Six months after highly anticipated Quibi’s launch, this unique union of technology and entertainment for consumers closed its doors on October 22, 2020. In this exclusive interview with Rob Cornilles, battle-tested Meg Whitman pulls back the Quibi curtain to give us a greater understanding of why this startup failed amidst the crazy conditions of 2020. But in true entrepreneur fashion, Meg opines about her other investments—particularly Major League Soccer and esports. Full of wise counsel, keen observations and an admirable self-awareness, the indomitable Meg Whitman is this episode’s Game Face Exec.
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Meg Whitman | Tending The Trends
Most business observers would agree that the biggest story coming out of the tech and entertainment industries was the unwinding of Quibi. A once highly anticipated consumer tech product launched on April 2020 by entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and headed up by Meg Whitman, this episode’s featured guest of Game Face Execs. Before voluntarily shutting down Quibi on October 22nd, 2020, Meg, one of the most respected executives of the last 30 or more years, took a startup called eBay from $4 million to $8 billion in ten years. She led Hewlett Packard as President and CEO, and she even mounted an impressive campaign for California Governor on the Republican ticket in the 2010 election. I’m pleased to bring you the second interview Meg has given since she and Mr. Katzenberg announced the dissolution of Quibi.
Everyone at the Association of Luxury Suite Directors, it’s my pleasure and honor to introduce our first keynoter to kick off our 2020 conference, Meg Whitman. Meg, thanks for joining us. We appreciate you taking the time.
I’m happy to be here.
We’ve had this on the docket for a long time to speak with you, thanks to Jeff Berding and the other folks at FC Cincinnati, for whom you are a Managing Partner and minority owner. We’re so grateful that you’ve joined the sports industry in November of 2019. It’s been something that we’ve been looking forward to. Let’s get into it. This is a crazy time for everybody. COVID, pandemic, the economy, and the election season. There’s so much going on. Certainly in your life, a lot has been going on. That’s the worst kept secret. Tell us what it’s been like for you and Quibi.
You might recall that Jeffrey Katzenberg and I founded Quibi in August of 2018 with this idea of premium short-form content for your mobile device for in-between moments on the go. We launched in the middle of the pandemic. We did all kinds of things to pivot the business to try to make a go of it and ultimately, we decided that the best thing to do, and we announced this was to wind down Quibi and return cash to shareholders, which most folks don’t do but we’re mature business executives. We’ve been around the block and we decided that was the best thing to do. We were heartbroken. It was disappointing. We had such high hopes for the business, but startups are risky and we launched as you point out in a difficult time so that’s what we announced.
Startups are risky, and most startups don’t make it. In the technology world, it’s probably even more a precarious situation. A lot of us in the sports and entertainment world sometimes feel like startups and now in this environment, it feels like everyone’s a startup because we’re having to reinvent so much. Either from the past and also over the course of your career, what are some things you could perhaps share with us best practices or lessons learned about how you launch a product? Also, perhaps you could share with us how you gracefully exit a product.
All startups rely on entrepreneurs and I would say one of the things I love about the sports industry is it is a group of entrepreneurs, people who are doing things that haven’t been done before and they’re constantly reinventing. Entrepreneurs are a special breed, they are because they see things that most people don’t see and they’re willing to take bets that most people might not be willing to take. Whenever you’re thinking about starting something new, I always look at what are the trends? What makes you believe that you can be successful? What is the open space in the market? What is going to be your point of difference? Who do you think is going to be your competition?
Probably everyone in this meeting has had to go through that. We live in a unique time. Things are changing incredibly rapidly. It’s uncertain so the lesson learned for now is how do you stay flexible? How do you think through what you thought was a good idea maybe two weeks ago might not seem such a great idea anymore? Flexibility and adapting to the set of circumstances. I also think as regards to COVID, we’re in this for the long haul. What you can see is COVID has gone in waves. Until there’s a vaccine, we’re going to be in this situation.
I would say hold your resources tight. This is going to be a longer fight than any of us thought. In any way you can be thoughtful about stewarding the financial resources of your organization will stand you in good stead. We have lots of resources. We could have gone until next summer, but we didn’t see a way out and we didn’t see a way that this business was going to be successful so we decided to return cash to shareholders. That’s not the situation most of you are in but that financial stewardship is important.
