Doug French

When most people think of starting a business, or contemplate others doing so, the common belief is that a person should go into a business they have knowledge in — not just something they know about, but something they know lots about. But is expert knowledge of a particular industry really a prerequisite to opening a new business in that industry or taking over an existing business?

Self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson says the secret to his success was "never knowing anything" about the businesses he entered. That sounds like an exaggeration, but he emphasized that point when speaking to students at UNLV recently, upon receiving the Hospitality Industry Leader of the Year by the UNLV's Harrah Hotel College.

"You could hand me your laptop and I wouldn't know how to turn it on," Adelson told the students. "It was amazing I had success in developing Comdex."

Comdex was a computer expo held in Las Vegas and was one of the largest computer trade shows in the world. Geek Week, as it was called, had a stunning rise from its beginning in 1979, with 167 exhibitors and just over 3,900 attendees to a peak in 2000 of 2,337 exhibitors and over 211,000 visitors.

Adelson's company, the Interface Group, sold the show to Softbank Corp., a Japanese software conglomerate, in 1995 for nearly $1 billion.

Adelson purchased the Sands hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip in the early '90s with hopes of building a convention center to house Comdex. "Entrepreneurs are not in the business of making others rich," Adelson said, explaining why he bought the Sands to build his own convention center rather than leasing facilities from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, an entity funded by the room tax that operates the competing Las Vegas Convention Center.

Adelson knew little about the gaming industry and says he doesn't even know how to play baccarat, the game that generates most of his company's earnings at casinos in Macau and Singapore, properties that generated more than 83 percent of the company's revenues in the latest quarter.

Gaming insiders laughed at him for thinking he could build a fortune catering to low-rolling convention goers. Now Las Vegas depends on convention traffic to fill its rooms during weeknights. Every new property built in Vegas includes convention space — after Adelson proved the model works.

Doug French

Doug French is is president of the Mises Institute and author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply and Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth

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