There were so many great passages from his biography that I had to slice into 4 different parts.
“Oh, my God.” After the meeting I reported back to Shepley and said, “This is an amazing guy—a hell of a personality—I just don’t know what we can do together right now.”
“you can get HBO up on the satellite then I can turn my Atlanta station into a national thing. You’re pay TV and we’re advertising support so together we can really lift the cable industry.” That was the beginning of what I thought was a beautiful friendship.”
“By now, I was determined to make this work and I quickly set up a meeting with Sydney Topol, Scientific Atlanta’s CEO. He said that while they expected satellite technology to be a big part of their business they had yet to build an uplink. I asked him how much he thought this would cost and he said he would have to do some research and get back to me. I liked Topol and trusted him so I told him that if he offered me a reasonable price, I’d do the deal with him. I can’t exactly remember what price he came back with but it seemed okay and we reached an agreement. We bought a small piece of property in a remote area on Atlanta’s northwest perimeter that would serve as our site and the Scientific Atlanta people got to work.”
“I knew he didn’t have this kind of capital but by this time our company had a lot of experience borrowing money, so Will Sanders, our CFO, agreed to help him raise the cash he needed. It wasn’t long before Southern Satellite Systems became an extremely profitable business and I think it’s safe to say that Ed Taylor made one of the greatest $1 investments in American business history.
But he didn’t care about any of that, and that was classic Ted. Ted asks himself the question, “If a rule doesn’t let me do something that’s so logical, it must be a bad rule. And if it’s a bad rule I ought to be able to change it or it should just go away.” He’s always had that kind of basic, almost childish, logic about him that refuses to accept artificial impediments. I think one of his big secrets of success over the years is that the things that most of us would sit there and ponder—all these regulatory and legal reasons why it might not be something you could do—Ted would just say, “Oh, hell, you can overcome those kinds of things,” and he’d just go do it.”
“In a short period of time we’d managed to alienate Hollywood, the sports leagues, the broadcast networks, and local stations all over the country. Each one of these groups had big-time lobbying presence in Washington and with the FCC and Congress ultimately presiding, Washington became a primary battlefront and I started spending a lot of time there. I participated in numerous hearings and tried to be on a first-name basis with as many influential politicians as possible (including a young congressman from Tennessee named Al Gore). My early training as a debater served me well at congressional hearings. My opponents had skilled lobbyists and a strong case against me. Logic was not always on my side so I had to be passionate and appeal to people’s emotions. When those testifying against me said that I was “stealing” their programming or encroaching on their territory, rather than defend my own position I would go on the attack.”
“If there are any real thieves here it’s ABC, NBC, and CBS!” I argued. “They’re the ones who convinced the government to hand over incredibly valuable VHF licenses all over the country completely free of charge! They’ve used the public airwaves to make a fortune and never once paid a dime for that right!” I’d go on to argue that no one would ever dream of letting a paper company cut timber on federal land or an oil company drill offshore without putting those rights up for bid. So why should TV companies get these rights for nothing? A free license might have made sense in the beginning when the business was just getting started but what about now, when these broadcasters were making millions? “When these licenses come up for renewal every three years, why not put them up for bid?” I asked. “These companies would probably fork over enough money to pay off the national debt!” When it came to the sports”
“These issues were uncharted territory. All of us—the regulators, broadcasters, program suppliers, and leagues—were sorting things out on the fly. My hope was that if I could just keep moving and stay on the offensive, we might have a chance to pull it off. I was working as hard as I could. I’d go all out during the day, working on sales, distribution, regulatory issues, whatever the battle happened to be, and I’d work right up until it was time to fall asleep. I had a pull-down Murphy bed in my office and I would literally work until the point of total exhaustion. Then I’d put my head on the pillow at night worried about problems, then wake up and spend the entire next day trying to solve them. All the hard work paid off. The FCC ruled that as long as our signal was distributed by a common carrier, the SuperStation could continue to exist as is. The programmers may not have liked what we were doing but over time we worked out terms (in many cases, increased license fees) that everyone could live with.”
“At first, being delivered nationally via satellite didn’t make the job of selling advertising much easier. Nielsen, the company that measures viewership of television stations, refused to document our audience outside Atlanta. They claimed that it was prohibitively expensive for them to measure a channel whose distribution was so spotty across the country, but I was suspicious that their real motivation was to avoid upsetting their customer base—the broadcast networks and local stations that were our competition. Regardless of their motivation, Nielsen’s refusal to work with us forced us to devise our own ways of proving to national advertisers that people were actually watching. I had hired a creative research specialist from Cox Communications named Bob Sieber, and he realized that, once again, direct response advertising could be a solution to our problems. Since many of our orders for direct response products came in the form of personal checks mailed directly to our Atlanta offices, we could tell where they were coming from based on the postmarks. Every day, Bob would bring in a mail sack and dump it out on the conference room table. He and a couple of others would then sort the mail—one stack for letters postmarked in Atlanta, and another with letters from places outside Atlanta.”