As you’re talking about that, Meg, one thing that strikes me is both for you and Mr. Katzenberg, there had to be a sense of humility about what you were doing because you talk about returning cash to shareholders. In this dynamic environment and the flexibility that’s required to live in it, all of us being able to say, “We have a great idea. Maybe it wasn’t the timing.” We’ve seen that in sports. We have great ideas, promotions, a way to sell a new suite or a sponsorship package. How do you communicate those messages to the people who you wanted previously to trust you and to trust your judgment?Entrepreneurs are a special breed. They see things that most people don't and take bets that most people are not willing to. Click To Tweet
Communication is super important. What I’ve learned over the last few years is going directly to your customers, if it’s a customer issue, is the best thing that you can do. Go directly to the people that you’re trying to reach, whether it’s through social media or something like Medium which is where a lot of people put out what they’re trying to get across. It’s 1 or 2 well thought out media placements, but it’s a completely different world.
Fans and other folks expect to be reached out to personally and if you’re talking to executives in your organization, executive communication is an art. I’m sure that most of you guys know that executives don’t have a lot of time and they’re hopping from thing to thing to thing. Always start the meeting with, “Remember where I left you last time.” It’s great for boards of directors too because they come in every 3 or 4 months. It’s like, “Remember where we left you last?” Many people say, “Of course, they remember where you left us last,” but often, they don’t, and so make your point. I schooled early on as a young executive with the answer first, “What’s the answer? What’s the supporting data?” Tell them the answer again.
You talked about the way that we should lead our teams, crisis management and change management are big topics. That’s why communications are important. When a sports team is going through a situation now where we don’t know for example, when our fans are going to, in full, be able to come back to the stadium or the arena. I am not asking you to write our communications plan for us. What are some key points you think that we ought to be considering and remembering when communicating out about the uncertainty that’s still in front of us?
I would say authenticity. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know. Fans and consumers are good at ferreting out authentic communication versus corporate speak. Authentic communication, on the part where maybe the players, coaches, or individuals who manage that interaction with fans can speak for you is super important. People need to know that you’re telling them what you know and in this situation, sometimes you don’t know and it’s okay to say that, but we’re doing our best to bring you back as soon as we can in a safe way. Authenticity is the one thought I would leave you with in nowadays environment.
Am I incorrect in assuming that perhaps in recent business memory, there hasn’t been a time when authenticity, genuineness, truthfulness, and candor have been more important?
That’s right. We haven’t seen anything like this. I’ve never seen anything like this in my career. I bet everyone who’s at this conference has never seen anything like this but there’s been a trend towards this, for sure, towards that authentic communication, that realness. It’s important and it’s been a trend that’s a long time coming but now people value it.
It’s also refreshing, isn’t it? I’ve said this before, so those who know me forgive the repetition, but when you’re honest, you can have a short memory. You don’t have to remember, “How did we put that last time?” There’s a difference between honesty and bluntness. I’m sure you’ve had to learn that throughout your career because of how you communicate it. I could tell my spouse, “I hate that outfit you bought.” That would be blunt and honest, but probably not appropriate. Maybe you have some experience with that. How do you measure or balance between bluntness so people go, “She tells it like it is,” but also tact and always keeping that bridge of honesty between them?
The first thing is to remember who you’re talking to and where they are in their journey of understanding. In the example you use, your wife will never understand that. That probably wouldn’t be a good strategy. Where are people in their journey of understanding? I also, if you can, try to listen as much as I speak because if you can let people speak and speak their mind, even if the decision doesn’t go their way they feel heard. That’s true for fans and executives. People understand and feel, “At least I got heard. The decision didn’t go my way or the conversation wasn’t exactly the way I would have done it,” they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
That’s good advice. Speaking of advice, let’s turn a little bit towards your decisions to get involved in sports. As aggressively and actively as you are now in Major League Soccer and FC Cincinnati, what was it about that league, franchise, market, and certainly about sports as a whole, where you decided to make such a significant investment of your time and resources?
