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Rags to Riches CEOs: Sheldon Adelson


The resort king once shared a single bedroom with his parents and three siblings.

Almost nothing about Sheldon Adelson's remarkable rise to wealth was conventional. There were no silver spoons, no Ivy League degrees, no friends in high places.

Instead, Adelson became one of the richest people in the United States the old-fashioned way: Try a bunch of different things and see what sticks.

Adelson, 76, is chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands (LVS), the casino resort colossus he founded in 1988. His net worth, as estimated by Forbes, is $9 billion -- a long way from his humble beginnings.

The media-shy billionaire grew up in tenement housing in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Adelson's father, a Lithuanian immigrant, drove a cab in Boston while his mother operated a knitting shop from home. According to a lengthy profile of him in the New Yorker last year, Adelson grew up sharing a bedroom with his three siblings and their parents.

"Rich in our neighborhood then was having $3 in your pocket," Adelson's childhood friend Irwin Chafetz told the New York Times.

Adelson was clearly born with the entrepreneurial gene. When he was just 12, according to the New Yorker, he borrowed $200 from an uncle to purchase the right to sell newspapers on busy corners. By the time he was sixteen, he was running his own candy vending machine scheme.

After high school, Adelson enrolled at City College of New York but he dropped out soon after. He studied to become a court reporter, joined the Army to transcribe testimony, and soon left that vocation, too, after his return to civilian life.

Over the next couple of decades, Adelson had his hands in many different businesses with varying degrees of success. He began a business packaging toiletries for hotels and started a company that sold a spray to de-ice frozen car windshields. He was a mortgage broker, an advertising salesman for financial media, a tour business operator, and a real estate investor. He says he made fortunes and lost them during this period.

It was his decision in 1979 to start a conference for the nascent personal computing industry that launched him on the trajectory to become the billionaire he is today. Adelson has said he had the idea for Comdex, which was considered the most important tech conference for about two decades before it was replaced by a conference called Interlop, because he could rent convention space for $0.25 per square foot and sell it to vendors for $25.

Eventually, Adelson was inspired to buy his own space to rent out. With other investors, he bought the struggling Sands Hotel and Casino in 1988 and turned it into a convention center. In the years following, he expanded his empire by building the Venetian and Palazzo resorts in Las Vegas and several other casinos and hotels in Macao. Adelson's net worth took a steep climb when the Las Vegas Sands went public in 1994.

The economic recession has hit Adelson, and Las Vegas, hard. Just a few years ago, the mogul's net worth was estimated to be $26.5 billion, and he was the third-richest person in the US.

Now at $9 billion, his net worth has nearly tripled in recent months as shares of Las Vegas Sands have skyrocketed from their lows, mostly thanks to its operations in Macau.
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