MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian (front row center), President Jolene Koester (right) and Vice President of University Advancement Judy C. Knudson (left) are joined by Armenian students and alumni at campus reception in Yemenidjian's honor.
The university where he earned his business administration and accounting degree gave Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian a hearty welcome during the executive's daylong visit to his alma mater in late March.
Yemenidjian, who presides over one of the premier corporations in the global entertainment industry, shared with Cal State Northridge students his insights, values and knowledge harvested during a spectacular rise from accountant to corporate chief.
At a reception in Yemenidjian's honor, more than 100 Armenian students and alumni gathered to honor perhaps the university's most famous Armenian alumnus. Yemenidjian was president and chief operating officer at MGM Grand, Inc. prior to becoming chairman of the fabled MGM film and television corporation in 1999.
"For those of you who are students," said President Jolene Koester in welcoming remarks, "I urge you to look to [Alex Yeminidjian] for inspiration, because he truly is that."
Koester noted that fully 10 percent of CSUN's student population is of Armenian descent. "The Armenian community is a very important part of California State University, Northridge," she said. "We have more Armenian students than any other university outside of Armenia."
Drawing from his life experiences, Yemenidjian told students in the courtyard of the Michael D. Eisner College of Education that corporate leaders like Kirk Kerkorian, who owns about 74 percent of MGM, reached the top by keeping their minds receptive to new ideas and knowledge.
"The minute you think you know it all," he quipped, "you're cooked."
Students in the honors section of professor William Jennings' Finance 437 course, an undergraduate portfolio management class called "Advanced Topics in Finance," were treated to Yemenidjian's candid, often humorous discourse on four attributes he considers vital to success in business: likeability, trustworthiness, a strong work ethic and the ability to lead.
On likeability: It attracts mentors and provides access to figures in the corridors of power, Yemenidjian said. "If you are brilliant at what you do but people don't like and trust you, you're going nowhere."
On trustworthiness: "You have to prove to people that you can be trusted." Yemenidjian recalled a former employer who instructed him to turn down a gold-plated offer on a major Las Vegas property because Yemenidjian had already sealed an earlier, less attractive deal. The employer, he said, asked only one question: "Did you give your word?"
On a strong work ethic: As a young accountant, Yemenidjian shared a cubicle with a colleague who spent an entire night in the firm's library, teaching himself how to put together a reverse triangular merger. "If you are a hard worker," Yemenidjian said, "nobody can beat you."
On leadership: A gifted leader understands when and how to give his employees the all-important "psychological paychecks." Yemenidjian personally keeps up with milestones in his employees' lives, pays attention to their health care issues, asks their opinions.
A self-described "nerd" so intent on succeeding that he typically set the curve for everyone else, Yemenidjian earned his bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting from Northridge in 1977, and his master's degree in business taxation from USC in 1982. Previously managing partner in the certified public accounting firm of Parks, Turner and Yemenidjian, the "growth-oriented" executive spent nine years at billionaire Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation and at MGM Grand, Inc., becoming its president and chief operating officer.
Yemenidjian relocated from Las Vegas to Los Angeles when in 1999 he was named chairman and CEO of MGM, whose 4,000-plus titles form the world's largest modern film library.
When a Northridge student asked what gave him his competitive edge, Yemenidjian said it came from the same insecurity that drove him to reject failure as an option. "You have to behave," he said, "as if you're the underdog."
@csun | April 19, 2004 issue
Public Relations | University Advancement
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