Sports is one of the great industries in America. When I invest, I invest behind trends because what I have learned in my long career is better to have the wind at your back because all boats rise in a rising tide as opposed to gale force winds at one space and I’ve done it both ways. eBay was wind at my back and HP was gale force winds because many of our businesses when I started were businesses that were on the wrong side of history. The trends were wrong. They were declining markets.
When our family office was looking at sports, we said, “What are the sports that we think are the sports of the future that are growing and have the potential to grow huge audiences from where they are now?” We identified two. Soccer would be one, particularly in the United States because it’s not as well established here. Second, we’re an investor in eSports. In both of those, if you look at the numbers, it’s up to the right. We said, “Those are the two sports we want to invest in.” You start saying, “What about the ownership group?” Because we were not going to be a majority owner of either, although we are the majority owner of the Immortals Gaming Club in LA, we knew we weren’t necessarily going to be the majority owner so your business partners are super important.
If I’ve learned one thing in my 40 or so years, it matters who you’re in business with. Honesty, integrity, values, and a similar outlook on the world. We looked at a lot of different clubs and a lot of different opportunities. We felt aligned with Carl Lindner and his ownership group. We said, “These people view the world the same way we do. They’re super honest, with high integrity, and they want to do the things for players, fans, investors, and for the city.” We got quite comfortable with Cincinnati as a smaller market because if you look at soccer, some of the smaller markets like Portland, where you used to live, are among the most successful franchises. Sometimes when you’re in a smaller market where you don’t have 4, 5, or 6 big sports teams, sometimes that’s a good place to launch something like a new soccer club, so that’s how he decided.
You also have tremendous familiarity with Cincinnati because earlier in your professional career, as everyone knows, you worked for Procter & Gamble as Account Manager, at that time and Product Manager. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Assistant Brand Manager.
Thank you. I didn’t even know they call them brand managers.
Back in the day, they did.
Not to suggest anything about back in the day.
It was back in the day.
About Cincinnati, have you always kept ties there? I know, professionally, you’ve been on the board of P&G for a number of years. That market was attractive to you not only because of the size but perhaps the culture.
I had kept ties there and it had been on the board but that was not a determinant factor. There are lots of other similarly sized cities that we thought could be equally attractive. It was a bonus for us that I happen to have contacts there and know the city a little bit better than I otherwise would have. It was a more generalized approach to what’s the sport? What’s the ownership group? Does the city make sense?Invest behind trends. It’s better to have the wind at your back than have gale force winds to your face. Click To Tweet
I would also like to add if I could and I want to get your comment on this, the leadership not only at the franchise level but at the league level of Major League Soccer has done such an impressive job in growing the sport and spreading the influence of soccer around North America. Don Garber and Mark Abbott are friends of mine and friends of yours. Share some thoughts because you’ve been in many corporate environments. You’ve been in so many board meetings. Give us some thoughts about the leadership of Major League Soccer.
They’ve done a nice job and it’s been a long build. People always think when something is successful that it is an overnight success. Isn’t it amazing what they’ve done? If you look at what Don has been working on with his team, it’s a twenty-year journey with some significant ups and downs in the beginning but I have to say they’ve done a nice job. In startups, often you say, “Something is about to hit the knee of the curve.” Do you know what I mean by that? It goes along and all of a sudden it takes off. Soccer is at that inflection point, which is an exciting time to be an owner and be involved in that sport.
Whether you’re a soccer team or football and I mean the American football, baseball, basketball, or what have you, we’re all trying to create content. We’re trying to stay relevant and be interesting to our fan base and even our would-be fan base. You’re a content expert. You’ve been in technology, essentially your entire career but content also seems to be so whimsical by many people. In other words, they throw something out there and hope that it goes viral. They think that that’s how you produce content. Give us some insight into, as an expert in content creation and content delivery, what are some principles or even some practices that certain entities always need to keep in mind?
The first thing when I think about creating content, marketing programs, or anything is the number one thing which is market segmentation. Who are you trying to reach? Within that, who are the sub-segments that are most important to you? If you think about the fan base for any of these sports, they’re incredibly diverse, older, younger, male, female, high income, low income. Think about psychographics. The first question that I always ask, and every tough business problem I’ve ever had had often yields to segmentation. How do you segment that market? