The 1 Thing You Must Know About Las Vegas Sands

I know it sounds ludicrous, but investors often overlook the people in charge of protecting their investments. The idea of gauging a company's leadership plays second-fiddle to other categories of analysis. However, at Fool.com we believe careful study of effective leadership is one of the most important areas of evaluating long-term winning investments.

We like CEOs who actually work for shareholders like us. After all, we're the true owners of the business. When you're deciding whether to invest in a company, failing to vet its CEO is a big mistake. In fact, if you've overlooked the study of a company's leadership, then that's the one important area you should know about before finalizing your investment in the company.

After reviewing thousands of companies over dozens of years, we've found several crucial characteristics of quality management. Today, we'll size up the recent performance of Las Vegas Sands' (NYSE: LVS  ) leadership.

How much skin do they have in the game?
Are Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson's interests aligned with shareholders? Here's how the Las Vegas Sands CEO's ownership compares to that of other companies in the broader gaming and casino industry.

CEO, Company

Shares Owned

% of Shares Outstanding

Insider Ownership Market Value (in millions)

Sheldon Adelson, Las Vegas Sands

343,491,920

51.99%

$10,178

Stephen Wynn, Wynn Resorts

11,026,708

8.93%

$966

Patti Hart, International Game Technology

178,889

0.06%

$3

James Murren, MGM Resorts International

245,324

0.06%

$2

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Adelson owns $10,178 million worth of Las Vegas Sands, or 51.99% of shares outstanding. When CEOs invest a significant amount of their net worth in their own companies, we believe they're more likely to act in ways that generate long-term gains. This will ultimately increase shareholder value and their own wealth.

How well are they using your money?
Return on equity can help investors determine how adeptly management gets the job done. This metric combines how well management is expanding profitability, managing assets, and using financial leverage, all in one ratio. While return on equity isn't foolproof -- managers can manipulate it with excessive leverage, for example -- it does an excellent job of suggesting how effective managers are, and how well they can generate high returns on investors' capital.

Here's a look at Las Vegas Sands' recent return on equity:

Las Vegas Sands' current return on equity falls below its five-year average. While recent economic conditions have been challenging, declining return on equity shows either that management hasn't been able to control costs and manage assets, or that it's failed to move into higher-return businesses over the last five years. In the case of Las Vegas Sands, its recent ROE stands above MGM Resorts (NYSE: MGM  ) , but below Wynn Resorts (Nasdaq: WYNN  ) . The greater test of ROE will be fought in coming years as CEOs of casino companies try achieving outsized returns with less leverage and work to cut costs and increase operating efficiency.

How productive are their workers?
Revenue per employee provides another way to gauge a CEO's effectiveness. If this metric is declining, the company might have a bloated organizational structure, or too many extra employees toiling away at new initiatives that just aren't working out. Either possibility would hint that management isn't effectively running the organization.

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

As you can see, Las Vegas Sands' revenue per employee has moved above its five-year average. Rising revenue per employee can suggest that management's getting better at controlling costs, or encouraging more productivity from its workers. To better see whether Las Vegas Sands' management is excelling in this area, let's compare the company to its peer group once again:

Company

2005

2007

2009

Last Year's Revenue Per Employee vs. 5-Year Average

Las Vegas Sands

$142

$105

$169

18%

Wynn Resorts

$78

$163

$161

26%

International Game Technology (NYSE: IGT  )

$476

$485

$415

(10%)

MGM Resorts International

$101

$126

$111

(6%)

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's. Dollar figures in thousands.

Las Vegas Sands' revenue per employee isn't just rising -- it's better than its combined peer group. That's quite an impressive feat.

These are just a few of the factors we look for in a company's management. If you can find leaders who continually give shareholders high returns on their capital, and align their interests with yours, you've got a better chance to enjoy market-beating returns for the long haul.

Jeremy Phillips owns shares of no companies listed above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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  • Report this Comment On August 24, 2010, at 8:03 PM, ikkyu2 wrote:

    Good old Shecky "Free Cash Flow" Adelson. I'd buy into him in a heartbeat.

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