by corey levitan | November 15, 2011 | People
|MGM Grand boasts more Les Clefs d’Or members than any other hotel worldwide|
|Mills’s office is filled with photos of family and friends|
Jeanne Mills finishes identifying the members of her family smiling from photos on her immaculate desk.
“We spend a lot of time together and have a lot of fun,” says the MGM Grand’s chef concierge. “I handpicked them all.”
Mills’s “family” is her staff of 61. The vivacious and stunning 42-year-old treats them to expensive dinners, has them over to her Las Vegas home for parties, and liberally dispenses relationship advice.
“They’re like my kids,” she says.
They couldn’t have chosen a more impressive mentor in the concierge field. Mills currently holds the highest honor bestowable on a member of the industry: She was just elected the US president of Les Clefs d’Or. Founded in France in 1952, Les Clefs d’Or is the exclusive organization represented by the golden crossed keys pinned to each lapel of Mills’s blue Tahari blazer. Previously, Mills served as vice president, treasurer, director of fundraising and PR, congress liaison, and director of concierge relations for the organization, whose 650 US members elected her their leader at a Boston conference in July.
“For as long as I knew there was a Les Clefs d’Or, I’ve been telling people I want to be its president,” Mills says. “I was 19 at the time. I got introduced to this professional organization, and I was in awe of all these characters in it who seemed so larger than life.”
A Globe-Trotting Position
In her new role, Mills travels the world giving keynote speeches, teaching symposiums, and attending international concierge meetings and conventions. Travel consumes an average of 24 hours per month, but Mills says her MGM Grand supervisors are supportive about the time away. “It’s a big feather in their cap to have someone in this position here,” she says.
Of Les Clefs d’Or’s 650 US members, 15 work at the MGM Grand, which is the most Les Clefs d’Or members of any hotel in the world. Vegas has 76 members in total. “Las Vegas is the new capital of concierge,” says Mills.
A Close-Knit Office
For someone so internationally distinguished, Mills’s office is jarringly understated. About 10 by 12 feet, it’s so small that none of the four fluorescent light fixtures in the ceiling fits entirely inside. The walls are padded partitions that don’t reach the ceiling, leaving gaps for loud voices from the employees she supervises that threaten to interrupt this interview. “Sometimes I just yell over to them,” she says. “I call it the intercom system.” Mills says she could ask for a bigger office in a nicer part of the building, “but it would sever the ties that have to exist between my staff and me, and I have to be close by.”
Besides, Mills spends most of her day shuttling between the nine-station concierge counter she supervises in the lobby and the 15-concierge call center next to her office. “She’s a great leader,” says MGM Grand VP of hotel operations Tim Kelly. “She’s a dynamic personality, and someone who’s very capable of taking any type of project and really owning it.”
Guests Requests...And Learning from the Best
In addition to supervising, Mills also personally handles requests for VIP hotel guests. “I get the fun stuff,” she says, her mind wandering to one hunky celebrity who recently required help with his audio equipment. Of course, she can’t name names. “I happened to find the entertainer on the patio, lying in a Speedo,” she reports. “It was a moment for me.”
One request she granted was for a bathtub filled with Ben & Jerry’s. “I have no idea what they did with it, and I really don’t think I want to know,” Mills says. “But if a guest’s request is legal and it’s moral, I’m going to find a way to do it.”
A Las Vegas native who graduated from Clark High School, Mills follows in the loafer steps of her father. Efrain Aleman, a full-blooded Cuban, was the bell captain at the Dunes Hotel for 37 years, until the lights went out in 1993. In the old Vegas, it was the bell captain who handled all guest requests.
“Those were back in the days when you’d have Elvis Presley playing at the blackjack table and Sam Giancana staying in one of the suites,” Mills says. “I was like, this is fun work.”
While attending UNLV, Mills worked in guest relations at the Mirage, moving on to the Desert Inn, Four Seasons, and Skylofts before opening the concierge department at the MGM Grand five years ago, a team she has grown from 26 to 61.
Every now and then, Mills will run into one of the MGM bellmen who once worked for her dad.
“I get emotional around them sometimes, and they do, too,” Mills says. “They look at me and see this little girl.”
Efrain Aleman died in 2007. At his funeral, neither Mills nor her mother could identify a woman bawling loudly at the rear of the chapel. So they went up to her. The woman worked in room service at the Dunes, where she met Mills’s father in 1964. She spoke no English at the time, so Aleman would sit with her every day after work and teach it to her. Although 25 years had passed since she saw Aleman, she always remembered the kindness that launched her eventual rise to management.
“I live my life that way, too,” Mills says. “It’s the smallest, tiniest things that you don’t realize can impact someone.”
photographs by christopher devargas (Mills; table)