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What I’ve Learned

Extended Interview with Paul Bible

After graduating from the University of Nevada in 1962, I had a choice: I could either go on active duty or get a deferment and go to law school. While I was at the University, we had compulsory ROTC. Every male at the University had to go through two years of ROTC training. Students also had the option of voluntarily going through advanced ROTC, and at the end of that, if you were successful, you would be commissioned in the Army as a second lieutenant.

My understanding is that ROTC training was compulsory because of the land grant mission of the University.

I made the decision to go through advanced training. It was purely economic. They gave us a monthly stipend, which was enough to buy gasoline and beer with a little left over. So when I graduated, I was commissioned. At the same time, however, I was accepted into Georgetown Law School, and I elected to defer. I went to law school and I completed my studies at the end of three years. At that point, I had the choice of either becoming a first lieutenant in the Artillery Corps, where it would be a cinch to get sent to Vietnam, or becoming a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG).

The Artillery Corps was going to be a two-year obligation and the Judge Advocate General’s Corps was a three-year obligation. I accepted the three-year obligation and was commissioned in JAG. I was stationed in Korea for 13 months and in Vietnam for eight months. I think the most important thing that I learned from my experience in the military was the absolute necessity for structure and discipline in any type of an organization, whether it’s as big as the military or as small as a law firm or a small business.

When I went to Vietnam, the United States seemed to be very much in support of the war. But when I returned eight months later, public opinion had changed dramatically. It was 1968. It was the year that roared. Robert Kennedy was assassinated. It was the year of the tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago. I was in Vietnam during the assassination of Kennedy and during the Democratic convention. I went over in March, and I came home in December. But I was astounded when I returned by the changing attitude and the difference in the way that soldiers would be treated. This was noticeable, for example, in the airport in San Francisco, or in any public place where you were wearing a uniform.

After my tour in Vietnam, I started on what has become my career—the practice of law. Shortly after my return, I learned another valuable lesson: you always have to appreciate the fact that the economy and business are cyclical, and that both are moving either up or down. And at that point, we saw the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, ratchet up the prime rate of interest until it went above 20 percent. The impact of interest at those high rates on businesses—especially small businesses—was very, very significant. It was very difficult on many individuals and businesses at that point. Volker wanted to curtail inflation. He has generally been attributed as being the chairman of the Fed who broke the back of inflation in the long term. I don’t think there’s any question that breaking inflation that way, was exactly the right thing to do. It had a tremendous impact, while it was going on, but it was the right thing.

The other thing that I did after I returned is I started doing a substantial amount of trial work. In those days—it was actually before they had public defenders—what would happen is that in order to appoint people to represent indigent people, they would go through the roll of the Washoe County Bar Association. They started at “A” and they would end up at “Z.” I was in a law firm where I was the junior person, so not only would I get all that were intended for the “Bs,” but I would get assignments from everybody else in the law firm. So I actually tried a fair number of criminal defense cases.

It was about this time that a friend of mine gave me a book I recommend that everyone who does any kind of sales or has to persuade people or negotiate with people should read: How To Read A Person Like The Book, by Gerald Nierenberg and Henry Calero. It was initially published in 1971, but it has been republished. The importance of the book is that it teaches you how to decipher nonverbal communication, which tells you what someone is feeling even when their verbal message is different. If you want to really perfect that skill, I think that you have to work at it all the time. There’s two ways that I see that you can do it while you are engaged in an avocation. If you are a poker player and you play poker live—not video poker or online poker—or if you are a bridge player and you play bridge tournaments. In watching those two kinds of games, it strikes me that you really can develop the skills of reading nonverbal communication while playing, and that development of that skill will help you. This is especially true in a game like poker, where bluffing is so much a part of the game.

One of the most significant events in my life happened when Richard Bryan was elected governor in 1982. He appointed me to become the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. While I think that we accomplished a number of things in my four-year tenure, the most important thing the commission did was to revoke the license of the Stardust, which was imploded in March 2007. The reason we revoked the Stardust’s license was that the Gaming Control Board had presented evidence to the commission that the owners of the property were skimming profits from the casino, and it was generally believed that that money was going to organized crime. [Ed.’s note: The Nevada Gaming Commission is the state’s policy-making body that governs Nevada’s gaming industry; The Gaming Control Board has a current staff of 450 and is responsible for day-to-day monitoring of the industry.]

