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Rogers shares wealth of experience

WEEKEND EDITION

May 14 - 15, 2005

Traveling to a UNLV basketball game years ago in Albuquerque with Jim Rogers, Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury found himself stuck in traffic.

Rogers got so frustrated that he was going to miss part of the game, he hopped out of the car, leaving Woodbury and their wives behind. Rogers then walked more than a quarter of a mile through the throng of cars and people to get to the stadium, Woodbury said laughing.

Woodbury, Rogers' former law partner, said the newly appointed chancellor of the University and Community College System of Nevada is not "the most patient person in the world."

"I can remember a few other instances like that," Woodbury said. "Jim took a strict timetable. He was going to be somewhere at a certain time and a certain place and that was that."

The multimillionaire lawyer, banker, media mogul and philanthropist brings the same mentality to everything he does, Woodbury and others said. Rogers wants things done right, done quickly and done his way and -- even in the slow-moving, shared-governance realm of academia -- he has shown the same drive and passion that have made him successful, friends say.

"I think that Jim Rogers is a lot like Steve Wynn," Woodbury said. "They both have to be building, bending or creating something all the time. And both of course are extremely bright and have that willpower that is part of their personality. It makes them driven to succeed."

Rogers, 66, was appointed to a three-year term as chancellor of the university system a little more than a week ago.

Just over a year ago Rogers volunteered to be interim chancellor after the previous chancellor, Jane Nichols, resigned for health reasons. The Board of Regents hired him and he inherited a system bogged down in controversy -- the Board of Regents was accused of violating state open meeting laws and lawmakers were angered at what they perceived as the university system's arrogance.

In the last year, Rogers has been able to squelch the controversy and he has started to push the system back to education issues, such as how to handle the burgeoning student population while improving the quality of its educational offerings.

Through private-public partnerships, Rogers wants to develop "pockets of excellence" within the system that will bring more attention to the institutions and, in turn, boost other programs. His long-term goal is to build "world class" institutions that will foster economic growth through training and research and serve as the cultural and intellectual centers of their communities.

People in and out of the university system acknowledge it will be a challenge, but given Rogers' personality, many people expect big things.

"When he sets his mind to something, he finds a way to get the job done," said university Regent Steve Sisolak, who credits Rogers with turning the system around.

"He has a take-charge, get-things-done kind of attitude as opposed to a let us do a study on that and then study the study."

Rogers' fans and critics say he's been able to bring the system together in a way that no chancellor has before.

Rogers' credibility as a businessman and his strong personality "give him a big seat at the table," said Don Snyder, recently retired president of Boyd Gaming and the chairman of UNLV's soon-to-be-announced capital campaign.

"I think he's done a very good job of using that seat at the table to get command of the situation, as a chancellor should."

Rogers also has a great sense of independence, noted former governor and U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, and can do what he thinks is necessary without worrying about the political consequences.

"He needs this job like he needs a frontal lobotomy," said Bryan, who went to Las Vegas High School with Rogers. "But he has been, in my view, energized. ... He loves this job. He loves the challenges, the problem-solving aspect of it and you can just see his energy.

"Jim Rogers is fired up."

Raised in Vegas

Born to Frank and Lucille Rogers in Louisville, Ky., on Sept. 15, 1938, Rogers, an only child, and his parents migrated to Las Vegas by way of Los Alamos, N.M., when he was 14. His father was an operating executive at the Nevada Test Site for Reynolds Electrical and Engineering Co.

He graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1956. At the time, Nevada Southern University (now UNLV) was still a concept.

Rogers went on to earn a bachelor's degree in accounting and a law degree from the University of Arizona, as well as a master's in law in taxation from the University of Southern California. He was briefly a teaching fellow in legal writing at the University of Illinois.

He returned to Las Vegas in 1964 and within 90 days was a partner in the law firm that eventually became Rogers, Monsey, Woodbury, Phillips and Berggreen. The economy was "flat on its back," Rogers said, and he was among 110 attorneys competing for clients in a total population of 64,000.

"It was feast or famine and mostly famine," Rogers said, to the point that he and his partners were sometimes unsure if they would be able to "pay the secretary on Friday."

Rogers eventually won notable clients, such as Robert Maheu, former personal aide to Howard Hughes, and parlayed that success into his first million by age 35.

"Most of my success has been on the relationships that I've developed," Rogers said. "It's not that I was smart or shrewd or tough, but I had people who had confidence in me."

Rogers founded Valley Broadcasting Company in 1971. His company complained about the operations of local TV station KVBC Channel 3, which was then owned by media tycoon and Las Vegas Review-Journal owner Donald W. Reynolds.

