of the environment where Massari cut his teeth in the business.
On any given night at September’s Place, Massari was a waiter, cook, banquet manager, etc. If it meant working long hours or sweating through his shirt, he did it.
“There’s a real satisfaction in that kind of work,” Massari says. “It’s not intellectually stimulating, but you get to start and finish a project.”
The gruntiest of his grunt work was a stint as a banquet cook, Massari recalls. “You start early prepping and go home late [after] cleaning… there are not enough hours in the day.”
Massari admits he’d get burned out as a line cook for 20 years. But when you are in your early 20s, what are a few dozen weeks working 100-plus hours? In his mind, that’s common.
“There are lots of people like me who got a job as a busboy or as a waiter and never left the business because they loved it,” he says.
That said, Massari wasn’t sure where his career path was headed as late as his senior year at Cabrini University, a small Catholic school outside Philadelphia.
Enter Moody one more time, offering the kid who once wandered into his catering business a managerial position at September’s Place. The offer—an annual salary of $25,200—was too good to refuse.
We may never know how long Massari could withstand the long hours associated with catering. His wife, upon graduating from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia to become a teacher, eventually reached her limit with his long shifts. “She said it was time to get a real job with real hours,” he says. “My solution was to get into the hotel business.”
Looking back, the move to catering sales manager at Sheraton Valley Forge Hotel was more than crossing over to a different side of the hospitality industry. Massari changed his entire mindset.
Working at the hotel—still in his beloved Philly suburbs—Massari saw multiple doors open.
Behind door No. 1 was a chance to remain in F&B; behind door No. 2 was sales; behind door No. 3 was a path to management. For the first time, Massari stopped thinking in terms of a job and started concentrating on a career path.
“I started to ask: ‘What do I want to do, and how do I get there?’” he says. If September’s Place was point A in Massari’s career path, he felt point Z would be to become a general manager of a large business. So he transitioned into sales and landed at Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in Philadelphia. He figured Marriott, Hilton or Hyatt—or maybe all three—were in his future.
“I wasn’t thinking about casinos,” Massari says. “If you were in the meetings business in 1995, particularly on the corporate side, Vegas just wasn’t a player.”