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April 16, 2014

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Las Vegas, CES and ‘ninja innovators’

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As the 2013 International CES takes place this week, “ninja innovators,” a term I coined to describe the world’s greatest agile and risky entrepreneurs, are convening to celebrate the world of innovation in Las Vegas with the Consumer Electronics Association. Both the city of Las Vegas and the CES, individually and through our partnership as host and visitor, exemplify the killer instinct and commitment to victory that characterize true ninja innovation.

In fact, the relationship between CES and Las Vegas began because of ninja qualities, though we didn’t call them that at the time. In its early years, CES was held twice per year in Chicago. The city was so cold in January 1977 that attendees could not leave their hotel rooms. A ninja makes mistakes, but he makes sure to learn from them. So when it came time to plan for the 1978 winter show, my predecessor decided to diversify by moving to Las Vegas. Some objected that the city’s reputation as “Sin City” was inappropriate for business. But, although Las Vegas had few major business events then, it was and remains a location hospitable for doing business, not just for trade shows like CES, but also for entrepreneurs of all types. That’s part of the reason Entrepreneur magazine recently named Las Vegas one of  “9 Cities You Wouldn’t Think Are Hubs for Tech Startups.”

As time wore on, the winter CES in Las Vegas grew in popularity, in large part because of the city’s laser-like focus on success, another ninja quality. In the city’s case, the obsession with success plays itself out in a commitment to creating a unique and enjoyable experience for visitors of all kinds. The atmosphere and entertainment offerings here make it a desirable place for events like CES, and that’s no mistake.

Even as the Las Vegas show grew in popularity, the summer show in Chicago waned, earning the moniker, “the wake on the lake.”  In 1998, we decided to make another ninja move: taking risks. Bucking tradition, we canceled the summer show and focused all of our attention on the Las Vegas show. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

The risks CES has taken in establishing and solidifying our relationship with Las Vegas have been some of the best risks we ever took. The first winter show in Las Vegas nearly doubled our attendance numbers and the size of our exhibit area, and the show has grown steadily since then. This year, more than 150,000 people will attend and view exhibitions from more than 3,100 exhibitors on some 1.9 million net square feet of exhibit space. All of that means a huge financial impact for the city, estimated in 2012 to be between $150 million and $160 million.

Technological innovations that were impossible to even imagine a decade ago will take center stage this week and earn coverage from countless media outlets around the world. Looking back, it’s hard to believe CES and Las Vegas provided the world with the first glimpse of everything from the camcorder, the CD player, DVD and Xbox to HDTV, Blu-ray, and 3D television. The ability to reinvent oneself, as CES and the industry it represents have done numerous times over the last 45 years, is another great ninja quality on display in Las Vegas.

The relentless pursuit of success leads to great adaptability and a hyper-focus on the needs and desires of consumers and, just as important, potential consumers. A ninja never settles, and neither do we. With an economy utterly dependent on tourism, Las Vegas suffers the ill effects of a bad economy more than probably any other city in the nation. But the city is meeting its challenges by maintaining its focus on creating an enjoyable, entertaining experience for visitors of all kinds. From cutting-edge shows to innovative amenities, the risk-taking spirit of Las Vegas encourages entrepreneurs to embrace change and relentlessly pursue solutions to the challenges facing the city and businesses here.

A ninja is always seeking allies, and the partnership between CES and Las Vegas extends well beyond a simple host and visitor relationship. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, along with the U.S. Department of Commerce, have played key roles in helping CES live up to its “International” designation by enticing foreign buyers and international media and making it easier for them to visit Las Vegas and see all that the city and the consumer electronics industry have to offer. In turn, the Las Vegas Convention Center has expanded and earned a designation as an official World Trade Center site, which attracts more shows like CES to the city.

The relationship between CES and Las Vegas may have started out tenuous, but in 20/20 hindsight it’s clearer than ever before that ours is a perfect match. CES is proud and grateful to call Las Vegas home, and we look forward to many more innovative years together.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies. His latest book is “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses.”

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