Don’t be afraid to ask any question.
It is advice from her parents that has always stuck with JoAnn Salamone Prevetti, the special assistant to UNLV School of Medicine Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson.
“I’ve learned a lot that way,” says Prevetti, who grew up in an Italian-American family with a portrait of Frank Sinatra on the living room wall. “My dad said if you’re afraid to ask questions, you really can’t learn, you’re handicapping yourself.”
So this woman from a blue collar background in New York City —
her dad was a pressman for the New York Daily News —
appreciates the wisdom of an ancient Chinese proverb: “He who asks question remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask, remains a fool forever.”
Today, Prevetti, whose penchant for asking questions has led to a career that has seen her spend one on one time with former President of the United States Bill Clinton and party with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Michael Douglas, is often the person that both medical school staff and visitors go to with questions.
“If you want to know what to do, how or when to do it or where something is, you ask JoAnn,” says Virginia Weidenfeller, an executive assistant supporting UNLV Medicine. “She’s a great mentor. She wants to hear your questions. She wants you to succeed, to learn as she has.”
That Prevetti would grow up to know, and work closely with, cosmetics magnate Estee Lauder, the only woman on Time magazine’s list of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th Century, was nothing she even dreamed about.
Nor, she says, did she ever expect to have the opportunity to “navigate, execute and implement” on behalf of a Las Vegas television station owner and medical school dean.
“College to get to the top wasn’t spoken of in my family,” she says. But she found out through questions of teachers and businessmen that the fastest way to the top was to work for those at the top. So she earned a secretarial science degree at a business school in New York.
“That degree opened the door for me at The Estee Lauder Companies. I started in the executive office where I got to know Estee Lauder. The company was still owned by the Lauder family at the time and they were great mentors... When you work for top tier individuals, you properly learn how to operate a business and how to properly deal with high-level situations. I worked closely with the regulatory affairs division, as well as legal counsel, overseeing the licensing of the firm’s products in all of of its international markets. The job was very political as well, as the Lauders were major donors to many campaigns and charities.”
After a dozen successful years with Estee Lauder, the newly married Prevetti honeymooned in Las Vegas. That trip in the late 1990s —
she and her husband were both keenly aware of the high cost of living in New York City —
triggered a move to Southern Nevada.
“We just felt it would be easier to raise a family here,” said Prevetti, whose son is now 13.
The move turned out to be great for her career. She answered an ad in the paper for an assistant to Jim Rogers, the chairman of Sunbelt Communications, which consisted of 16 TV stations, including KSNV in Las Vegas. Five minutes into their interview, Rogers hired her. Before Rogers died in 2014, Prevetti worked hand in hand with him for eight years, including during his service as chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education.
During that time, Prevetti helped handle much of Rogers’ considerable philanthropic support for universities, which included UNLV. His philanthropic support was also felt through his work as a board member with the Motion Picture & Television Fund, which offers assistance and care to those in the motion picture and television industries with limited or no resources.
“I became friendly with some of Jim’s celebrity friends —
Michael Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Andy Garcia, James Caan —
during fund raising events,” she said. “Though Jim’s son, Perry, I even got to meet a great basketball player. He’s Shaquille O’Neal’s business manager.“
For an event to benefit the Nevada Development Authority, Rogers asked Prevetti to call former President Bill Clinton and ask him to speak. “I really enjoyed talking with the President when he was here. He was so nice about my getting an autographed book and picture with him.”