The Seasoned Strategist: William ‘Sonny’ Johnson, President and CEO, Pearl River Resort

William “Sonny” Johnson is a Native Business Top 30 CEO.

Under the leadership of William “Sonny” Johnson, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ Pearl River Resort became the first casino outside of Nevada to open a Tribally owned and independently operated sportsbook. What’s even more impressive, perhaps, is that the entire operation, housing two sportsbook locations, came together in only 45 days. 

Johnson, who has been President and CEO of Pearl River Resort since 2015, counts more than 30 years of extensive experience working in the gaming industry, where his career began in 1989 as a dealer. He first joined Pearl River Resort in 2012 as Vice President of Casino Operations, where he was responsible for the operations of all table games, slots, casino marketing and Bok Homa Casino. Now, as the top executive for Mississippi’s second largest employer, he oversees the resort’s three casinos, three hotels, two top-ranked golf courses, and a water park. 

Johnson said that he starts every morning at 5 a.m., and immediately checks his emails to see what the day holds before crossing his fingers and checking the stock market numbers. When he gets to the office, he enjoys some alone time and focuses on tackling the high-priority tasks for the day before meeting with his team to strategize and discuss additional projects and goals. Then he conducts a walkthrough of the property. 

Sonny Johnson says that the biggest lesson he has learned over the course of his career is that “it is truly about teamwork and trusting those around you.” Click To Tweet

Johnson says that the biggest lesson he has learned over the course of his career is that “it is truly about teamwork and trusting those around you, [because] you can’t do it alone.” This informs his approach to team building and succession planning. 

“I believe that every leader should train their replacement,” he says. “Sharing knowledge and preparing those around you for leadership roles is pivotal.”

He adds, “I believe that a good leader should be honest, have a vision, and should trust those around them to help get the work done.” 

William “Sonny” Johnson, President and CEO, Pearl River Resort, was named a Top 30 CEO in Indian Country by Native Business Magazine. His profile originally appeared in our 2019 Leadership issue.

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