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October 21, 2014

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Proudly catering to whales’ whims in their Mansion away from mansion

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Leila Navidi

Wu Ly Ping, in charge of The Mansion at MGM Grand, supervises 140 butlers, housekeepers, horticulturists and chefs, among others, all focused on ensuring the comfort and luxury of some of Las Vegas’ wealthiest visitors, referred to as “whales.” Wu visits guests abroad “so I can see what luxury means to them.”

In a city where hospitality is the reigning industry, the pressure is on Wu Ly Ping to be the most hospitable of all.

She’s in charge of The Mansion, the private estate within the MGM Grand that is reserved by invitation only for the wealthiest and most demanding of Las Vegas visitors — known in the industry as whales.

Wu’s job is to ensure the guests’ expectations are always exceeded (she keeps extensive guest histories with their preferences but won’t reveal any of the details). More than that, she cultivates The Mansion’s exclusiveness and mystique to keep the whales coming back, willing to ignore the lures of other casinos on the Strip or, worse for the local economy, casinos in cities other than Las Vegas, such as Macau.

Wu strives for The Mansion to feel like an Old World estate that has been opened for a few select guests.

“It’s a luxury world, but we don’t try to impress with material,” Wu says. “It’s about the service.”

(Still, there is a Picasso tucked into an elevator alcove and 700-year-old horse statues from the Tung Dynasty in the library.)

Wu has run The Mansion since it opened 10 years ago — and oh, the stories she could tell, if her first commandment wasn’t discretion.

She directs a staff of 140 butlers, housekeepers, horticulturists and chefs, among others, who have to be ready, often quite literally, at a moment’s notice for a guest’s arrival at one of the mansion’s 29 villas, which range from 2,400 to 12,000 square feet.

She hires the staff for their experience and for an attitude that serving guests is both a career and a pleasure.

Which is to say, you won’t find any UNLV students working their way through college with jobs as Mansion butlers. It’s a profession. And the proof: rarely do jobs open up at The Mansion.

Maybe because Wu has been in the business so long — including 18 years with Hilton Hotels before joining MGM — she refers to herself and The Mansion collectively as “we.”

Key to her success in managing The Mansion is attention to detail. She walks the halls aware of all the senses: Is the music the right level, the fragrance too strong, the flowers fresh?

The Mansion offers all the best, even if the guests don’t always demand it. The cupboards have caviar, but “sometimes people just want spaghetti,” Wu says, smiling about the learning curve with guests in the beginning.

To learn more of what they like, she travels to visit them abroad “so I can see what luxury means to them,” she says. A good portion are Asian.

And she brings her own perspective to the job. While her father worked in what is now Zaire for five years, she and her family lived in conditions so humble they didn’t even have electricity.

“I reflect back to that,” she says. “You see the luxury here and I think what it was like in Africa; it’s the absolute spectrum of lifestyle.”

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