IAG guest columnist Niall Murray offers his thoughts on Sheldon Adelson after his passing last week
Sheldon G. Adelson was a unique and remarkable man. The groundbreaking visionary, pioneer and wildly successful serial entrepreneur was constantly scanning the horizon for new business opportunities, seizing them and turning them into the world’s best in class.
Sheldon developed, refined and perfected his success formula over many years and dozens of businesses. Sheldon believed that you must “dream big”, create a unique vision, and set bold audacious goals that challenge the status quo and change old outdated paradigms. You must then strive forward with unwavering commitment, taking brave and decisive action, while adjusting to overcome challenges along the way, in order to be highly successful.
Sheldon never stopped thinking about or working on his businesses and on developing his visions for the future. Years ago, one of my mentors told me that if you want to be the best, you have to work with the best. In my opinion, Sheldon Adelson was unquestionably the best in the integrated resort industry.
I had the honor and privilege of working for Sheldon Adelson for many years, helping to bring his visions to life, achieving those bold, audacious goals and creating new standards for IR excellence. Working for Sheldon was extremely challenging. He was a very demanding leader, who insisted on the best in an extremely fast-paced, ever changing environment, where you never knew what opportunity would come next.
While it was often scary, it was always exciting and never dull. Here are some stories about Sheldon that I hope will provide a little insight into what he was like, what he believed in and how he operated.
Orientation: When I joined The Venetian in Las Vegas in late 1998, I was responsible for Training and Development. One of my tasks was creating the orientation for all new team members and leaders, and to communicate Mr Adelson’s vision for The Venetian by creating a video to show everyone in case he could not join the orientation in person.
To do this I gave Sheldon a list of 20 questions I wanted him to answer on film, such as, “How did you think of The Venetian?”, “Who are your main competitors?”, “What is your vision?” and “What is your mission and values?” I was immediately attacked by the PR department for asking Sheldon these questions, told I had no idea how difficult it was to manage what Sheldon says and that I was not qualified to conduct the video interview. Instead, the PR department decided to script Sheldon’s answers and put them on a teleprompter the morning of the video shoot.
Sheldon sat down and began to read from the teleprompter, but after about 30 seconds he stopped and shouted, “Who wrote this rubbish? Take that teleprompter away! They are not my thoughts and not what I agreed to speak about. Where is that Irish guy I talked with about this?”
I was ushered in.
“There you are!” he said. “Ask me your questions Niall, I’ll answer your questions and tell you what I really feel and believe from my heart.”
In the end we had a great, lively interview and shot the welcome video that was later shown to every team member that joined the company. It was a message from his heart.
I learned that day that no one was ever allowed to put words into Sheldon’s mouth. Over the coming months, Sheldon attended as many Leadership and Team Member Orientation sessions in person as possible. He was committed to welcoming new team members to the family, sharing his vision and inspiring them with his words: “I promise I will give you my best, all that I ask in return is that you give me your best.”
Taking a spin at Sands Macao: Shortly after the opening of Sands Macao, Sheldon visited the property to assess the operation. Table games were packed, every seat was taken and tables were four people deep with back-bettors. But Sheldon wasn’t happy.
“Why are there not more table games on this floor?” he fired. He then moved to an open space on the floor and spun around 360 degrees in his electric wheelchair.
“If I have room to spin my chair, then there is room for a table game,” he said. “Fill up the gaps! If I come back here next week and find space to spin my chair, there is going to be trouble.”
To be sure, the Sands team borrowed an electric wheelchair, took a very precise “spin” around every inch of the gaming floor and re-mapped the layout. It took a lot of approvals, planning and action to make it happen, but Sands Macao was very quickly optimized and became the most successful casino in the world in 2004.
Political influence: An emergency meeting was called one afternoon at The Venetian in Las Vegas. George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, was coming to town to address a group at Mandalay Bay. Sheldon Adelson had just heard about this and was not pleased, so the Venetian team reached out to Washington and urged the President to move the meeting to his property.
It is important to note that Presidential visits involve months of intricate planning, extensive property and background checks and flawless coordination between the secret service, local law enforcement and property security. Last minute changes are unheard of.
Nevertheless, the Presidential visit was moved to The Venetian within hours of Sheldon’s request to the White House. We had an exciting time working with the secret service and White House representatives preparing for the President’s visit. The honor of a Presidential visit was well deserved I believe, as Sheldon Adelson was for many years the leading financial supporter and contributor to the Republican Party.
You can leave your (hard) hat on: In 1999, we held a spectacular pre-opening pep rally to celebrate the completion of Phase 1 of The Venetian and to usher in the beginning of a new era in Las Vegas.
Thousands of team members packed The Venetian Ballroom and when Sheldon and Miriam Adelson arrived, the Rocky Theme song “Eye of the Tiger” was blasted over the speakers. When the doors opened, everyone jumped to their feet singing, cheering and dancing as they welcomed their leader. The atmosphere was electric, joyous and emotions ran high. There was a true sense of happiness, pride and jubilation.
Brad Stone, then President of Global Operations and Construction at Las Vegas Sands Corp, donned his golden hard hat and gave an impassioned speech to the team. He ended his speech by taking off his hard hat, placing it under the podium and stating, “I’m thrilled to finally put this away for good.”
He then welcomed Sheldon to the stage, but after shaking hands and turning to walk away, Sheldon said, “Not so fast Brad, put this hat back on … now we are starting Phase 2!”
With that, Sheldon placed the hard hat back on Brad’s head, patted him on the back and called for a round of applause from the team. Brad’s face dropped as he shook his head in disbelief and left the stage. Sheldon then gave a heartwarming speech, thanking this wife Miriam – who he called his angel – and the entire team for their dedication and commitment to making The Venetian dream come true.
He reminded everyone that they had helped to challenge the status quo, change outdated paradigms and create the future of the industry. As he outlined his vision for the future, he demonstrated his visionary leadership, relentless thirst for progress and unwillingness to ever let the cranes come down. He asked his team, “Are you with me?” and the team responded with a resounding “yes” that almost blew the roof off.
Sheldon Adelson knew very well that if you lead from the front, they will follow.