Saturday, October 23, 2010

Call Me Ted

"I did it my way." ~ Frank Sinatra

I'm currently reading Ted Turner's autobiography and it is quite fascinating. (For purists, I am actually listening to the audio book, which may be even more interesting because Ted himself is narrating with his distinctive Southern drawl. It also includes anecdotal stories by others in their own voices.)

It would be hard not to be aware of who the man is, but in all likelihood few of us know the full details of his roots and the formative features of his life. I find it interesting how a person goes from being a kid in a boarding school to becoming a multi-billionaire. In his intro he makes the tongue in cheek remark that he lost eighty per cent of his wealth at one point, but that somehow he is finding a way to make do on a couple billion dollars.

It's interesting to hear how he loved his father even though the guy could be violently abusive. He learned many things about business from his dad, and perhaps it was the mix of being at boarding school away from home, having a sister die early in life and having grown up working the business from an early age that instilled in him the creative spark that makes him one of a kind.

By telling the story one sees how the path made sense. They were in the billboard business. Billboards don't always sell, so when he got some radio stations, he used the unsold billboards to sell radio. He was in radio because initially he could not afford to get into television, but once he did he didn't follow the herd. He observed what was happening and did it his way.

When he got into television, he ran it like a business, which was not the way it happened to be going when he took it over. Most of the 35 employees were slugs on drugs who just loafed about and had no drive, no vision, no understanding what a business was supposed to be. He turned the station around and began looking at where the opportunities lay. What did people want that they couldn't get via the primary networks. Like me, he thought a lot of television programming was just stupid drivel. So he began airing classic films. He would sit in an easy chair and introduce the films, build a rapport with viewers.

Another niche which he exploited was baseball. The network affiliate only aired some of the games and he felt that fans would like more than just "some" which he intuited correctly. He became so tight with the Atlanta Braves that when the owners decided to bail (they had such a poor team and not only lost games they also lost fans and revenue) they offered it to Ted.

It's a great story, how he dove into the Braves as both a businessman and a fan. He was not your typical owner, as the many anecdotes point out.

Alongside all this is his sailing interest and the many lessons he learned which he applied to his business life. It is a good example of how our passions can contribute to the successes we experience in other areas of our careers. Early in life he became fascinated with boats. The stories about these experiences remind me a little of Richard Branson's experiences pushing the limits both in boating and ballooning. Neither of these men is an accidental billionaire. Each took risks, and both leveraged their successes to achieve greater success.

I'm but one third through the book, but know there is much of interest still to come. While not a perfect role model in every regard, he certainly makes an entertaining companion when commuting... or running to the hardware store as I am about to do.
And in case I don't see ya, have a great weekend.

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