Magazine Winter 2010 Kirk Kerkorian’s Incredible Journey

18 December 2009, 16:59
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Kirk Kerkorian’s Incredible Journey

This fall, as the world was engulfed in questioning the economic model that had seemingly plunged the American financial system into a desperate downward spiral, YEREVAN had the opportunity to interview Kirk Kerkorian, the iconic business financier whose financial success is rooted and driven by that same economic model.

Kirk Kerkorian is an allusive figure who rarely grants interviews. In fact, the last time a reporter inter- viewed him was over two decades ago. So my excitement at having locked in this interview was unde-niably great, but so too was my ex-pectation that this would be a rushed interview. I was sure that he would only allow a few quick minutes and hastily answer only some of my questions. To my surprise all my anxieties where quickly put to rest when Kirk Kerkorian walked out of his luxurious Beverly Hills office to greet me. He graciously granted me more than enough time and created a calming, casual ambiance. What struck me most about him was his humble, gentle demeanor. In an era when financial suc-cess is usually reserved for flamboyant showy media-hungry people, Kirk Kerkorian is an anomaly. Often considered a recluse who doesn’t publicize his personal successes, he has been one of the most influential and important American business men of the past fifty years. A self-made man, Kerkorian has invested in numerous high profile business ventures from charter planes to movie studios to automobile manufacturers. However, he is best known for his successes in the hotel development business.
While he is one of the richest men in the world, there was a time when Kirk Kerkorian, son of Armenian immigrants, had only a few thousand dollars to his name. Born in 1917, Kerkorian’s childhood was full of the turbulence typical of immigrant families trying to succeed in their adoptive country. The youngest of four children, he was already bringing money home at the age of nine to contribute his share to the family’s welfare. By 16 years old his focus had shifted away from school and toward the greater world. His frequent streets fights parlayed into training as an amateur boxer but he soon found a more inspiring hobby, one that would be full of great risks and even greater rewards.
His love of flying would change the course of his life. Not having the sufficient funds to take flying lessons he took a job at a farm do-ing heavy barn labor in exchange for flying lessons. Having earned his flying license, he began working as a flight instructor. During World War II, Kerkorian became a civilian pilot flying an extremely dangerous route over the North Atlantic. By 1945 he had bought his first plane and began charter flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
With a $5000 charter plane business, Kerkorian established the foundation for building one of the world’s greatest fortunes. By 1962 Kerkorian had made his first million. His catapult from successful business man to tycoon occurred when he purchased 80 acres of land near the growing Las Vegas strip. Subsequently, he quickly became involved in the hotel develop-ment business. He understood that attracting loyal vacationers meant that Sin City had to be marketed to a wider audience and rebranded as a family-friendly location rather than as an ex-clusive adult playground. Since those early Las Vegas developments, Kerkorian has invested in various businesses expanding his fortune.
Today at 92 years of age, Kirk Kerkorian is still on fire. In fact, he is embarking on one of his most ambitious business ventures yet, CityCenter, a multi-building, multi-faceted urban center in the heart of Las Vegas that is slated to open this December. With an eight billion dollar price tag, it is the largest privately funded development in the United States. Being the gambling man that he is, Kerkorian is betting on Las Vegas again. This time he is hoping to rebrand Las Vegas as one of the most sophisticated urban centers in the world. Once again Kirk Kerkorian is chang-ing the Las Vegas skyline.
Often mistakenly stereotyped as a man driven by the desire only to make a profit, it is estimated that Kerkorian has given away over 20 percent of his fortune to mostly Armenian causes. For someone who takes such flamboyant invest-ment risks he is very modest when it comes to receiving accolades for his charity. He has done a great deal for Armenia yet has always insisted that his name not be placed on any structure, school or road that he has funded. Most notable about Kirk Kerkorian’s phenomenal success is its longevity. For over 50 years he has ridden the tides of economic booms and busts. Today, when many entrepreneurs suffered the loss of great fortunes, Kirk Kerkorian has maintained his investments, to a great degree, above the financial crisis. In fact, he is still rigorously investing and betting that the world economy will not only recover, but thrive.

You are known for being a very successful business man and for being very charitable. How would you like to be remembered?
It doesn’t even cross my mind really. I came here with my parents as an immigrant and just worked hard. I don’t really dwell on those kinds of things.

You were born to an immigrant family who struggled for financial stability. What do you think are the most important characteristics or traits needed to be successful in business and in life?
Well that’s a pretty tough one to just answer short because really all I can say is what has worked for me. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve dealt very honestly with people and it’s up to everybody with their own intelligence to work things out. I’ve been pretty lucky.

You’ve accomplished a lot. But most notably, you have had a very long and successful career.
I’ve been in a lot of different businesses. My main business that got me started was airplanes. I became a licensed pilot so when the war broke out I was already a professional pilot. And I flew for the U.S. Air Force with the RAF (Royal Air Force) and they paid me big money for those years to take airplanes and fly them across the North Atlantic, which wasn’t flyable.

It was a very dangerous job. One out of four pilots died flying that route.
Yeah, something like that. After the war I bought myself an airplane. I had $10,000 to my name, a car, no home, a wife and that’s all I had. I was 28 years old so I took the airplane and flew charters to Las Vegas and from there I got interested in the hotel business. I built a hotel. It was called the International; and then I built Caesars. I’ve built a number of hotels since then. And now we are building a place called CityCenter which has never been done. And I’m very excited about it!

There is some controversy around CityCenter regarding your Dubai World investor. Are they still investing in this ambitious project?
Well, Dubai owns 50 percent of CityCenter it-self, and there’s a parent company that holds all the hotels we own. There’s no controversy. At one time there was a controversy but that was straightened out.

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