The Real Deal Tilman Fertitta: Billion Dollar Buyer

Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc. and Jim Ackerman, executive vice president of CNBC’s evening line-up, had been talking for some time about creating a concept for a business show starring Fertitta that would fit the cable news network’s alternative primetime format which includes such shows as “The Profit,” “Jay Leno’s Garage,” and “American Greed.” Fertitta, who describes himself as “a serious Wall Street guy” also wanted the show to fit his approach to business. After all, he has serious Street cred as the sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, Inc., which owns and operates Golden Nugget Casinos and Landry’s Inc. with over 50 restaurant brands including McCormick & Schmick’s, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and Morton’s The Steakhouse.

With revenues of over $3.4 billion, Fertitta is viewed as an international dining, hospitality, entertainment and gaming industry expert and ranks as the world’s richest restaurateur. 

Offering customers the best-of-the-best at his venues is just one way Fertitta stays on top, but it comes at a hefty price. A peek at some of his annual expenses shows that he spends $11 million on vodka, $7 million on t-shirts, and $1 million each on bedding and soap.

The idea arose to create a reality show where businesses could vie to make a deal with Fertitta and place their products within his empire. In collaboration with Endemol Shine, a production company behind such shows as NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” and FOX’s MasterChef franchise, CNBC and Fertitta developed the “Billion Dollar Buyer” which debuted last March. With season two currently airing, a more confident and rhythmic stride is apparent as the show come has come into its own and has developed a loyal audience. 

In each episode, Fertitta meets owners from two different small businesses who are hoping to receive a purchase order from him. “If I think they can deliver, I’ll place an order that can change their lives forever,” Fertitta is heard saying as the voiceover during the show’s opening credits. As the show unfolds, he questions the owners and tests their products, but he doesn't let first impressions get in the way of his final decision to make a deal or not. Often, he makes up his mind at the final meeting that takes place in his boardroom.

“It's real, when you see me make a deal in the boardroom. That product, if it can be, is in the restaurants, hotels, or the casinos the next day. Our deals are real deals.”

Some of those real deals are doing quite well. From season one, Liber & Company offering cocktail syrups, and hot sauces by Bravado Spice Company are a big hit within Fertitta Entertainment venues. Season two is off and running with high performing deals from swimwear creator Nicolita, Rossmore jewelry, and cosmetics from KISMET.

tillman 443x390Fertitta wants viewers to learn marketing, operations, and financial aspects of running a business from the show. Each episode includes supporting charts and illustrations that he summarizes to help make it a more complete learning experience.

“It’s a great feeling, it’s part of giving back,” he said. “We decided we were going to make it more of a mentoring show this season where we’re teaching people more, instead of just getting up in their butt. I think it’s coming across that way and people like it. I have entrepreneurs walking up to me everywhere telling me that that they love watching the show because of what they learn.”

Asked about his outlook on the upcoming Trump administration, Fertitta is quick to shut down the rhetoric surrounding political correctness, or moreover, the lack of it by shown by President-elect Donald Trump. He chooses to view the issue strictly from a business question: is America going to be better off?

“Let's just talk about it from having a business guy in the White House, nothing else. Let's get rid of all the other noise. There's nothing like having a business person, we look at things differently. We know how to deal, and we know how to make a deal,” he said.

Fertitta has met President Obama and describes him as a “nice gentleman,” but as someone who only had experience in legislation when he was elected, not decision making. “That's why governors make better presidents. They’ve been a chief executive and the buck stops with them,” he said. “Everything that is good for everybody is if you have good American capitalism. Take all the other noise away from Trump. What's best for what's going in the pockets of Americans is having a president who knows how to make a deal and understands American capitalism.”

So to help entrepreneurs make it in our capitalist society, Fertitta offers this advice:

“Most people in small business fail, not because they don't have a good product or a good location, it is because they don't know where they are financially. Everybody underestimates the numbers from every aspect; from the budget to build something, to the amount of working capital they need, to understanding their financials and knowing if they're making money or not in the first sixty to ninety days. So, the one thing you better do if you're an operator and you have a good product, is get a partner that knows numbers. Somebody on your team better know numbers.”

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