LV Sands executive quit before he would be fired

Former Las Vegas Sands Corp. President Bill Weidner quit before he could be formally fired.

Meanwhile, Las Vegas Sands Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson told an investment forum in New York on Tuesday that “we helped him resign a little bit.”

So goes the soap opera that surrounds the replacement of the 63-year-old Weidner, who headed Las Vegas Sands for almost 14 years, with a veteran hospitality executive who most recently ran the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

Weidner, who resigned Sunday, told the Review-Journal’s John L. Smith that constant infighting between him and Adelson over the past six months led to his departure.

In a filing Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said two unnamed board members informed Weidner on March 4 that Michael Leven, a member of the board, would be named his successor.

Four days later, Weidner resigned in a letter to the board, saying: “He has had, and continued to have, outstanding differences (with Adelson) about the management of the company.”

According to the filing, “The company and Mr. Weidner attempted to negotiate the terms of Mr. Weidner’s departure for the next several days, but were unable to reach agreement.”

Adelson, Las Vegas Sands’ founder and majority shareholder, told Bloomberg News that Weidner’s departure wasn’t a loss for the casino company.

“Just the opposite,” Adelson said. “I got a call from one of our people in a remote location who said, ‘I’m very glad that there’s one person steering the ship.’ That tells the whole story. I’ve always been in charge, theoretically.”

The change in power atop Las Vegas Sands comes after more than 17 months of turmoil. During Weidner’s tenure, the company was transformed from one aging Strip hotel-casino into a publicly traded gaming corporation with holdings on the Strip, in Macau and development projects in Singapore and Pennsylvania.

“We rebuilt the Sands brand,” Weidner told Bloomberg. “We just scraped dirt and made it what it is. It was quite a run.”

However, the national and global economic downturn sent Las Vegas Sands spiraling. The company canceled development projects on the Strip and China late last year and scaled back others. A $2.14 billion recapitalization effort in November kept Las Vegas Sands out of bankruptcy.

The company’s stock price on the New York Stock Exchange went from an all-time high of $148.76 on Oct. 29, 2007, to $1.42 on Monday, an all-time low. On Tuesday, shares rebounded, rising 24 cents, or 16.9 percent, to close at $1.66.

Adelson, meanwhile, said the departure of Weidner, who earned a base salary of $1 million and total compensation of more than $4.4 million in 2007, should not hurt the company.

“Life goes on. We have somewhere around 30,000 employees and what happens is that I’ve learned over the years that businesses build up a life of their own,” Adelson said Tuesday. “With 30,000 people out there all pulling in the same direction, we’re confident that we’ll make very good progress.”

He told the investment forum that he — Las Vegas Sands’ chief strategist and visionary — remains on board.

Leven, 71, who takes over April 1, has been a Las Vegas Sands board member since August 2004. He is the founder of the firm that developed and franchised the Microtel Inns & Suites and Hawthorn Suites hotel brands. He has also held posts at Holiday Inn Worldwide, Days Inn of America and Americana Hotels.

Leven resigned Monday from Georgia Aquarium, which he had headed since September.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Bloomberg News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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