These were my favorite passages from Ted Turner- a billionaire who created CNN, TNT, and had many other amazing accomplishments.
The book is structured chronologically so the beginning is about his childhood.
“I could handle the physical jobs, but once I had the chance to use my mind, my heart, and my salesmanship, I really started to shine. The job of a billboard lease man is to search the territory for the best sites for new signs—the ones with the most traffic going by, best sightlines, and so forth. You then have to convince the property owner to let you install the billboard in exchange for about $25 a year.”
“But I made it my mission to be the one to finally make this deal. I decided to start by getting to know her. She was a widow and that summer I spent a lot of time with her, almost like I was her adopted son.”
“I learned a great deal during those summers. My dad had some unusual ideas but he was a very clever businessman. He was also as ethical and honest as the day is long. (Before he got into billboards he owned a little car business and he called it “Honest Ed’s Used Cars.”) There were many days when he’d drive me to and from work and the entire ride he’d only talk to me about business. We’d cover everything from detailed accounting principles like depreciation to broader concepts like motivation techniques and the importance of hiring and motivating good people. As a boy I saw firsthand the value of hard work and customer relations.”
“Are you Ed Turner’s son?” When I told him I was he said he would never do business with him. When I asked him why, he said, “Go ask your father,” so I did. My dad was honest but embarrassed to tell me of an argument he’d had with him after several drinks. It was difficult for me to see my father struggle with this but it taught me a great lesson about not only the importance of making friends but the negative impact of making enemies and what damage drinking could do.”
“He sat up straight in his chair. To his credit, he listened carefully to what I had to say and rather than respond immediately he said he wanted to think about it overnight. First thing the next morning he called me into his office and told me I was right and that he’d do his best to step back. I thanked him, and feeling a new confidence I said, “Dad, it just gets tough when you’re involved in every aspect of my life. You tell me where I should live, who I should date. I’d just like you to consider letting me be myself a little bit. In my business life I’ll do anything you say, but please try not to bug me so much about my personal life. When I want advice I’ll ask for it, but if not, please let me try to work it out myself.” He said that he understood, and things between us really did get better after that.”
“I met him was after a Chicago Bears game and he came in wearing a fur coat, a drink in hand, and laughing it up. Recalling these memories I gave Judy a call. We got together once or twice and got along pretty well. Looking back I don’t think we were ever really in love but we were young and impulsive. After dating long distance for a while I called her up and proposed to her over the phone. She said yes, and began planning for a Chicago wedding in June.”
“He was beloved by everyone in town but he wasn’t the greatest businessman. An elder in the Presbyterian Church, he was a fine, principled man, the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Unfortunately, his spirit of generosity often caused his business to suffer. When he sold us the company he was beginning a battle with cancer and wanted to get his affairs in order. He had no children to whom he might pass along the business, and was happy to sell to my father, who by now had earned a solid reputation across the industry.”
“Despite the company’s poor condition and my relative youth—I was still just twenty-one years old when I took over—I felt like I was in my element and knew exactly what needed to be done. To grow we had to add locations and raise advertising rates across all of our signs. I handled all the leasing and advertising sales. I staked out locations for new signs and went out with the crews to show them exactly how and where I wanted them built. I’d personally go down to City Hall to learn about local zoning rules and to apply for the permits required for new billboard sites. Having trained so many summers with some of the best in the business—including my dad—it all came to me naturally. I was active in the Macon community, becoming the youngest member of the local Rotary Club, and joining the board of the Macon Red Cross chapter and the United Way’s publicity committee.”
“My father came to visit and he was happy with everything he saw. He was an active Rotarian and it pleased him when I brought him to a Macon meeting and several of the older members of the club made a point to let him know how much they thought of me and what good things I was doing in the community. I drove him around and showed him all our new signs and he was impressed by the locations I’d managed to secure and excited to see the improvements that had been made in organizing and managing the small staff. He was really high on the whole operation and when I drove him back to the airport, he said, “Son, you’re starting out where most men finish,” meaning that here I was twenty-one years old and running a business. A few days after he left I got a letter from him telling me what a great job I was doing and how proud he was of me. My father was usually very sparing with his praise, and nothing he ever did before or after that day ever made me feel so good. Within my first two years in Macon we increased our number of billboards by 50 percent and doubled our revenue to $110,000 per year.”
“Not only did I feel like I was becoming a strong leader of this small business, I developed a sense that my dad and I were becoming a great team. I had no way of knowing at that time just how special and precious our days together would later prove to be.”
“tackling a major market like Atlanta. But while my professional life was humming along, my marriage was not working. Almost from the very beginning, Judy and I realized that not only had we rushed into things and married too young, we barely even knew each other. My work and sailing schedule made it hard to become better acquainted, and unfortunately, when we did spend time together, our personalities were not compatible. I did plenty of things to make Judy mad and it wasn’t long before we were fighting a lot. I had real difficulty putting my bachelor lifestyle behind me and it didn’t help that from an early age my father taught me by word and example that men are by their nature polygamous—“like roosters in a hen yard,” that “real men run around.” I however had felt the need to settle down and get married, but as soon as I made the commitment I realized I wasn’t ready to fulfill it. Even more, Judy was tough—in addition to sailing at Northwestern she was captain of the varsity field hockey team—and during a few of our fights it was everything I could do to keep her from beating me. “
“With the General Outdoor acquisition in place and being reunited with my father in Atlanta, the fall of 1962 was an exciting time. Dad was elated—the most energized I’d ever seen him. He looked around town for a classier headquarters and traded in his Buick for a Cadillac limousine that Jimmy Brown drove. Unbeknownst to all of us, this upbeat behavior came just as he was approaching the brink of a collapse. He was like an engine that runs at its fastest right before stripping its gears. My dad had always had his mood swings, but almost overnight his behavior became significantly more erratic and unpredictable. One day he’d be high as a kite and the next he’d be in a state of abject depression. He’d always been a fairly large man, but now he was putting on more weight and growing a big potbelly. After years of smoking two or three packs of cigarettes a day he had developed a bad case of emphysema that, combined with his drinking and weight gain, took a heavy toll on him physically. I’m sure that Mary Jean’s death had a lasting impact on him as well. Her illness was lengthy and her passing was long anticipated, but it can’t ever be easy to lose a child. I know how devastating it was for me to lose Mary Jean and I can only imagine the grief it created for Dad.”