Herb Tobman and Al Sachs [who had run the Stardust since 1979] had a company called Trans-Sterling Inc. We actually closed them without a hearing in December 1983, two weeks before Christmas. The Gaming Control Board came into district court the next morning and asked that the court appoint a supervisor to take over the property and keep it open. Then we had several days’ worth of hearings in Carson City concerning the evidence of this scam. Before the hearings could conclude, Mr. Sachs decided that the best thing to do would be to settle it. And we settled it and they relinquished their license and paid a substantial fine [$3.5 million, a record for the state.]

It was a significant action that showed Wall Street that the Nevada gaming authorities were absolutely serious about ensuring the integrity and honesty of the gaming industry in the state. Afterward, the licensees of Nevada were able to obtain financing from Wall Street sources that  in the past had not been available.

I think I learned two things from my experience serving on the commission. The first was something that everybody knows, but is difficult for all of us: The importance of being a really good listener.

The best listener I know is Richard Bryan, who was governor and later senator, and is now a private attorney in Las Vegas. I also learned a lot from the chairman of the Gaming Control Board, Bart Jacka, about decision-making. What Bart would do is, before he would ever make a decision, he would get everyone who had studied the issue together in a room, and he would have what’s called a roundtable. He would get all the input that he could. Then he would say, OK, I’m going to sleep on it. And he would come back the next morning and had a decision. It seemed to me, that if this method worked in an agency like that, it would also work in a business, where you can use the power of getting input from a number of people, and that it would ultimately result in a very good decision.

I’ve also been taught—and I think it’s more from my father [Sen. Alan Bible ’30 (economics), ’70 (doctor of laws)]—than anything, that you have to give back to your community. In particular, what you need to do is you need to build a bridge for young people to be able to have a better life for themselves and their families. You can do that in a number of ways. The way that I have done it is, I started out as a young attorney being a volunteer with various organizations. I would volunteer my time because I wasn’t in any kind of a position to make a significant financial contribution. I really didn’t appreciate the critical importance of that until the late ’80s when I was the president of the Truckee Meadows Community College Foundation. I attended their awards ceremony, and we awarded scholarships to a number of students. One of the scholarships I awarded was one that my wife Judy and I had set up to help single-parent head-of-households, which were primarily women with children, who had the major responsibility for supporting those children. I called her name and the young woman came up and she had two little kids tugging at her legs. She walked up and I gave her a check, which was tuition for the next semester. She had tears in her eye and said, “You don’t know how much I appreciate this. This means I can make a better life for my little girls.” That made me appreciate the significance of an old expression: charity is its own reward. Anyone who’s had that kind of experience will continue to try to help.

There has been a tremendous change in the state with respect to support for higher education. Each session of the Legislature seems to give less support to not only higher education, but all education. If you look at the last several elections, the one common theme that all candidates have announced is that if you vote for me, I will not raise your taxes. I think that they have created a circumstance in the states, where the only officials who get elected are the ones who make that non-tax pledge. If you think about the growth that we have had and the changes that have come about, you will realize that that means that all that growth—especially in the student population—is going to have to get by on the existing tax base. That has caused the private sector to have to step up to contribute not only to scholarships, but to stipends for teachers and to pay for buildings. Look at the two newest buildings on campus, the recently opened Joe Crowley Student Union, which is paid for 100 percent by student fees, and the Knowledge Center, which is paid for one-third by the students, one-third by the Legislature and one-third by private sector donations, principally Chuck Mathewson and IGT. That’s why I have remained with the foundation. I served as chair about six years ago and I’m going to serve again, starting in 2008.

The experience that I had making the presentation at the Truckee Meadows Community College, plus the realization that we’re not going to have any new taxes in the state because of the pledge that all of the politicians take, has led me to conclude that if I don’t try to help out, we are going to fall behind. As a University and as a community and as the state, we have to stay competitive. When I was in school you had to be competitive within America. Now you have to be competitive within the global community.

If you talk to employers such as IGT, who have a need to hire very, very skilled engineers and software designers to continue to perfect the advances in slot machine technology and game design, you will learn that they have a difficult time getting really good people to relocate from communities like Boston to come to Reno because the prospective employees are concerned that the school systems might not be as good, that the cultural activities might not be as broad, and that the educational opportunities for them to advance their own training is not available, as it would be in major metropolitan cities. That’s what we’re competing against. Plus we are competing against Beijing, the Philippines and Seoul, Korea, and all of the countries of the Middle East who are doing the best they can to add to the educational level of their population.

We had a speaker two years ago at the annual University Foundation banquet who came and told us what globalization was all about: Thomas Friedman. And he had just finished publishing a book called The World Is Flat. I think he opened a lot of eyes. Anyone who has not read the book and wants to know what’s going to happen in the world should read it because it’s a look into the future.

