An interview with Sheldon Adelson
By Ayesah Khan
Year after year, Sheldon Adelson, CEO and chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corporation is mentioned in the elite top 30 of Forbes' list of the 400 Richest Americans. His key to success is a rigorous development drive that has not only helped Las Vegas become the destination it is today, but it's doing the same for cities far beyond American shores. Adelson talks about his latest projects, from the much-anticipated Cotai Strip in Macau to the legendary Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, transitional luxury, and looking at the bigger picture.
HD: Tell us about your latest project, the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, set to open in May.
SA: This is a very unique property. It is a destination resort in an urban setting. It doesn’t have a time or a place theme, which sets it apart from other hotels in the Sands portfolio.
There are three [55-story] hotel buildings that are connected through a skypark [656 feet in the air]. It’s one of the tallest hotels in the world, and will be one of the most spectacular projects ever. We’ve already had two countries say, ‘Can you build one of those for me?’
HD: How has the concept of luxury evolved in the last decade and more recently, in this economy?
SA: Even if now 10 percent of the people are unemployed, there are still 90 percent of the people who are employed. People who appreciate luxury have a consistent desire to experience luxury, regardless of the economy. That is not to say that some people won't stop spending and tighten their belts, but I don't think the concept or demand for luxury is changing; luxury is luxury.
The luxury of today, and the aesthetic that we are following at Marina Bay Sands is a less gilded look and feel. The interior architectural spaces are more dramatic and there are fewer barrel vaulted or gilded details—the European style luxury. We just went over all the rooms for the Sheraton, Traders, St. Regis, and Shangri-La properties that we are opening in Macau [on the Cotai Strip] and I would call those, if anything, transitional. Not traditional, and not modern. We have a slight tinge of Chinese culture as well, but nothing like the more traditional form of luxury of the past.
HD: Surely it is crucial to work closely with design firms to make your visions come true. What is it about designers that makes you want to work with them?
SA: It’s all about personalities you like to work with—people you have good chemistry with. I respect designers for who they are and what they are. I respect them for their creativity and judgment.
Secondly, I like to work with firms that will design the ‘wow spaces’ like Wilson Associates did with the Venetian. The one thing that people will remember are the entrances to the public spaces, and I myself never cease to find the main stair area of the Venetian truly impressive, even though I see it twice every day. That to me is so important.
HD: You started off working in so many areas of business other than hospitality. What is it about hospitality that gets you excited?
SA: Yes, I’ve been a tour operator, travel agent, an airline operator, a condominium converter, mortgage broker, developer, marketer, and an investment advisor. In each business that I’ve been in, I have been able to learn a lot about what people want.
What gets me excited about this business is that I’ve been able to use my insight to change the way Las Vegas does business. And I truly love what I do because people come [to my properties] to have a good time. If we can provide the venues where people can enjoy themselves that is very fulfilling. People come to our properties and never want to leave.
HD: What’s your dream project?
SA: I am lucky enough to be making my dream project, the Cotai Strip in Macau, come true. We have luxury hotels, showrooms, endless entertainment, and gaming. My vision was to bring Las Vegas to Asia and we are doing it! I now want to do another one in Europe, perhaps in Greece, Spain, or Italy—someplace on the shores of the Mediterranean where the weather is warm.
HD: What are some lessons that you've learned—things that you would like to do differently from now on?
SA: I used to be a perfectionist, and now, with my new management team, I want to get involved in much of the details, but I don't want to be involved on such a micro level. With over 60 years of business experience, I think I can bring a lot of insight on more of the bigger picture, but also with some of the details.
Pictured from top: Sheldon Adelson; a rendering of the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands, made up of three, 55-story hotel buildings housing 2,500 rooms, a convention center, multi-level casino, six celebrity chef restaurants, three levels of retail, and entertainment venues; a closeup of the Sands SkyPark atop the three hotel towers that will feature gardens, restaurants and bars, and a swimming pool 656 feet in the air; and a rendering of the planned Las Vegas-inspired Cotai Strip in Macau, funded by Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corporation.