In October 1978, after a series of contentious hearings, the Federal Communications Commission denied Reynolds' license renewal after it discovered "fraudulent billing" and other deceptive practices.

The FCC gave the license to Rogers' company. The license was worth about $15 million, Rogers said, and it was the launch of his successful broadcast company.

A self-described "lover of the First Amendment," Rogers said he has been drawn to the media since his days as editor of the Desert Breeze in high school.

The station became profitable in 1984 and has been at the top of the ratings ever since, Rogers said. He quit his law practice in 1988 and began buying up stations in northern Nevada, Arizona, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The chain, now called Sunbelt Communications Co., is worth $300 million.

Rogers also founded Nevada First Bank, where he is chairman of the board, and is on several bank boards.

Giving

Most of his wealth, an estimated $275 million, has been pledged or donated back into Rogers' alma maters or colleges in cities where he has stations. The importance of education was ingrained in Rogers by his school teacher mother and advanced by his late business partner and friend Louis Wiener.

Rogers started out with just a few small donations, giving some money to the Community College of Southern Nevada and paying for lobby furniture for the University of Arizona. But he says that was enough to get him hooked, and the more he became involved, the more he wanted to give.

"I'm not 'anti' anything, but I'm 'pro' some things," said Rogers, who pays out $400,000 a month to higher education needs.

"You tend to invest in those areas where you have some relationship in your life. If I had had relatives who had cancer or diabetes I might have invested in that. But my mother, she's 89 and tough as a board, and my father died at 80."

Rogers believes so passionately in the need for those who have benefited from higher education to give back that most of his friends can recite his spiel by heart, Bill Martin, president and chief executive officer of Nevada State Bank, said.

Martin, who is also president of the Nevada State College Foundation, said he saw Rogers "lecture" businessman on why they should donate to UNLV in the middle of accepting an award from the College of Business. Rogers also once lectured foundation members to the point that some of them wanted to quit, Martin said.

"On this higher education subject, what you see is what you get in Jim Rogers," Martin said. "He won't pull a punch."

Rogers is able to talk others into donating because he puts "his money where his mouth is," several colleagues said.

Rogers said he told his three children early on that he planned on giving most of his wealth away, and he has gotten in trouble for making it sound like he's disinherited them.

"All of my kids are very successful and they did it without my money," Rogers said. "... The objective was to let them be themselves and not pollute them with this money."

Rogers' eldest daughter, Suzanne Plant, 42, practices banking law in Sacramento. His daughter Kimberly Cell, 39, sells media technology in Denver. His lawyer son, Perry Rogers, 36, is the agent and business manager for Las Vegas tennis legend Andre Agassi. Perry Rogers runs Agassi's charitable foundation, among other things, and also has represented basketball star Shaquille O'Neal.

Rogers has six grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 8 years.

He has invested about $10 million to $15 million in his other "children," the 160 antique automobiles in Sunbelt Antique Auto Museum in Las Vegas. His favorite is a 1949 black Buick Roadmaster Convertible, the kind of car Dustin Hoffman drives in "Rainman." He sees his car collection as a "history lesson" that captures the car boom of the 1950s and 1960s.

An aficionado of anything "cowboy and Indian," Rogers also has about $3.5 million invested in Western artifacts that adorn his Sunbelt office and has a mountain home in Helena, Mont. and a mini-horse ranch in Pocatello, Idaho. Rogers and his wife, Beverly, also fund the Lone Pine Museum of Film History and its annual film festival in California highlighting the Western classics made in the region.

Rogers is also fond of his company's two private planes, a 15-person F-27 Fairchild and a six-person Turbo Commander, which he regularly uses to shuttle regents around the state. Just last month Rogers sent the Las Vegas regents home on one plane from a meeting in Carson City and caught a later Southwest flight home so he could stay and lobby for higher education needs at the capitol.

That's the work he finds "substantive," Rogers said, while all of his toys are just "fun."

Rogers' interest in the chancellor's job was a natural outgrowth of his interest in higher education.

Before taking on the chancellorship, Rogers says he spent 40 to 60 percent of his time raising money for different institutions and helping educators form partnerships with each other through an annual fishing trip he has sponsored for several years.

The trip to Canada fosters personal interaction and future planning among all levels of college administrators, politicians, such as Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and business leaders from different states, Rogers said. Major deals, such as plans for an academic medical center in Arizona, have been made on the water, Rogers said.

Chancellor

When he first took the interim chancellor job almost a year ago, most of Rogers' friends and colleagues gave him six months in the bureaucratic world of academia.