“I’m going to run for president and be elected.” Now I thought to myself, “This guy is absolutely nuts—and I’ve just agreed to lend him all this money!” I said to Ted, “Oh, Ted, don’t tell anybody else about that, okay?” And he said, “Cuz, your trouble is you don’t understand the power of television. Let me show you.” He pulled a little book of matches out of his desk drawer and he said, “Okay, it’s Saturday morning at 7:30 and it’s Captain Teddy’s Kiddy Hour, and I come on television and I say, ‘Hey kids, today we’re going to play a game and it’s going to be so much fun. Now, don’t tell Mommy and Daddy, this is our secret between Captain Teddy and you. Now, everybody go get some matches. See Captain Teddy’s matches? Go get some just like this.’” Then he goes over to his window he says, “All right kids, everybody got your match? Go to the window and strike your match and light the curtain or the drape,” at which point he struck his match right near the old cheesecloth thing he had hanging in front of his window and then he flung the window open and he said to me, “At that point, I’d look out over Atlanta and watch it burn.” It was an incredible performance. In the first place, he made his point. Television is so powerful that could happen. But number two it absolutely confirmed my conviction that he might be nuts.”
“Looking back, one of the lessons I learned from all of this is that when you start out on a new entrepreneurial venture, you might think you know what the roadblocks will be but you don’t really have any idea until after you get started. As an entrepreneur, you’re like a running back in a football game. He knows what hole he’s trying to run through, but once he’s through he’s in the open field and now he has to improvise. At first, the SuperStation’s big hurdle was getting the signal to the satellite but as soon as we did that, I was fighting in Washington with our program suppliers. Once that was sorted out, Nielsen and the advertisers became our problem. The list went on but the key for us was that we kept fighting. We never knew what wall we’d come up against next but whatever it was, we figured out a way to knock it down.”
“The lessons learned by such a crushing defeat would stand me in good stead for the rest of my life. When I suffer a setback, I don’t think of myself as losing, I’m simply learning how to win.”
“For years, the ethic in these races was for teams to share their sails to help insure that the trials selected the very best boat and crew and didn’t reward one group who might have won only due to superior sails. As a fellow syndicate member, Ted Hood would share with me, but since both he and North were professional sailmakers, I assumed that pride would keep them from working with each other. When North told me he would share with me, I moved ahead with my plans.”
“Over the years I had managed to develop great loyalty among my crew, and of the eleven men on my team in 1974, seven agreed to sail again three years later. The syndicate provided them with room and board in Newport but they didn’t get any cash compensation and even had to pay their travel expenses to get to and from Rhode Island. In those days, nobody sailed for the money. They did it for the challenge, the competition, a love for the sport, and the camaraderie of the crew. Ocean racing was a sport that demanded attention to detail and I tried to make sure we were well organized and prepared before and during the races.”
“I worked hard and even if we were up against experienced teams in newer boats, my crew always knew I was doing everything in my power to make sure we had a chance to win. I was tough when I needed to be but I also tried to keep things light whenever possible. As a team, we went through a lot of difficult times together, but we also had a lot of fun.”
“Oh, jeez you need help, I’m going to help you out!” And that’s exactly what we did. I helped him win races, and by teaching me and letting me sit in on meetings, he taught me a ton about business. I have a lot of memories from that 1977 campaign but one of my favorites happened in early April. We were up in Boston with the crews of our syndicate’s two boats and Ted took me out on a deck overlooking Courageous and Independence, which were moored down below. They looked so impressive and so beautiful that my mouth was hanging open. Ted said, “When you were fifteen years old, did you ever think you’d be sailing on a twelve-meter?” “No,” I responded. “Neither did I,” he said with that huge smile. “Isn’t this the greatest thing that ever happened to you?” His enthusiasm was so genuine and so infectious that I’ll never forget it.”
“Captain Outrageous.” I was just being myself, of course, but all these things being relative I guess my behavior was pretty far outside the norm.”
