Kelly Smith is ready for another adventure.
The longtime Seattle entrepreneur who most recently helped lead Starbucks’ digital expansion across the world is now headed to Las Vegas to work for MGM Resorts International as its new senior vice president and chief digital officer.
It’s another surprise career move from Smith, who founded Seattle-area startups like RocketVox (sold to ThePlatform), ImageKind (sold to CafePress) and Zapd (sold to RealSelf) before heading to China in 2014 where he worked in Shanghai and helped build a Starbucks China team working on a variety of digital-related projects in the company’s fastest-growing market globally.
Smith returned to Seattle last year in a new role for Starbucks as vice president of global digital products.
“After three years at Starbucks, I started to think about what I wanted to do next,” Smith told GeekWire this week. “I also got some really interesting calls from various companies all over the country and in some cases outside the United States. Having just lived in China for two years, I didn’t really think it was much of a stretch to open myself up to more opportunities by not limiting myself to geography. That, in itself, is quite a liberating thing.”
An opportunity to do much of what he did for Starbucks — developing digital technologies that enhance the physical guest experience — is partly what drew Smith to MGM Resorts International, a publicly-traded company that reported $9.5 billion in revenue in 2016, up 9 percent year-over-year.
“That’s a large company with tremendous performance, but we think there is a ton of potential to unlock by laying down a strategic digital plan and executing on that plan in a world-class way,” Smith said. “This is exactly what we saw at Starbucks when the company first committed to a formal digital philosophy. I think being a part of that journey is what attracted me to MGM.”
MGM Resorts International operates the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay, and The Mirage in Las Vegas. It also has resorts in Mississippi, New Jersey, Maryland, and Detroit. The company has a majority interest in MGM China Holdings Limited, which is developing a gaming resort in Cotai. Its market capitalization is $19 billion and shares are up more than 35 percent in the past year.
Smith said he’s looking forward to improving guest experiences at MGM locations with new technology and creating greater operating efficiency for the company. He’ll start work in Las Vegas on Sept. 18, reporting to Lilian Tomovich, chief experience & marketing officer at MGM Resorts.
“We are thrilled to have Kelly join our team,” Tomovich said in a statement. “As a global entertainment brand, with customers at the center of our business, our company’s commitment to digital innovation remains a critical part of our long-term strategy. Kelly’s extensive digital expertise and demonstrated skill bridging software, design and emerging technology trends make for a valuable addition to our talented executive team.”
Smith, who still helps run a Seattle-based investment fund called Curious Office, said he loves Seattle and considers it his home forever.
“There is no shortage of curious challenges and bold things to work on in Seattle,” Smith said. “But this is a huge opportunity and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”