“He then told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Son, you be sure to set your goals so high that you can’t possibly accomplish them in one lifetime. That way you’ll always have something ahead of you. I made the mistake of setting my goals too low and now I’m having a hard time coming up with new ones.”
“learned a lesson that would stick with me throughout my career. When the chips are down and the pressure is on, it’s amazing to see how creative people can be. And with a ninety-day clock ticking, we had to get really creative very fast.”
The company clearly needed some work but it looked to me like an opportunity worthy of at least a lowball bid. Our Atlanta attorney found a Knoxville lawyer to represent us at the auction and I gave him explicit but unusual instructions.
“I was trying hard to stay focused on the road ahead and to me it seemed pretty clear that the medium with the brightest future had to be television.”
“Dad makes the most of every moment while Jimmy was a little more laid-back.”
“For example, Jimmy came back one night to say that one successful skipper explained to him that most people focus on what happens during daylight hours and fail to understand that races can be won and lost at night. I used this information to my advantage the rest of my sailing career.”
“You had to recruit a good crew and you had to be able to motivate them. From my early misadventures I realized that when conditions were good, you couldn’t tell how strong your crew was. Heading out and singing chanteys everyone looked great, but once the going got tough, the weaker guys would fold.”
“(Privately, I used to tell people I wanted to become the world’s greatest sailor, businessman, and lover all at the same time.) In public, for the first time in my life I had reporters interviewing me. The sailing culture was very conservative in those days and when I was quoted saying things like, “Man, we blew those other boats away,” I rubbed some people the wrong way. My crew and I were green, brash, and from the South; and that combination didn’t always go over well in places like the New York Yacht Club. But we loved to win and challenging the establishment was all part of the fun.”
had energy to burn and knew I’d be restless if the company didn’t keep growing and diversifying.”
“My board, on the other hand, thought I was crazy. The directors were mostly friends of my father’s and they were having trouble getting used to my more aggressive style. They also read reports from analysts who did not believe that UHF stations would ever be successful. (I remember one who referred to UHF as “the lunatic fringe of broadcasting.”) But after considering it carefully I wanted to go ahead. Television would be a new challenge and it looked like it might be a lot of fun.”
“I had confidence in my abilities and figured things at the station couldn’t be so bad that we couldn’t turn it around.”
“From our mutual friends I also learned that he was a trustworthy, stand-up guy. I met with Bill and said we would offer the Braves $600,000 per year—three times WSB’s fee—but in return we wanted sixty games instead of twenty. While WSB would have the wherewithal to increase their payments to the Braves, I figured they would not be willing to commit to airing that many more games—especially since they knew Channel 17 would be happy to air the NBC programming they’d have to preempt.”
“As hard as it was for him, Bill was a man of his word. He stuck by his guns and we got the Braves. With this big new jewel in our crown, we set our sights on other teams’ TV rights. Tired of us stealing their network shows during their prime-time basketball telecasts, the ABC affiliate passed on renewing their Hawks deal and we picked it up.”
“Me?” I was stunned. My dad taught me early on that long-term relationships with your customers and partners are important because you never know; the guy who you’re friendly with today might be able to help you out tomorrow. He was right. For the past few years I’d demonstrated to Braves management that the team was important to me and now they were offering me a first-look chance to buy the franchise. I caught my breath and I said, “Okay, but if I’m going to consider this, I need to know a little more about your business. How much money will you lose this year?” “About a million dollars,” he replied. “Okay, how much do you want for the team?” “Ten million.” Ten million dollars! For a business that was losing a million dollars a year? We’d paid $2.5 million for Channel 17 and $1 million for Charlotte. Our company’s biggest acquisition ever—my father’s purchase of General Outdoor—was $4 million. And that company was profitable and in our own industry. My first reaction was that this was completely out of the question, but before I said no I asked him for a couple of days to think about it. After the initial shock wore off I spent the next couple of days taking long walks in the woods. I’ve often used long walks to clear my head and in this case it cleared quickly. The Braves were a key asset and I had to go for it. Major League Baseball was high-quality programming for Channel 17 and by owning the team I would control its long-term TV rights. Plus, buying this franchise would really put our company on the map. There was just this one little problem—I couldn’t afford it. Our other businesses were performing pretty well but we still had a lot of debt and even if I could scrape together $10 million it would be hard to justify paying that for a business that was losing a million a year.”
I learned about his vision and how he started working for his dad’s business and that’s where he cut his teeth.
Davidson Hang is currently in Sales at Cheetah Digital which is a Marketing technology company located in NYC.
Davidson is an avid networker, personal growth- life and business coach.
He loves spreading the love and regularly helps people create and design the life they want for themselves.