Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Adelson's Details Man Walks, Too

Brad Stone, the man who took credit on my 2006 profile for VEGAS Magazine for convincing Sheldon Adelson to come up with a theme for what became The Venetian, quit today. He followed his boss, mentor and ex-president Bill Weidner out the door. In that VEGAS piece, Adelson called Stone "the world's most extraordinary and efficient operator." Now what would be cool would be for them to buy some of MGM's assets and go head-to-head with Sheldon Adelson.

With this news, I went back to find that story in my hard drive because VEGAS content isn't available online and I've never placed my stories for them in my SteveFriess.Com archive. But I thought there were some too-precious passages worth dredging up again for the occasion:

Weidner and Adelson were largely big-picture guys, the dealmakers, and while they’ve had their hands in on most everything along the way, these buildings -- the two Venetians, the Palazzo, the Sands Macau, which was the first American casino in Asia when it opened two years ago -- are dusted with Stone’s fingerprints from top to bottom.

“I walk down anywhere in this building,” says Stone as he sits in a four-bedroom high-roller suite at the Venetian, “and I can see every little decision that was made. I can stand anywhere in that lobby and point to 20 things that I had to make a decision on. Whether the thing is made out of marble, not out of marble, the color pattern, how the thing flows. One of my primary tasks in this job was getting this place built and designed and functional. There’s a lot of my guts in this place.”


None other than current MGM Mirage CEO Terry Lanni, in his role at the time as head of Caesars World, hired the Weidner-Stone team to run Caesars Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City. After a couple of years, Stone was installed as the president of the Sands Hotel-Casino in Atlantic City, making him at 29 the youngest casino president.

“It was interesting sitting there in meetings with Donald Trump and Steve Wynn back then,” Stone recalls. “They were probably thinking, ‘Who’s this kid?’ "


Stone climbed to executive vice president of that hotel’s parent company before being snatched in 1995 along with Weidner by Adelson to help him replace the Las Vegas Sands. (Adelson had purchased the Las Vegas property but never owned the Sands in Atlantic City, to which he continues today to lease the use of the name.)

Stone knew instantly that this wasn’t a typical Vegas redevelopment job; Adelson, who bought the Las Vegas Sands in 1989 and then built the Sands Convention Center and Expo, envisioned a Vegas resort catering to business travelers and conventioneers. Admits Stone: “When I first saw that, I thought he was nuts. At the time, everything here was about cheaper meals, the casino was the main revenue stream and the rooms were a marketing tool for the casino. But Sheldon knew there were a lot of ways to make money in this town besides slot machines.”


While Stone regularly sings his boss’ praises, he also vociferously and legendarily squabbles with him in meetings. Adelson has a reputation for imperiousness, which is why “a lot of people are surprised at how aggressively we go at it with each other,” says Stone, who claims his most significant victory was when he and others convinced Adelson in the mid-1990s that the new casino needed a theme. “I’ve told him I appreciate the fact that I can be myself.”

Indeed, that no-wallflower style is precisely why Adelson calls Stone “one-of-a-kind” and “the world’s most extraordinary and efficient operator.”

“To say this guy is a yes man would provoke the most laughter,” Adelson said. “He has his opinions, and he doesn’t give up on them easily. There are times when we disagree quite strongly and, sometimes, I put my foot down because I have to make the decision. But he’s also spent billions of dollars.”

(For his part, Adelson insists he was always on board with having a theme. “Maybe he remembers one sentence I said at some point,” Adelson says.)


“What I’m most proud of is what we’ve achieved as a group (at LVS). It’s really just a couple of guys. Sheldon, Bill, myself and (senior vice president) Rob Goldstein," Stone says. "We started from nothing 10 years ago and we now have the company that the markets value as the highest market cap of any gaming in the world. It’s really amazing.”

And so it was in the good ole days, three years ago. So the next question is, when's Goldstein going to give up on Adelson, too?