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Tilman Fertitta tells it like it is in ‘Shut Up and Listen!’ book

You can add “author” to Golden Nugget owner Tilman Fertitta’s list of accomplishments.

In addition to owning Golden Nugget-branded casinos in Las Vegas, Laughlin, New Jersey, Mississippi and Louisiana, Fertitta — third cousin to the Station Casinos-affiliated Fertitta family — owns hotels and spas, aquariums, theme parks, several restaurant chains (including Landry’s and Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company) and the Houston Rockets. He is a member of the University of Houston board of regents. He’s also a reality TV star, the face of CNBC’s “Billion Dollar Buyer.”

Now he’s on a book tour. On Saturday he made a stop at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas to sign copies of “Shut Up and Listen! Hard Business Truths That Will Help You Succeed.”

It’s Fertitta’s first book and probably not his last.

For those hoping for stories about backdoor deals and insights on how the Rockets signed two of the NBA’s last three MVPs, Fertitta shuts up about that.

“That’s for the next book,” Fertitta said in a telephone interview.

“Harper Collins contacted me 18 months ago and said, ‘We’ve been watching your show. We see you on all these business shows. We read all these newspaper and magazine articles, and we love all these Tilmanisms and how you made it and these little tricks of the trade that you use,’ ” he recounted. “And they said, ‘Let’s write a book that kind of just tells how you did it. Let’s not get into life stories and save that for another book. This is just all those little tidbits that made you successful from one restaurant to a $4 billion revenue company with gaming and sports and restaurants and everything else.’ ”

To that end, “Shut Up and Listen!” is more textbook than tell-all.

“It’s an easy read,” he said. “People like it. They like all the Tilmanisms, the 95:5 rule, there are no spare customers, take no out of your damn vocabulary, know your numbers, know what you know, know what you don’t know, and it’s an easy, fun book that people like, regardless if you’re a CEO or a young entrepreneur or a newspaper writer. It’s something that we can all learn from, and it teaches you how to separate yourself from everybody else.”

Tilmanisms are the basic rules he has established for himself as a businessman. He summarized the highlights: Take “no” out of your vocabulary. Know your numbers because numbers don’t lie. Always have Plan B for a worst-case scenario. Businessmen are good at 95 percent of what they do, but they need to know the 5 percent that they don’t.

The book also is peppered with “Tilman’s Targets,” a summary recapping the highlights of each chapter, and “Listen!,” some added emphasis for a given topic.

Fertitta said he can tell within three minutes of a conversation whether people really know what they’re doing. That’s a recurring theme in “Billion Dollar Buyer” when he interviews entrepreneurs “Shark Tank” style to see if he wants to do business with them.

“It’s shocking,” he said. “The reason that people fail is not necessarily because of the product they’re selling. They don’t know their numbers and they don’t know if they’re making money or losing money. They don’t know their receivables. They don’t know their payables. They don’t know their cost of sales. They don’t know what their labor cost is. There are many people that have successful products that are unsuccessful because of the fact that they don’t know their numbers.”

Fertitta is Texas through and through and has an entertaining way of expressing himself on camera and in print, just the way Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher used to do it. He makes you want to shut up and listen.

“Despite all my success,” he says in the book, “I walk around every day making sure that the paddle doesn’t get my a–. I can take a few taps, but I don’t want a big swat. Neither do you.”

Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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