Jason Miller understands how hard a person needs to work to succeed in the Las Vegas business community.
Miller, a student at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, wanted to find something that could give him a leg up, which is how he became interested in joining the Las Vegas Business Academy.
The academy, a nonprofit organization, provides leadership training and networking for students who are in pursuit of graduate degrees at UNLV.
“If I want to achieve what I want to achieve in this town, I know I have to work hard,” Miller said. “I want to be a future leader in this city, and this program teaches people how to be successful, teaches people how to do that.”
Students who are accepted into the selective three-year program are eligible to have their UNLV tuition fully covered.
Since one of the main ideas behind the academy is to keep talented people in Southern Nevada, students are expected to stay here for at least five years once they agree to commit to the program, which comes at no cost to them. If they don’t live up to the contract, the academy has the right to move to recoup any tuition dollars already paid.
Once admitted, academy students are assigned a mentor, and are expected to log a certain number of hours each month networking with or shadowing academy board members.
This year, the academy’s board members represent a diverse range of industries, including resort companies like MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts and Resorts World, along with wealth management and printing firms, and national companies like Coca-Cola USA.
UNLV students who show interest in the academy must apply and be accepted by the board.
Now in its 10th year, the academy has churned out close to two dozen students. Among that group are lawyers, hospitality executives and other young business leaders in the Las Vegas Valley.
Rino Armeni, a longtime Las Vegas businessman, philanthropist, and former Caesars Palace vice president of food and beverage, founded the academy because he wanted to teach young people how to be accountable and to help grow future generations of leaders in the Valley.
“The first conversation we have with our students is about being honest,” Armeni said. “You can’t lie to people. The first time you lie, it will catch up with you.”
Just as he expects honesty from academy students, Armeni said he’s honest about what’s expected from them. Not all who start the program finish it, he said.
Along with networking opportunities, students are expected to learn about a variety of business-related topics and skills, including sales, public relations, marketing and accounting, but the program is also centered around the development of various “soft” interpersonal communication skills, Armeni said.
For instance, students learn about dining etiquette.
While it might seem mundane to spend time teaching graduate students where to place their knife at dinner, Armeni said it’s all part of teaching how young leaders how to present and carry themselves.
After all, students will find themselves interacting with mentors from a cross-section of industries.
It might be lunch with the chief operating officer of MGM or a mentorship session with a Vegas Golden Knights executive, depending on what’s scheduled.
“Right or wrong, my generation was trained in a different way,” Armeni said. “We were taught different values. We live in a faster world now, and I felt that the values we were given were very important for success. I don’t expect excuses. I do expect people to be strong, sympathetic, and expect honesty and integrity from people.”
Richard Johnson, a business manager with Breakthru Beverage in Las Vegas, graduated from the academy in 2019. He received dual master’s degrees in business administration and information technology while at UNLV.
Johnson said the program is rigorous, but worth it. He landed his job at Breakthru through a connection made through the academy.
“You get kind of a boot camp-style training in a number of different areas,” Johnson said. “You’re being mentored by executives at all these different companies, so it’s really an invaluable experience. It’s a huge time commitment, there’s no question, but the network I was able to build, I think it’s unmatched.”
Always with an eye to the future, Armeni said he’s in the process of expanding the academy’s footprint.
He’s in talks with parties in China that are interested in setting up a branch that would train young Chinese women.
Armeni said the academy is also always on the lookout for potential new students.
One of those prospective students is UNLV undergrad student Sarah Lunsford, who is working for Armeni at the academy’s offices in southwest Las Vegas to get a taste of what being a student would entail.
“It’s an amazing opportunity to learn so many different things while being under pressure,” Lunsford said. “There’s no room for not understanding a thing. If you don’t get something right here, you just redo it until you find a way to get it right. I’ve only been here for two months, but I’m doing about 20 projects per day. I already feel like I could go start a company.”