On the road in and around Las Vegas, Nevada...
But first some background...
The columns you read about my corporate visits to U.S. cities are in chronological order. My trek started in Seattle, Washington. I took the northern route across the U.S. and ended up in Boston in November, 1991. Then I flew to Florida and spent the winter down south. My first story for Bloomberg came from their--Miami. However, in these Bloomberg columns I often reminisce about events along the Seattle to Boston trail.
Here's a favorite item, for example. Airborne Express in Seattle showed me the bowels of its headquarters building--a huge computer room. This is where the company tracks its packages around the world. I loved seeing the robots who man the computers. They have these beady, human-like eyes.
Occasionally I also mention a story from my first trip around the country five years ago. Then I visited the 650 largest U.S. corporations. Now I'm visiting the 750 largest mid-size U.S. companies. For example, I remember the time K-Mart gave me an extensive tour of its headquarters in Troy, Michigan. All products sold by K-Mart get tested first in the company's quality control center. (It's K-Mart's equivalent to Good Housekeeping's Seal of Approval.) During my visit, K-mart quality guys, dressed in white smocks, are testing diapers. They pour some kind of disgusting, orangeish gunk on hundreds of diapers. It was close to my lunch hour so repressing my usually curiosity I
don't ask what's in this concoction.
Now back to Vegas...
Walking off the plane I figure I should blend in with the locals so I rip my shirt open to the waist and layer gold chains around my neck. Not. But I usually try to blend in with the natives. For example, in southern California I end my visits by saying, "Have a nice day." When in Texas, I greet people by saying "Good to see ya."
So are you wondering what I'm doing coming off an airplane when I'm suppose to be traveling around the country on a bicycle. Well, give me credit for having a few live brain cells. In the
winter, I fly to warm weather. Five years ago, on my first trek around the U.S., I ended up snowed under in Green Bay, Wisconsin this time of year. I learned. This time I'm in Las Vegas.
In addition to my usual company visits, I choose to visit Las Vegas now because I want to check out COMDEX/Fall 92. COMDEX (COMputer Dealers EXposition) is the world's largest computer trade show. It's also one of the largest trade shows of any kind in the world.
Unfortunately I don't have a hotel reservation and very little chance of getting one since the city expects over 150,000 attendees to this conference. However, there is one bonus to having a bike.
After I assemble my bike in the airport baggage area, I ride off past 73 poor saps--I count them--helplessly waiting in a long, motionless, snake-like line for taxis. But at least they probably have hotel reservations.
As expected, Mirage Resorts (1991 revenues $823 million) has its headquarters in its flagship casino- hotel--The Mirage. Located on a 100-acre site in the center of the Las Vegas Strip, the 29-story, Y-shaped hotel-casino has 2.7 million square feet of space. This includes 3,030 rooms, a 95,500 square-foot casino and a 1,500-seat showroom (where Siegfried & Roy are headlining).
This is the first corporate headquarters I've ever visited with a 40-foot simulated volcano in front. The volcano erupts at 15-minute intervals every evening. It's also the first time my
bicycle gets valet parked.
Once inside the hotel I head for the door marked "Executive Offices." But before I can proceed I have to talk fast to a big burly man wearing a bright green blazer and one of those Secret Service-type transmitters in his ear. The security guard/bouncer finally opens the door and lets me pass but only after eyeing me up and down to make sure I'm not a Fuller brush man. Inside I find two
very friendly receptionists sitting behind a low counter. One of them leaves to find someone to meet with me.
I notice several large beautiful flower arrangements around the room. I also see an antique slot machine which will still, I'm told, take my money.
After a short wait, Debbie Krum, Executive Secretary, comes out to the lobby. She tells me no one can meet with me. I tell Krum I only need a little time and persuade her to answer my questions
for two minutes. I end up taking seven minutes of her time but luckily she doesn't seem to notice.
Krum tells me Stephen Wynn (CEO) has a "spectacular" office but doesn't show it to me so I can't verify this. Krum speculates that Wynn has his office on the first floor instead of the 29th
floor because he likes "being near the action". (For more information see: MIR)
Circus Circus Enterprises
Pedaling down the Strip about a mile I come to the 2,793-room Circus Circus casino/hotel--also the corporate offices for Circus Circus Enterprises (1991 revenues $806 million). The company operates five hotel/casinos in Nevada. The largest is the 4,032-room Excalibur about two miles away.
Circus Circus-Las Vegas hosts the largest permanent circus in the United States. It also runs the world's busiest restaurant. The Circus Circus Buffet serves more than 11,000 meals per day. And
this hotel/casino is so big it has an elevated tram (like Disneyland) shuttling people between buildings.
Finding the executive offices for Circus Circus Enterprises is tricky. First I walk down this long, dark-red carpeted corridor lined with arcade shops. Then I pass through an indoor carnival with booths--you know, knock-the-bowling-pin-over-win-a-prize type affairs.
As I walk past a slew of elevator banks I notice a small booth manned by a woman advertising "Credit Card Cash Advances." Darn right hospitable of the hotel to provide its customers with a quick way to lose more of their green stuff.
Finally, next to the Gold Peddler and Circus Jeweler store I see a barely noticeable elevator marked "Executive Elevator." The elevator is tiny. I figure no more than three people (or one Dom
DeLuise) can fit into it. I straighten my shirt using the mirrored glass in the elevator and ride it up to the second floor.
The receptionist sits just one step away from the elevator doors. This company has definitely set the record for desk closest to an elevator. Unfortunately, I've come all this way only to be told
everyone's in meetings and no one's available to meet with me. The receptionist, appropriately enough, tells me I'm out of luck. (For more information see: CIR)
Nevada Power Co.
