Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Weekly Billionaire Case Study: Ted Turner

Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.

I just finished reading Ted Turner’s autobiography, ‘Call Me Ted’.  This truly was a page turner…get it?  Seriously, I very much enjoyed his book and feel like I learned a great deal about not only Ted’s life and how he thinks, but what it must be like to be a businessman operating at his level.

Ted has led a fascinating life – from winning America’s Cup, to winning the 1979 Fastnet Race, to owning the Atlanta Braves, to taking the Atlanta Braves to the World Series, to starting CNN and the Goodwill Games, to living the life of a Billionaire.  He got his professional start working in his Dad’s Billboard Advertising business, which he eventually took over and proceeded to grow.  He eventually moved into television and started Turner Broadcasting.  It was his business pivot into television that allowed him to create such innovations as colorized versions of many famous black-and-white films, like ‘Gone With the Wind’, the 24/7 news channel CNN, and my personal favorite, the Cartoon Network (I used to love ‘Johnny Bravo’ and ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’).

Reading about Ted Turner’s life is an excellent study on how to increase the scope of your thinking, problem solving skills, and level of persistence.

Here are some themes that impacted me from Ted’s Book:

  • Discipline.  Knowledge of Military History, Discipline and Bearing can help in outmaneuvering and executing business competitors.  Ted was a graduate of McCallie in Tennessee, which used to be a military prep school at the time he attended.  All of Ted’s sons attended The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina (my alma mater) because of the importance Ted put on military schooling.
  • Leadership.  Sailing provided Ted a laboratory to practice Leadership, Team Building, and competitive tactics.  The leadership lessons Ted learned from skippering an ocean-going vessel were applied to his business.  I’m sure the networks he built around sailing helped in business as well.
  • Problem Solving Acumen.  One example of the importance of big problem solving is highlighted during the disappearance of the RCA SATCOM III satellite after launch, which was to be the transponder for the new CNN news channel.  Problem solving skills, at scale, help make the impossible possible, which is a necessity for innovators seeking to disrupt the status quo.
  • The Power of Good Debt.  Reading the book, it seemed like Ted’s ventures were in debt most of the time, waiting for profitability.  To float a venture until profitability or until new investment money was secured, Ted would often sell previously acquired assets from the billboard business.  By selling assets in the billboard business to fund new ventures in the television and cable space, Ted parlayed his fortune into an even greater one.
  • Have Powerful Friends.  Friends like John Malone helped Ted deal with difficulties encountered after buying MGM from Kirk Kerkorian and during the Turner Broadcasting merger with Time Warner .
  • Love of the Environment.  “Why, land’s the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”  That is a quote from ‘Gone With the Wind’ that Ted references to underscore his feelings about how important the environment is to him, and should be to everyone.


Book Review: ‘The One Thing’

The ONE Thing

I just finished reading ‘The ONE Thing’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. This book was recommended by several people on many of the different podcasts I listen to, so I thought I’d give it a read. This book both bothered me and inspired me…but it mostly inspired me.


  • The interview question, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’, came to mind while I read this. The answer is one small bite at a time, and focus while you’re doing it.
  • The domino metaphor is a powerful one. Setup up a *HUGE* domino and try to knock it over by setting up increasingly smaller ones until the initial domino can be knocked over with a simple flick of the finger. In other words, big goals can be broken down into increasingly smaller ones, which when lined up in succession, can lead to an amazing chain of successes. ‘Overnight Successes’ are actually not a thing, but a long succession of ever increasing successes leading up to a big one.
  • FOCUS. Focus on ONE thing. Focus on ONE thing that will knock over the next domino. That’s the trick, now, isn’t it?
  • The first 4-5 hours in the morning are the most productive of the day. Don’t let anyone hijack that time. No Scrum. No meetings. No phone calls. Just productivity. Save the rest for the less productive hours of the day…in the afternoon. Easier said than done. Usually, our professional time is not our own. Perhaps, not yet anyway.
  • Keep your ‘One Thing’ in the fore front of your mind and activities always. Constantly ask yourself if what you are doing is helping you knock over that next domino.

Focusing on one thing is hard for me. I suspect it’s hard for most people. If it weren’t difficult to focus on just ONE thing at a time, I imagine there would be a whole lot more wildly successful people in the world. Focus has to be one of the secret ingredients to amazing success in life. My mind seems to always be wandering out to sea…

Somewhere on the North Atlantic Ocean...
Somewhere on the North Atlantic Ocean…

Summarizing books like this just doesn’t seem to do them justice, so I apologize in advance. These summaries are mostly for me and for solidifying key concepts in my own brain. This ONE book is definitely worth a read, however, so pick it up at amazon:


The Boys in the Boat

Book Review: The Boys In The Boat

I just finished reading the book, ‘The Boys In The Boat’ by Daniel James Brown, and I can honestly say that this is one of the best books I have ever read.  This book is about a team of 9 University of Washington, depression-era oarsmen, with a focus on one particular rower, Joe Rantz, who mesmerized America and the World by defeating Germany and Italy in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

I was particular struck by how Washington Coach, Al Ulbrickson, struggled to understand the inner workings of his most talented oarsmen, what made them tick, and how to get them to gel as a team. But once the right mix of oarsmen was discovered in the 8+ cox configuration, the team was literally unstoppable and undefeated. In my blog post about ‘Building Great Software Teams’, I talk about the importance of building the right team over individuals, and how the benefits can be astounding and greater than the sum of it’s individual parts. So it was with the success of the University of Washington 8+ 1936 Olympic Rowing Team.

