Gavin Whiteley, a second-year student in Wharton’s West Coast EMBA class, recently organized a trip to Las Vegas for his classmates to learn more about the industries in that city as well as to celebrate the completion of their first year. We asked Gavin, who is technical manager at the Resident Shows Division of Cirque du Soleil, to tell us about the trip. Here is what he said:
The Wharton | San Francisco EMBA program attracts students from near and far, but in my class I’m the only one commuting from Las Vegas so I wanted to share my city with my classmates. I organized a two-day trek to visit a diversity of industries as well as enjoy some bonding time in this entertainment hub.
In April, about 20 of my classmates and many of their partners came out on a nonclass weekend and we covered a lot of ground. While our partners enjoyed the city’s sites during the day, we had many meetings lined up. First up was a discussion with the CFO of Caesar’s Interactive Entertainment, and then we jumped across the Strip for a lunch with the president of Global Gaming for Las Vegas Sands with a surprise appearance from Las Vegas Sands Chairman Sheldon Adelson, who – of all the things he could have been doing with his time – chose to talk to us about entrepreneurship and growth in the Asian gaming market.
We then met with the CFO and vice president of marketing for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, who shared insights into their strategy behind operating and marketing the most expensive hotel property in Las Vegas. Afterward, we headed to Zappos’ headquarters where we had a great behind-the-scenes taste of their corporate culture. Then we visited the main campus of International Game Technologies for a talk with a Wharton alumnus about the gaming industry. Having just come from several casinos, it was interesting to visit a company that provides many of the gaming products and technologies.
We finished the day at Switch SuperNAP, which is one of the largest and most secure data centers in the world. It houses a lot of data and analytics for the federal government as well as companies like Cisco, Google and eBay, and is extremely well guarded. At night, we met up with our partners and enjoyed hanging out at the Wynn Casino.
The next day, we enjoyed a tour of the Downtown Project organized by Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, who is funding that $350-million revitalization. That area will soon become the home of Zappos’ new headquarters. We also met with a partner from the Vegas Tech Fund, a $50-million fund dedicated to investing in Las Vegas startups.
At lunch, several founders from Vegas Tech Fund portfolio joined us to discuss their startup experiences and the entrepreneurial ecosystem here. Then, we had a behind-the-scenes tour of Cirque du Soleil’s KA show at the MGM Grand and learned about the history of the company’s growth from the vice president of the Resident Shows Division. It was interesting to hear his talk while a hundred technicians were setting up Cirque’s largest and most technically challenging show behind him on stage. After later watching the show, we headed to XS at Encore, the country’s biggest nightclub, for a fun final night to wrap up the weekend.
These types of trips are really important for our class, as we seek out ways to spend time together and bond. When you’re in the EMBA program, time flies by fast so we want to build our relationships as much as we can while we’re students. It makes our time in the program that much better and builds the foundation for the many years to come as alumni.
It’s also a great opportunity to go onsite and spend time with senior executives in a variety of industries that we might not have access to in the Bay Area. The Wharton name opens up an amazing number of doors all over and Las Vegas was no exception. This is an exciting time for this city and I’m glad I was able to share its growth with my classmates.