I find Nevada Power Company (1991 revenues $539 million) about seven miles west of downtown Las Vegas. Built in 1982, the building has a futuristic look to it; it's all white and shaped like a right triangle.
Theattle Boyd, secretary to Charles Lenzie (CEO), (a very nice lady) has one of the most unusual names I've come across. She tells me Lenzie (CEO) wanted to meet me but had to go to Australia. Instead, Keith Ashworth, Executive Assistant to the CEO, spends time with me.
About 700 employees work in the building. Lenzie's office has nothing unusual in it except for the signed life-size poster of basketball whiz Michael Jordan. Theattle says when the Chicago
Bulls have a losing streak, Lenzie takes down Jordan's poster and replaces it with a southwestern landscape.
Everybody here is nice including the security guards. Employees wear laminated picture ID badges. I tell the security guards about my visitor badge collection so they take my picture
and make me my own badge. (For more information see: NVP)
Gallery of History
When I was in Dallas I spent some time window shopping in the Galleria--an upscale suburban shopping center. I especially liked the store called Gallery of History. It sells framed documents signed by significant individuals in history. There are documents and letters signed by U.S. Presidents; there's a letter by Ludwig Van Beethoven, a note written by Edgar Allan Poe, a postal receipt signed by Sitting Bull, a document of Napoleon Bonaparte's, etc. I talked to several of the sales people--I mean "Assistant Curators"- -who told me the Gallery of History, a publicly-traded company with nine galleries around the country--is headquartered in Las Vegas (1991 revenues $4.5 million). Hmmm, that visit got me to wondering what historical documents the company's CEO would have in his office? Well now I'm in Las Vegas and I'm going to find out.
About eight miles west of downtown Las Vegas in what looks like a renovated bowling alley I find the corporate offices. The company owns the two-story building and occupies most of the space (20,000 square feet). A restaurant/bar is one of its tenants.
I meet with Marc DuCharme, Senior Vice President. He's a fellow bicycling enthusiast.
The main reception area looks like a gallery--no surprise. DuCharme's job is great. He decides on the most aesthetically pleasing layout and appropriate matting and frames for each historical document.
The company's inventory consists of more than 143,000 different documents, which makes it far and away the largest in the world. Plus part of the company's revenue comes from the wholesale
marketing of historical documents to other dealers.
DuCharme walks me through the massive vault downstairs. Several employees have desks in the vault. The vault contains dozens of file cabinets containing yet-to-be framed documents plus
quite a bit of sports memorabilia. I spot a dozen or so basketballs (signed by the greats) along one wall and several dozen hockey sticks; I see the signatures of Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull.
I had imagined Todd Axelrod, founder and CEO, as a scholarly, bank president type. I'm way off! Axelrod is 42 years old, short, bearded, and heavyset. His language is colorful, he smokes thin
cigars and he drinks lots of Coca-Cola.
The first thing I notice when I walk into his office is a huge 450-gallon aquarium. It's about 12 feet long and five feet tall. Axelrod tells me he used to have salt-water sharks, eels and exotic
fish but the eels (not the sharks) kept eating all the other fish. Now it's a fresh water tank. I ask Axelrod if the receptionist told the truth about how he used to turn off all the lights in his
office, put on the music from Jaws, pull up a chair next to the aquarium and watch the sharks. True, he admits.
Axelrod's large windowless office has all kinds of unusual items. He shows me an antique humidor filled with Cuban cigars, a mounted sailfish (which he caught, a fossil (part of a
anthropological dig he made with his father in the Middle East), a giant Crayola, a five-foot-tall baby bottle and a small Japanese antique aquarium. Next I examine what looks like a piece of dry mud on his desktop. The plaque on it reads "50 million year-old reptilian fossilized shit". Next to that there's a hand grenade-- it's plaque reads "Complaint department. Take a number".
I ask Axelrod why the windowless office with no view. He angrily replies, "Why do I need windows when I have these to look at" and he point to the framed documents on his walls.
"Which documents are your personal favorites?" I ask him. He has a 1961 team picture of the New York Yankees signed by every player, and a framed visual story showing the development of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" from Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to film. Axelrod says everything's for sale and he periodically changes the documents in his office.
I do finally get him to admit his favorite signature. Axelrod is an avid collector of George Reeves memorabilia. Reeves was the man who played Superman on the television show back in the
Axelrod got into this business in an interesting way. He tells me he made "obscene" amounts of money as a stockbroker so he "retired" early and started this venture. When I get ready to
leave, Axelrod gives me a copy of his new book, "The Handbook of Historical Documents" (retails for $49). I ask him to autograph it. He agrees on one condition; I must send him an autographed copy of my book when it comes out. (For more information see: HIST)
The COMDEX show:
I spend three hours at the massive COMDEX show scurrying around trying to take it all in. All the biggies--IBM, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Intel, etc. have massive displays. But
it seems to me that the goal of most COMDEX attendees is to take home as many goodies as possible in their shopping bags.
Just about every exhibitor uses free stuff to lure people into their booth, i.e.: T-shirts, visors, pens and candy. One booth had the reigning U.S. Ping-Pong champion challenging attendees to a
game; others had putting greens with prizes for holes-in-one.
The best lure I've ever seen was at a trade show a few years ago--The Consumer Electronics Winter Trade Show in Las Vegas. I and many others even waited in a 40-minute line for an autographed photo. It was "Penthouse" magazine's booth.
The longest line here is at the Toshiba exhibit. In a small glass enclosed room three Toshiba people, wearing white smocks, white face masks and white shoe covers, act like they're making
Microchips. As a moving conveyor belt goes by the "scientists" put little quartz desk clocks/calendars on it. The conveyor belt then plops the packaged clock into a hamper. Antendees (me included) wait patiently in line to grab one.