The Boys in the Boat
The Boys in the Boat

Author Daniel James Brown does an amazing job of interweaving other historic facts with the facts of this story. For example, he describes how the Zeppelin ‘Hindenburg’ launched from New Jersey to fly to Germany at the same time the 1936 USA Olympic Contingent left for Germany on board the S.S Manhattan; and how Nazi Film Directory, Leni Riefenstahl, played such a pivotal role in her movie documentation of the final Men’s 8+ Sweep Race in hopes of documenting Nazi Germany’s supremacy in rowing events on the Langer See, but instead captured an epic American victory over Germany and Italy, which instead ultimately foreshadowed their demise in WWII.

The author also helps to remind us that even as difficult and scary as the Great Depression and WWII were, many great stories of perseverance and success, such as the one of the University of Washington 8+, arose from the ashes of their circumstances. And this is a comforting reminder as we remember the events of 9/11/2001.

If you are are interested in reading this book, please click the Amazon Affiliate Link below to purchase.

Book Notes on ‘Sprint: How To Solve Big Problems And Test New Ideas In Just Five Days’

At the beach last weekend I picked up the book ‘Sprint‘ by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures.  As I have been involved in many different flavors of ‘Agile’ Software Development, the concept of using a ‘Sprint’ to bring product ideas to life caught my eye.  This book is an easy read even though process-oriented books are not really my thing.  Here are some of my key take-aways from the book:

  • The authors note that Slack was created using this process.
  • One week is not much time to create a product from scratch, and this book recommends only one day for actually prototyping product ideas, with three days set aside for product planning.
  • Your objective (ala Noah Kagan) should be to get customer feedback about your product idea, and maybe even sales, before actually even investing in building the product.
  • Apple’s Keynote software is purportedly a great tool for product prototyping, although I’ve never used it.  Microsoft PowerPoint is also good for this purpose, which I have used for UI prototyping.
  • The last day of the Product Development Sprint should be devoted to soliciting feedback from anonymous users of your product prototype in one hour sessions.
  • You only need to conduct these user feedback sessions with 5 participants.  Fewer than 5 participants is not enough to establish a baseline pattern of usage from; any more than 5 participants results in diminished returns from the exercise.

Now, let’s go forth and build something great!

Book Review: ‘Money Master the Game’

Money Master the GameI just finished reading ‘Money Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom’ by Tony Robbins.  I am not a fast reader.  At over 600 pages, this book took me over two months to get through.  I stuck with the book because I want to be financially free and I’m trying to figure out how to get there.  While I was a bit disappointed in the main premise of the book – that investing in the Stock Market (bonds, stocks, treasuries, REITs, etc) was the main way to achieve financial freedom (which I hope I have stated correctly) – I loved Mr. Robbins positive admonishments throughout the book as well as his interviews with billionaire investors and his polite insistence that they share their secrets to investing success with everyone who has ears to listen.

I started this book from the fundamental belief that the U.S. Stock Market is corrupt and rigged.  I have cooled on the value of participating in the US Stock Market as an ‘average Joe’ investor – from too much manipulation by the Federal Government through Corporate bail-outs and Quantitative Easing (QE1-3) policies, to the Federal Reserve Bank and possible involvement in equity purchases, to High Frequency Traders (HFT) manipulating stock prices, etc..  Mr. Robbins book, however, is mostly about portfolio balance and diversification in equities.  While reading this book, I realized that the Stock Market cannot be ignored as at least part of an overall financial freedom strategy.

All-in-all I thought this book was extremely well researched and very good – well worth the investment of time to study and money to purchase.  It seems to be a heart-felt attempt on Mr. Robbins’ behalf to help the average investor prepare for retirement in the face of a growing retirement crisis (most Americans are not saving nearly enough money for their retirement – myself included).  While many of his recommendations for getting started toward some hope of retirement are mostly common sense steps you’d no doubt hear from any personal finance guru (i.e., save more than you spend, get out of debt and invest your savings), Mr. Robbins goes into great depth into how successful institutional investors, like Ray Dalio, Jack Bogle (Vanguard) and Charles Schwab, invest and make money (and rarely ever lose it).  I found great value in this book from the interviews Mr. Robbins shares near the end of the book with several billionaire investors, and that, I believe, is the true genius shared in this book: that we should study and emulate the behaviours, mentalities and money management practices of the truly wealthy in order to increase one’s chances of realizing financial freedom.

To that end, I realize the Stock Market cannot be ignored; however, I intend to tread cautiously in regard to these types of digital investments.  I choose to remain largely in cash right now (perhaps even in nickels, a la Kyle Bass (mostly joking)), with limited monthly investments in my 401k, and some small physical real estate investments (sorry James Altucher).

Tony Robbins, thank you for your hard work in writing this book, sharing interviews with such highly successful people, and for encouraging all people to improve their (financial) lives!  Here’s to a better (financial) future!