“I was thirty-nine years old when I won the America’s Cup. My life had been exciting up to this point but this was by far my most exhilarating victory. Our crew had performed brilliantly and I enjoyed the hard work, the success, and the recognition. As I flew home to Atlanta, and prepared to go back to work, my thoughts turned to what would come next.”
“I was so busy that I rarely watched news on television. In the late 1970s, most newscasts were on only at 6:00, 7:00, and 11:00 P.M. I usually came home around 8:00 and since I got up so early in the morning I’d be asleep around 10:00. I wound up getting most of my news from newspapers and weekly magazines and I figured that my experience was not unique—there had to be other people whose work hours were not conducive to watching the evening news. I also knew of the success of all-news radio and if it could work on radio it would work on TV. Because we were so small, this would be a risky undertaking, so I spoke to other people in the industry to make sure no one else was planning a news channel. It would have been a disaster to invest in a new start-up only to have to compete with a larger, well- financed competitor. One of the people I called was Jerry Levin. Time Inc. was now successful with HBO and as the publishers of magazines like Time, Life, and People, they seemed to be a logical company to move into cable news. Jerry let me know that they had studied the concept seriously but couldn’t see how it would make financial sense. Their research showed that the news departments at ABC, NBC, and CBS were each spending between $200 and $300 million a year just to put on a thirty-minute telecast at night and morning shows like Today and Good Morning America. This led them to conclude that twenty-four hours of newscasts daily would simply cost too much.”
“which prime-time shows they should renew or cancel. I’ve often compared business strategy to a chess game, and when it came to Turner vs. the networks, they might have had more pieces on the board but they only thought about their next move while I was planning ten moves ahead.”
“For years I had been selling off our billboard interests to help fund our expansion into television and to launch the SuperStation. I decided that if we moved ahead with news, it would be necessary to part with WRET in Charlotte, which we believed we could sell for around $20 million. Even with these proceeds it was clear that this business would never make it on advertising revenue alone. We needed commitments from cable companies not only to carry the service, but to pay us a per-subscriber fee as well.”
“CNN was still surrounded by skeptics and critics. Many “experts” thought we would never launch, let alone be successful. There was no way we could afford to do it, they claimed, and we certainly didn’t have the journalistic expertise required to do it well. Several questioned the concept, saying there was already plenty of news on television and with print and radio news, consumers had access to all the coverage they could ever want. Some in the news establishment even had issues with our location. The network news divisions were all based in New York and they couldn’t see how an operation like this could be run from a place like Atlanta.”
“When I’d hear that, I’d think, “Why not Atlanta? The biggest soft drink company in the world is based there. Procter & Gamble is the world’s biggest soap company and they’re in Cincinnati. Why does everything big have to be based in New York?” My standing with these media elites was just as it had been with the sailing establishment when I started racing, the baseball owners when I bought the Braves, and the Hollywood studios when I launched the SuperStation. Just as it had in the past, my outsider status only made me want to work that much harder and to succeed that much more.
“I took the crew over to Portsmouth to see Victory, which had been Lord Nelson’s flagship. I wanted to visit it not only because I enjoyed maritime military history but I also thought it would give us all some great motivation going into what would be a long, hard race together.”
“Ted was really tough that night. I was watching him and he was so strong that I didn’t get frightened. I thought, “If he’s all right, then things must be okay.” The harder it got, the better he was. I think it was his finest moment.”
Looking back, I can see why I offended some people. From their perspective, a terrible tragedy had just occurred and they were expecting my tone to be more somber and subdued. From my perspective, my crew and I had just survived an epic race through terrible conditions. I’d barely had time to process everything that had happened and I was merely speaking my mind.
“The CNN launch phase was particularly intense for me because I knew we were breaking one of the golden rules of start-ups—we were launching a business without sufficient capital to see it through to profitability. The problem was, I also knew I needed to move quickly and that there wouldn’t be many lenders or investors out there who would advance this kind of money considering our lack of experience in news. My only options to raise funds were to sell even more assets (we had already been selling off the billboard and radio businesses to fund our expansion), sell stock, or borrow more money.”
“By this time, I had been in and out of banks for years and whenever I dealt with them it was a culture clash. Banks like businesses that are proven, steady, and predictable; they are less comfortable with the unknown and with unproven strategies. At one point, after we acquired WTBS and launched the SuperStation, we were seen as such a high-risk client that we were relegated to working with Citicorp’s special division for highly collateralized, high-interest loans. Before that, we even had to work with a factoring company, to whom we paid a very high rate of interest and put up our receivables and inventory as collateral. They even made weekly checks of our books before giving us our cash. We had somehow survived it all and while it looked like”
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.