I think the last thing I would pass on in the way of things that I have learned, is that expression that I came across in a marvelous book by David McCullough called Truman, which is a biography of Harry S. Truman. Truman believed one thing very strongly and because of that he was a great student of history. He was probably more familiar with history than any other president who’s ever been. The thought that he had was, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  That’s a quotation that Harry Truman remembered from George Santayana. That point has come home to me as being absolutely true when I’ve looked back at the reason we dramatically escalated the war in Vietnam as a result of a claim that the North Vietnamese had attacked our warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. That report led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and to a dramatic escalation in the Vietnam War. And the report was completely false.

The Viet Cong did put body bombs on small children, and when our soldiers would embrace them it would blow up the soldier and the little kid. That happened. These warships, however, were out at sea, and within a month of the report, the investigation that had been initiated established that the report was false. The information of the falseness was not communicated to the American people. It was not communicated to the Congress and our leaders knew about it.

We had a speaker here, Michael Beschloff, who was doing a study of the LBJ presidency and he’s listened to every one of the tapes of the Oval Office recordings, and he heard the general report to LBJ that the report of the attack was false. It didn’t happen.

Beschloff says Johnson deliberately ignored information. I don’t doubt that. He carried Vietnam like a burden. It consumed him. It killed him. He was not the same man. He was this guy who’d had a heart attack, he had stopped smoking, but after he retired he started smoking again and let himself go. He was deeply depressed. I would be. The cry was “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many boys did you kill today?” If he knew the Gulf of Tonkin didn’t happen . . .He felt guilt. I’m sure he did.

I don’t see that guilt in Bush. Bush is a true believer.

Vietnam was a bad war. And I mention this because there’s an eerie parallel—I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime—we had the same kind of misinformation—that is, that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction—serve as a predicate for going to war in Iraq, and that turned out to be false. In my generation we have two conflicts that have divided America both of which were started on false information.

We also got into the Spanish-American war on bad information. Supposedly our warship got attacked in Havana harbor or somewhere. It didn’t happen.

I will conclude with something that I would say to people who are just starting out in the business world, and that is don’t ever underestimate the importance of a good first impression. Good first impressions open doors and bad ones close them. The first way you do this is you be very conscious of your grooming. I always look at a man to see if his shoes are shined. Unless you have been working in the yard, for example, and there’s a reason for it, being unkempt will create a negative impression.

The other thing is that I think that young people, especially job seekers, can do a tremendous amount of background research about a prospective sales prospect or a new job by using the Internet to find out information about the company. And in the course of the interview or a discussion, they can reveal that they have done homework and that they have gone the extra mile.

I’ve done a lot of things and I’ve had a lot of opportunity that other people maybe haven’t had and I am very grateful for that. I’ve had a lot of wonderful clients over the years many of whom have been my clients for more than 30 years. The way you do that is quality work.

I’ll just throw out an extraneous fact: My father told me something and I didn’t realize how true it was until I had attained a few gray hairs myself. He used to say that as people grow old they begin to wear their bad habits. You can spot a smoker by the wrinkles around their mouth. You can tell a heavy drinker by the patina of the complexion. There’s a lot of things you can tell. I do extremely sophisticated dealing transactions and I’m fortunate that I get to deal with a lot of sophisticated business people. They are very good at sizing people up. Most people don’t realize that just the way they look tells so much about them.

There’s one other thing that’s really changed things in the business world and that’s the Internet. What it’s done is it’s destroyed the interpersonal relationships that used to exist when you sat across the table with someone and worked out problems.

The other thing it’s done is that it shortened up the time that you have to reflect on important questions.

Now you get an e-mail, and they want a reply back right away. Some of these things we’re going to need to thoughtful analysis. As a result of the Internet, I think that the analytical quality of decision making is missing.

Thoughtful analysis should be part of any kind of decision, whether made by Internet communication or conference calls. I just came back from New York where I was at a very high-powered firm. Bright, smart people top to bottom. But every one of them was wired to the Internet 24 hours a day, either at their office or on their Blackberries. They had no down time. They take their Blackberries on holidays. They take their Blackberries to their kids’ soccer games. They didn’t have a break from work. I think that the cumulative effect of that over years is not good. I won’t carry one just for that reason.

From a conversation with Paul Bible in September 2007 with Nevada Silver & Blue editor Melanie Robbins ’06M.A. Bible, a 1962 economics graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno, is the chair of the University of Nevada, Reno Foundation. He is a founding partner of the Bible Mousel PC law firm in Reno, which specializes in gaming, mining and corporate law.

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