You've built a career, a fortune and a brand on your willingness and ability to take risks-
There are some people ... who are not able to calculate risk. I'm one of those people. It's not a positive. It's more of an oddity. It's the inability to calculate the amount of risk or firepower it takes to do it. You're not deterred while others would be deterred, but it might be more rational to be more deterred.
But in your case, in the case of your career, it's been a positive.
In my case it's been a positive.
To what extent do you think one's ability to be a risk-taker is an asset in business, in management, in leadership?
It's not that good in management. It's really good in creation, but not in management. Someone like me needs to be balanced by somebody else, someone who can augment and smooth over the zaniness of the creation. For example, you and I may have an idea for a new venture or a new plan. I will come up with nine ideas that will be just unbelievable. And I'll come up with a tenth that will just wipe out everything-your reputation, your family. And you need to have someone with me to stop that tenth idea. You need a guy who is just a blocking and tackling guy who is a facilitator but who has the ability to correct your course. Because when you veer with the ideas that I have you veer into an iceberg or a building. [If you're someone like me,] you'll create some brilliant ideas, but you'll create some ideas that will destroy you.
In your job, you personally put yourself out there, lay it on the line, don't hold back. It's a personality not all businesspeople share.
It's a very dangerous personality trait. You have to be rich to do it. You have to be independent. Financially independent [otherwise you'll make compromises].
So you have to be rich to be fearless?
To be fearless you need to be financially independent, and you have to be genetically wired to fight and not [flee].
So do you believe risk-takers are born or made?
What I'm trying to do-and this is important for me-I am not speaking out of arrogance, but an empirical knowledge of protecting myself, of seeing the things that I've done that are over the top. There's this over-the-top element and you have to be sure that the over-the-top stuff gets filtered. Because part of the risk process is, you're going to be wrong, and you just can't afford to be catastrophically wrong, because you've got to stay in the game. These traits produce this positive and this negative. And you've got to filter those negatives or else the [positives will be destroyed].
How do the rules of investing translate to the rules of business and particularly marketing?
I don't know how much linkage there is there because when I'm investing, I'm simply trying to figure out which situation is most likely to gain three points and lose one, and you could look at marketing decisions-I used to make marketing decisions for TheStreet.com, and it was all seat-of-the-pants. I would say, "What's going to be my cost per subscriber?" And they would say, "It's not that kind of thing, it's not that kind of thing, it's branding. You don't know our world. You give us $50 million and great things happen." ...Now with the Web, I know exactly what I will make, and it's amazing. What I need to know is, "Where can I give an online marketing dollar that will generate the most subscriptions?" And you can figure it out.
So the Web is right up your alley as a marketing tool?
When you're like me, which is that all you try to do is calculate risk/reward, the Web is like a giant algebra problem that can be solved, and all the other media is like a big Jackson Pollack [painting].
What CMOs or CEOs do you admire in terms of their willingness to take risks for the sake of success?
I once saw this guy [former Home Depot CMO John] Costello talk and I thought he had a lot of good things to say. I was really impressed by the two guys who died from McDonald's-that guy Charlie Bell [former president-CEO], he was really smart. And I'm impressed by this guy Clarence Otis [CEO] at Darden [Restaurants], because he seems to know what consumers want. I like Ed Zander [CEO] at Motorola. He gets it. He knows what we want.