Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson told nearly 1,000 hotel and hospitality students Monday that they needed to take risks if they wanted to succeed in business.
“Risk is reward and reward is risk,” Adelson, 80, said during an hourlong afternoon talk at Ham Hall at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “You cannot be an entrepreneur if you don’t take risks. If you fall down, be determined to get back up and keep trying.”
Adelson and Las Vegas Sands President Michael Leven each spent an hour separately answering questions from longtime gaming industry executive Artie Nathan, who is now a guest lecturer at the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
Adelson, who is considered the world’s eighth richest person by Forbes, credited much of his business success from taking risks. Las Vegas Sands, which operates casinos in Macau, Singapore and Las Vegas, has a market capitalization of $65.2 billion.
“When it comes to business, make the budget fit the idea,” Adelson said. “If you can’t raise the money, don’t go through with the idea.”
Toward the end of his talk, Adelson got personal with the audience in explaining his reasons for opposing the legalization of Internet gaming.
Adelson said his parents, who were poor, were affected by gambling. That’s the main reason he opposes Internet gaming.
“It hurts vulnerable people,” Adelson said.
Much of the lower seating level on Ham Hall was filled for the program. Attendees were mostly hotel college graduate and undergraduate students. But the talk was open to all students.
Leven, who has been president of Las Vegas Sands for five years, credited the company for “standing up for the principles that we believe in.” He admitted that sometimes, “we are not always right.”
In April, Las Vegas Sands announced a $7 million to the UNLV hotel college to help fund a new building for the school. A portion of the donation, which spans five years, will be used to create a global professional and executive education program at the college.
Leven also told students that risk-taking was an important part of being in the business world.
“Your career is not a straight line up,” Leven said. “Everyone has disappointments. You move on.”
Adelson, who never went to college, said he took a risk in developing the Cotai Strip in Macau.
By 2016, Las Vegas Sands will have almost 13,000 hotel rooms in the location, including the Venetian Macau, which he called the “world’s first true integrated resort,” with the hotel, casino, retail, dining, convention space and entertainment all interconnected.
“The integrated resort is my contribution to the industry,” Adelson said.
Both Adelson and Leven showed a more personable side of the business industry to the UNLV students.
Leven said his role as president was supposed to be a two-year job. At the time, Las Vegas Sands was emerging from a financial abyss after Adelson invested $1 billion into the corporation.
He told students he wouldn’t want someone like him to be his successor.
“You shouldn’t be looking for somebody like you,” Leven said in answering a question about replacing himself as president. “You look and see what an organization needs today. The next person needs to have a different set of skills.”
Leven said company executives prepare differently for a meeting with him than when they have a meeting with Adelson.
“We have a saying at the company,” Leven said. “It’s called being Sheldon Ready.”
Adelson, who spoke after Leven, said he was familiar with the term.
“I’m predispositoned to find errors,” Adelson said. “I’ll find mistakes. That’s how being Sheldon ready came about.”
Adelson and Leven both said the company’s chairman is not opposed when some offers a differing opinion on a subject.
But, Leven said, “you better have a good reason why you disagree.”
Adelson added, “I have the greatest respect for someone who comes to me and says, ‘Your’re wrong, this is the way it should be done.’”
Early in the conversation, Adelson recounted stories from his childhood when he started his first business of selling newspapers on a street corner, and later, when he started a candy vending-machine business.
Adelson also recounted the reason he bought the Sands in Las Vegas in 1989. It was because the city ran out of room for his massive Comdex computer trade show and he decided to build the Sands Expo and C0nvention Center, his own convention center.
“Municipalities were not known to move fast,” Adelson said.
Today, Adelson said his goal is to build “iconic landmarks,” such as the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
He said he is also donating millions to medical research.
“I hope that will be my legacy,” Adelson said. “Leaving some understanding that helps human beings.”
Contact reporter Howard Stutz at email@example.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.