When the chips are down
Sands China CEO Edward Tracy is on a winning streak as he aims to meet visitors’ every need
In Temples of Chance, a book about the gaming industry, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Johnston called Edward Tracy “one of the great problem-solvers in the business”. Since 2010, Tracy has been solving those problems, and seizing opportunities, with Sands China’s Macau-based operation.
The hotel and casino industry veteran became president and CEO of the business in 2011 and is now responsible for Sands Macao, the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel, Plaza Macao and Sands Cotai Central. Together these facilities offer a total of 9,000 hotel rooms and suites, 140,000 square metres of meetings and convention space, more than 100 different dining venues, around 600 retail shops and 96,000 square metres of gaming space. They also employ over 25,000 people.
Tracy is unfazed by the scale of the business in comparison to similar enterprises elsewhere in the world. “The logistics are basically the same, there’s just a lot more of it,” he says.
Though the overwhelming majority of the business’ net revenue – which rose 37 per cent to US$8.96 billion from US$6.54 billion between calendar years 2012 and 2013 – comes from the casino sector, Tracy emphasises the work they do to ensure visitors that every want is catered for.
“We’re constantly researching to make sure we have the retail product, the gaming product, the entertainment product, the dining product and the hotel product that the market we’re targeting wants,” he says. “It used to be that the majority of visitors were day trippers who came specifically to gamble. Now you’re seeing families coming.”
Tracy puts this change down to several factors, including the increasing number of affordable rooms available and the broader range of entertainment events on offer.
“But the part we can’t take credit for is the enormous infrastructure investment the central government has made, including the high-speed rail link, which has delivered 3.5 to 4 million visitors in its first year,” he says.
Tracy says the work ethic he has needed for his long and successful career was learned growing up in a New York Irish-American family badly burned by a previous economic downturn. “They got into the barge business and unfortunately lost everything in the Depression [of the 1930s]. My father was pretty young when his father had a stroke and because of the family situation, the three older boys had to work and my father had to drop out of school,” he says.
Throughout his student career Tracy made his own contribution to the family finances, always fitting in some sort of after-school job alongside his studies. After graduating from Albany University in New York with a degree in English literature and journalism, he put his further studies on hold – along with his dreams of a career as a writer – when he got a job with a hotel company (that later became Starwood) as a food and beverage director.
Tracy first learned about, and gained a licence to work in, the gaming business when he joined the Sands group in the early 1980s. Soon he was on his way to Puerto Rico to open the Sands hotel and casino there.
“I immersed myself in Berlitz [the language training courses] and learned Spanish. I was there for three years and then I was recruited by Donald Trump to become the president of the Trump Marina hotel and casino in Atlantic City. I worked for Trump for a couple of years and was promoted to CEO of what was the biggest casino company in the world at the time,” he says.
The position saw Tracy really get involved in the entertainment and fight business – including the staging of all the early Tyson-Holyfield bouts – and he discovered how to leverage these in the service of the casino and hotel business.
Tracy first visited Macau in 1989. “But I started coming back here in the late ’90s with investors – I owned my own company at that time – looking at opportunities in Asia. It was clear to me that there would only be very big [gaming and hotel] companies allowed to come into Macau and give the government what it was looking for, which was an integrated resort complex,” he says.
Today, Tracy seems to see the other casino and hotel businesses in Macau more as partners than competitors, with the greater goal of getting international travellers to choose the city as their destination. “Raising the visibility of Macau is objective one, even over raising our own visibility,” he says.
To that end he’s booked everyone from China’s Three Tenors and the National Ballet to K-pop acts for his performance venues, and at the end of last year the Venetian hosted the world-title boxing bout between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios.
Tracy is also aware of the growing role his business plays locally, both economically and socially. “Part of the responsibility of a US company on foreign soil is to give back, give back, give back and create opportunities,” he says. “We’re involved in 120 local groups and associations – everything from green initiatives to education to drug awareness.”
Now 61, Tracy has some words of advice for any youngster wishing to launch themselves on a similarly successful career path. “Hard work is the key, along with honesty, integrity and character,” he says. “You also need to give back, have time away from work, and you need to treat people the way you want to be treated.”
SHOWING HIS HAND
Edward Tracy points out what he thinks are great places to visit in Macau
Ruins of Saint Paul’s “To discover why Macau was once known as the ‘Vatican of the East’”
Museum of Macau “It tells a great story about the history of East and West.”
Macau Tower “Kind of commercial but also pretty cool, with the bungee jumpers and the walk around the outside.”
Taipa Village “[Older communities like this] live and breathe the history of Macau’s blend of Chinese and Portuguese culture.”