What Was Mike Leven Thinking?

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What was Mike Leven thinking when earlier this week he accepted the job as president and COO of Las Vegas Sands? I have more respect for Mike than just about anyone I've known in my years covering the hotel business, but seriously Mike, what are you thinking?

Las Vegas is probably suffering the worst of any market during the current industry downturn, and Mike's new company owns and runs three high-profile properties there—The Venetian, The Palazzo and the Sands Expo & Convention Center—that must be hurting especially bad through these depressed times. Gaming revenues on the Strip dropped 15 percent in January after a horrible 2008, the number of visitors to the city is expected to drop by four percent this year, more than 13,000 new rooms will open in '09, and the entire city is in a rate war. No wonder, Las Vegas Sands has lost 98 percent of its stock value in the past 52 weeks.

And while Mike is a marketing and operations genius, nearly his entire career has been in the mid-market and economy segments of the hotel industry (Holiday Inn, Days Inn, US Franchise Systems), much different animals than the casino hotel business. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is that Mike will be working for Sheldon Adelson, the firm's volatile and much-maligned chairman and largest (along with his wife) shareholder. Mike got the job following Adelson's very public and ongoing feud with William Weidner, the former president and COO, a 14-year veteran of the company and one of the most experienced casino executives in Las Vegas. Mike will have his hands full with Adelson.

Despite my misgivings, there's always a chance this move will pay off for Mike. (I'm sure it will financially, at least.) Mike has been on the company's board of directors since 2004 so he should have a clear understanding of its inner workings, as well as its strengths and challenges. He's also a brilliant strategist and a smooth and talented leader who's always been able to get the most out of his people. And at one time, Mike worked for and thrived under Henry Silverman, who in terms of arrogance and ego might make Adelson look like Mother Theresa.

Either way, I wish Mike luck in his new job and hope he doesn't roll craps.

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