Taking a moment from his morning exercise routine, Bill Weidner on Monday appeared entirely at ease with his decision to resign as the president and chief operating officer of the shaky Las Vegas Sands Corp.
He was neither out of breath, nor off his usual measured approach in dealing with the press.
"Often in difficult times differences in opinion become magnified," Weidner said between phone calls. "I am very proud of the team that we built and what these talented people accomplished in just over 13 short years. We built the world's largest resort hotel-casino in Las Vegas. We created the largest casino resort presence in Asia in Macau, and we are involved in the ongoing construction of a spectacular casino mega-resort in Singapore.
"We rebuilt the Sands brand and took it to Macau and soon to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and to Singapore, and established the Venetian and Palazzo brands. The company came from an outmoded 700-room motel to a major worldwide presence in gaming."
But for all that was built, in the past year it became clear to gaming industry observers Weidner's relationship with Sands chairman and majority owner Sheldon Adelson had substantially soured. In a 2008 SEC filing, the company announced the formation of an executive committee "to address a number of outstanding differences between our chief executive officer and other senior management members." The public admission, thought to be unprecedented in the gaming industry, came in the wake of embarrassing civil courtroom defeats for Adelson and at a time the world economy slouched toward recession.
The once-lusty Sands stock, which hovered around $150 per share at its zenith, tumbled while its management quarreled behind the scenes and conveyed instability to Wall Street at the worst possible moment. (Its share price at the end of Monday's trading was $1.42.)
Sands has already suspended its extremely aggressive, $12 billion construction plans in Macau. It has ceased building its St. Regis high-rise condominium project on the Strip, and downsized its Bethlehem casino. Meanwhile, Adelson has pumped $2.14 billion in cash into the company. For now, at least, the company's Singapore casino plans remain in place.
The ever-careful Weidner said, "Over the past approximately one year, with falling stock prices and worsening global economic conditions, disagreements and conflicts arose between me and Chairman Sheldon Adelson. As chairman, CEO, and majority owner, Mr. Adelson has more recently insisted on more control of the company. It was time for me to move on and I resigned effective Sunday. I wish only the best for the company and the tremendous group of talented people who I leave behind."
To say Sands officials downplayed Weidner's departure is the understatement of the year. The official release offered, "The company stated that Mr. Weidner is no longer with the organization or a member of its board of directors."
Weidner, who's Weidner?
He's only arguably the key player in the development of Las Vegas Sands into a genuine player on the Strip and elsewhere. He also played a big role in the creation of the Sands' corporate image and was an integral part of its once-cordial relationship with Wall Street.
Weidner now takes his three decades of casino experience, and a one-year non-compete clause, with him into his life's next chapter.
Meanwhile, Weidner's been replaced by Michael Leven, a man with a substantial hospitality industry resume but zero experience running a casino company. Leven has been a member of the Las Vegas Sands board of directors since August 2004.
Las Vegas Sands is still a casino company, isn't it?
Perhaps Leven, the former developer of Microtel Inns and Suites and chairman of Holiday Inns Worldwide, has learned enough of the intricacies of the casino business to help return Sands to greatness. Maybe he'll get along better with the boss.
Leven is set to begin work on April Fools' Day.
It's probably just a coincidence.
Anyone looking for more information from Weidner will likely be disappointed.
Weidner said, "Given the complications that could ensue, I cannot comment beyond this statement, only to again emphasize I wish the best for the company and its wonderful group of dedicated employees."
Complications? Well, I wonder what he means.
With that, Weidner returned to his workout and to the phones that appeared to be ringing nonstop.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith/.