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.