Asia figures in architect's future


George Bergman was a decade into a successful career in international business but something seemed to be missing.

A conversation with his father led Bergman to embark on a new career in architecture and a role in the family business.

When your father is noted casino architect Joel Bergman, whose name is synonymous with many of the Strip's famous resorts and projects throughout the gaming universe, dad's advice carries weight.

Now, 13 years later, George Bergman is president of Bergman Walls & Associates, replacing the retired Scot Walls.

He's not occupying that seat solely because of his surname. He started out with the company at the bottom, working as a draftsman on the designs of Paris Las Vegas in the mid-1990s.

Bergman, who already had undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics, returned to school. He earned a master's degree in architecture at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and other architectural certifications.

While attending UNLV, Bergman worked full time in the business.

After completing his architectural education, Bergman was involved in several of the company's projects. Eventually, he led the design team for new construction and renovations at Caesars Palace, which included new luxury suites inside the hotel's Augustus Tower and designed many of the hotel-casino's new restaurants and nightclubs.

"I was able to run some very small projects and it gave me a great deal of experience, understanding the whole soup-to-nuts process," Bergman said. "I also brought in a few of my own clients and was able to run some very small projects. I did everything from space planning, putting the team together and the closeout process."

Now, with new casino development in Las Vegas at a standstill, Bergman is taking the company in a new direction. Relying on his experience in international business, Bergman is focusing efforts on Asian markets, including resort development and other noncasino ventures.

Bergman Walls has opened offices and formed affiliations in the Philippines and Vietnam and also looking at opportunities in China.

George Bergman worked for two different Japan-based companies, living in both Japan and Los Angeles. He speaks almost fluent Japanese and understands Asian cultural differences.

"You have to understand that you don't understand anything," Bergman said. "You have to be open and come to respect new ideas while maintaining your own business culture."

Question: Why did you decide to change careers?

Answer: Obviously being asked by your father to come and work in the family business was a big deal. The other side of it was that even though I was moving up the ranks and was the top non-Japanese person working with a Japanese manufacturing firm in Los Angeles, I wasn't all that satisfied. Everything was great, but I had this doubt.

When the conversation came up about switching careers, other than going back to school for five years, which I wasn't thrilled about, I thought it was a pretty good opportunity.

Question: How do you view your role as company president?

Answer: My background is different than the typical person who came out of architecture. I had eight years experience of doing international business, always working for Japanese companies and dealing with people who didn't speak English. Going to Asia and working abroad was always an aspiration. In terms of the way I look at business, I recall what my Japanese bosses ground into my head on looking at the future and planning. In that same sense, Joel is a tremendous businessman and he has big affect on how we put things together.

Question: What are the growth opportunities in Asia?

Answer: About a year and a half ago, I convinced the firm that we should go to Asia. About 70 percent of the work we do here is gaming related. I would say the opposite is true in Asia. There is a lot of nongaming work, quite a few resorts and some boutique stuff that is really interesting.

Asia is a place that is really trying to make its mark on the world. There are cranes in the sky and lots of interest. We've been invited to bid on a many projects. Asia is the next big growth place.

Question: What is the attraction with Vietnam?

Answer: All of Southeast Asia is attractive for development. Vietnam has something like 900 linear miles of beaches with incredible scenery. It's a place where you can create some wonderful luxury and midrange resorts while preserving the natural environment.

Question: What are the challenges of having two international offices?

Answer: With the whole international piece in Asia, I took the lead on some internal restructuring. We wanted the ability to run multiple offices, which is much different than running a single office. We used to do everything out of Las Vegas before, but that has changed.

There are several restrictions with having an office in the Philippines and our office in Vietnam is a whole-owned foreign company.

Bergman Walls here (Las Vegas) provides experience and expertise in developing large integrated mixed-use resorts that we combine with local talent in the international offices.

I travel to Asia at least once a month, which is a challenge on a personal level because my family is here. I need to present in this office, but we have the technology available to us where we work seamlessly with our office in Manila. We'll soon have the same setup in Vietnam. The world is a small place in terms of information. All our executive meetings are handled via Skype.

Question: How has the economy affected work for your company in the gaming industry?

Answer: Gaming is a core part of our business and our firm is very close to gaming. Regionally, the markets will continue to expand. In Las Vegas, there will still be niche work available. Las Vegas has to keep reinventing itself to retain its place in the world market. If it doesn't keep reinventing itself, I'm not sure what will happen.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871.

 

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