The Clark County School District, after all, "wouldn't let me (Rogers) near the place," after he offered to serve as interim superintendent in 2000 after a failed search to replace Brian Cram, who retired, Rogers said. A search committee recommended the School Board make Rogers the interim superintendent but the board never took up the matter and pushed on with a search, eventually hiring Carlos Garcia.

At the university system, Rogers stepped into a unique situation.

"Here's a man who has never worked for anybody, who has always been the boss," said Gene Greenberg, executive vice president of Sunbelt Communications Co. and executive vice president and general manager of KVBC. "And so now he is in a situation as chancellor where he has not one boss but a Board of Regents. That he's been able to work in that situation shows how he feels for education."

Colleagues of Rogers also said they believed the very same qualities that made Rogers a successful businessman -- his strong leadership, his decisiveness and adherence to a strict timetable -- would frustrate him in the slow-moving world of academia.

Rogers wears most of his weaknesses on his sleeve, and readily admits that he is "volatile," "demanding," and "wants things done right."

"I get very angry, very quickly, but I never get personal," Rogers said. "I get angry at the situation. If something goes wrong I would say, 'How the hell did this happen,' but I would never say 'This happened because you are an idiot.' "

Rogers also said he is good at compartmentalizing his anger and moving on, which his employees said was true.

"He cools off just as fast as he explodes," said Greenberg, an employee of Rogers for more than 25 years.

What sets Rogers off the most, according to Greenberg and others, is lying, and Rogers "might have the best b.s. detector I've ever seen," Greenberg said.

"I tell everybody here that if he asks you a question tell him the truth, even if its not good news," Greenberg said of the TV station.

Rogers said that lying makes him "go crazy," and "pretty much ends the relationship."

A workaholic who goes from 6 a.m. in the morning until about 8 p.m. at night, Rogers demands productivity and excellence from his employees. He also has a penchant for neatness, having once or twice taken a trash can to a TV reporters' desk at the station, he said.

"He wants something done by a certain date and in a certain way," Martin said. "I've seen that in his TV station and I've seen it in his automobile collection. He won't accept mediocrity. ... He wants to be above the standard."

While Rogers can "carry a big stick," as Regent Howard Rosenberg is fond of saying, Snyder and others said he leads more "by example" than "by intimidation."

One of his main weaknesses, Rogers' colleagues said, is his preference for short-sleeved shirts rather than suits and ties. Business attire makes him "suffocate," Rogers said, and he's gotten a lot of flak for it over the years. He has also been teased for his inability to operate a cell phone or use a computer.

"He's not good with electronics," said JoAnn Prevetti, private secretary to the newly appointed Chancellor Jim Rogers, who prints his e-mails for him. "He's a genius, but he doesn't like computers, cell phones, answering machines. He's a hands-on guy."

Rogers said he likes to keep things as simple as possible. His general attitude can be summed up in the "Kill all the lawyers" coffee mug he carries around the chancellor's office.

The lawyer evokes Shakespeare's famous phrase because he believes in surrounding himself with fellow problem solvers. Lawyers, he says, often just like to tell people "no."

"Any idiot can tell me that I can't do something because they are afraid to get outside of the rules," Rogers said. "I want lawyers who can figure out how to do something legitimately."

Rogers' style brought a lot of initial "controversy and turmoil" to the system, Snyder said, but has since brought stability.

By the end of August, Rogers thought the regents were lining up to fire him after he sent a series of inflammatory memos blaming board divisiveness for the deficiencies in the system. Rogers was so frustrated with how things were going that he temporarily pulled a $25 million pledge to UNLV.

But then the cloud cleared. While he worked to smooth ruffled feathers on the Board of Regents, he went about taking care of many of the problems troubling the board.

Rogers cleaned house in the system's troubled legal department, made peace with the attorney general's office over the regents' repeated failures to comply with the state's open meeting law and untangled the regents from a sticky civil court battle over their controversial removal of two CCSN executives.

More important to regents is that he quieted most lawmakers' criticisms of UCCSN and the Board of Regents by smoothing relationships with the Legislature.

Bryan said Rogers helped the board "understand that the controversies have been damaging to the university system" and put the controversies behind the board.

"I think because he has had success, that has inspired more confidence with the board," Bryan said.

Regents have shown their confidence by handing Rogers more power than any other chancellor giving him the authority to appoint his own vice chancellors and the power to fire presidents. And last week they handed him the chancellorship for the next three years.

Knowing Rogers, he'll make the most of it, Regent Mark Alden said.

"I see the next three years as being dramatic for higher education," Alden said. "You have just seen the frosting on the cake."