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Sheldon Adelson, game changer
Sands Style / Interviews & Features

Sheldon Adelson, game changer

Sheldon G. Adelson makes it his business to challenge the status quo, and this approach, he explains, is what has made The Venetian Macao – which is celebrating its 10th anniversary – so successful

Sheldon G. Adelson

The founding of The Venetian Macao in 2007 represented a profound transformation in the region’s entertainment landscape – it was Asia’s first fully-integrated resort, offering suites, shopping, dining, entertainment venues and a complete range of facilities for meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE). The success and sheer scale of this innovative model revitalised Macao, and inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs across Asia.

The Venetian Macao marked its 10th anniversary in August.

Sheldon G. Adelson, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Sands China Ltd., and creator of The Venetian Macao, joined the celebrations and took time out to speak to Sands Style about his continuing work, his dream, and his legacy. 

Is there a theme or principle that you have carried with you from the time you were selling newspapers on a street corner to today, as the Chairman and CEO of the world’s most valuable gaming and hospitality company? 

What I have always wanted to do is challenge the status quo. Not only challenge it, but change it because, from an entrepreneurial viewpoint, you don’t want to start a business and compete head-to-head on the same conditions as everybody else. You want to try to do something different. And so that’s what I have always done; tried something different.

For instance, when I came out of court reporting school, most court reporters at the time sold their services individually, but I set up a court reporting agency, an organisation that would hire other court reporters. So I would send people out on jobs and I had an arrangement that I would pay them, but I would also have an interest in their billings. I actually think it is common today but, at the time, I was doing it differently from the way other people were doing it. Whether it was while working in the condominium business, mortgage banking, tradeshows or the integrated resort business, I’m today changing and challenging the status quo and that has always been my mantra.

Did you have someone you regarded as a mentor in your early business days?

No, I never had a mentor. I mean everybody says, ‘How did you learn all this stuff?’. I don’t know, they were just ideas. They came to my mind because I was always looking for some way to get something done.

When did you first consider bringing the Sands name to Asia, and what inspired you to do so?

I heard that there was a monopoly in Macao and that the monopoly was about to end. My staff were knowledgeable about what was happening in the industry and, as I explored further and read industry trade publications and other news, I could see that Macao was considered a top-notch market. When I came here to talk to some people, I saw an opportunity to create the Las Vegas of Asia. My experience in the convention business was an important part of what we thought we could do for Macao, and the more we talked about it, the clearer that vision became. Ultimately, our goals were the same as Macao’s in that we thought we could help turn Macao into a business and leisure destination. I did that in Las Vegas and, of course, I had experience in the convention business. So I was just the right guy for that. 

What has been the biggest surprise in the first 10 years of operations at The Venetian?

I would say there haven’t been any surprises – this was all planned. Originally, the government gave us a piece of land to put up a ‘temporary’ casino which, of course, became Sands Macao. Importantly though, they offered me a permanent location between the two islands of Taipa and Coloane, and they combined those two names to come up with an abbreviated version – Cotai.

At the time the location was a combination of swamp and bay, and I almost thought we were being exiled out there. The government said the land would be reclaimed from the sea, and after I came out here to see it, I said, this is ideal; we can make this Asia’s Las Vegas and develop the convention market and leisure market and more. That was the vision from day one. 

The Venetian Macao is often held up as the destination that redefined Macao. What is your recipe for success? 

Well, it’s the critical mass of a fully-integrated resort. We have invested in hotel rooms, shopping, dining, and MICE facilities, as well as in providing so many other attractions and amenities. When we offer seven, eight, nine types of attractions – compared to previous developments in Macao, which were basically casinos with maybe a restaurant – it’s no wonder to me that The Venetian has become a must-see destination for any visitor to Macao.

On the Cotai Strip, you don’t have to leave the building to connect to 13,000 rooms and close to 900 retail stores, the 15,000-seat Cotai Arena, three purpose-built theatres, all the MICE spaces, five casinos, spas, fitness facilities, and more than 150 restaurants, including three Michelin-star winners. It’s all interconnected and really represents an extraordinary experience for visitors.

How were you so sure that what you had done in Las Vegas – changing it into an integrated resort – would work in Macao?

That’s what entrepreneurship is about; the level of confidence. There was no question in my mind. It worked in Las Vegas and I never had a doubt it would work in Macao as well. 

You and your wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, are noted philanthropists. How
important is it to both of you to give back to the local communities in which you
operate?

Very important. You have to become a part of the community, and supporting local charitable organisations and causes is extremely important to us personally, but it is also part of the culture we’ve built at Las Vegas Sands and Sands China. Our team members live in these communities as well, and we are fully invested in giving back in as many ways as possible.

Is it correct that you have reinvested in the careers of your team members?

We were the first, and might still be the only operator to have set up an onsite facility – what we call the Sands Academy – to train our team members, introduce them to new skills and other disciplines, and just help them think about their careers and how they achieve their professional goals.

Your success as a philanthropist and as an entrepreneur is well documented. What aspect of your legacy do you hope will endure the longest?

My medical research foundation [The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson
Medical Research Foundation]. I am in a position to fly around the world and look for the best of the best. But other people can’t do that. And so I wanted to contribute to society and to the benefit of humanity by using my ‘changing the status quo’ method and applying it to how medical research is conducted. When I first got into medical research, I did due diligence and found out that what
was holding up more and faster results was the unwillingness of scientists to collaborate with each other. And, of course, money. So I had enough money to encourage people to collaborate with each other and that’s our criteria. We came up with a business model whereby researchers and scientists get together and, if they work in groups and all agree on which studies they want to conduct, we help fund them. This business model will fundamentally change the way medical research is conducted.

It is very gratifying to me as an entrepreneur to build these beautiful buildings and provide good jobs for our 55,000 team members, but, as a human being, there is nothing more gratifying than to help find a solution that other scientists and other medical researchers have not been able to accomplish.

While you are in Macao celebrating the 10th anniversary, what do you think will be going through your mind?

Well, the fact that with The Venetian, I did what I said I was going to do. I created Asia’s Las Vegas. Putting up a hotel, a casino and a few restaurants does not equal an integrated resort. You need all the components. And I’m proud that The Venetian represents that with its hotel rooms and restaurants, its retail outlets, its theatre and 15,000-seat arena, its exhibition space – some of the biggest in China – and so much more.

Given all you have learned over a varied and successful career, what advice would you give to someone young, such as your sons, who is just starting out?

I would advise my sons that you have to have a set of values. And those values have to be worth pursuing. You don’t need to ever compromise your values, but you need to live by the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you make commitments, keep them, and if you don’t earn something yourself, then you probably don’t deserve it.