Through a combination of what at times seemed to be very personal anecdotes and at others straight-ahead business adages, hospitality industry giant Sheldon Adelson told an audience of more than 1,000 on campus that success requires you to change the status quo.
Adelson, along with Las Vegas Sands COO Mike Leven, appeared May 5 to kick off the "Conversations on Leadership" series, which will be a hallmark of the new center for executive entrepreneurship at the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. The proposed center is being funded through a multimillion-dollar gift from Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Adelson recounted his childhood growing up in Dorchester, Mass., to interviewer Arte Nathan. His later success, he quipped, could be considered a rags-to-riches story, "but we were so poor we didn't even have rags." His first job was selling newspapers in Boston, which he soon leveraged into "owning the corner" and having others working for him. He noted that the common theme of his business ventures has been to find an opportunity that will change the status quo, and then do something new and different.
For Adelson, changing the status quo in Las Vegas meant catering to the needs of the convention customer. His Sands Expo and Convention Center, built in 1989, was the first privately owned and operated convention center in the U.S. More recently, Adelson found success in Singapore, where the Marina Bay Sands is considered the most expensive building in the world. "Most people get a business idea and try to raise the money to do it," he said. "They might end up sacrificing the idea to fit the budget. But the most important thing for success is to develop the product or service and then get whatever money it takes to complete it." Acknowledging that he now has the money to fund his projects, he added, "I don't have to compromise my ideas."
The self-made billionaire emphasized that to be successful, you have to take risks and accept that most people will inevitably fail. "Risk is reward and reward is risk," he admonished. "You can't be an entrepreneur unless you take risks -- and that's just opening the door."
Adelson and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, have been creating a significant philanthropic legacy, with much of it focused on medical research. He said his greatest hope is that the research will ultimately lead to discoveries that address the causes of cancer and other devastating diseases.
When asked by a Hotel College student what one critical thing a graduating senior could do for him or herself in order to succeed, Adelson answered, "Be honest with yourself about where you want to go and what you want to accomplish." When you think about the future, he advised, think about doing something different. "If I didn't do something different, success would have evaded me."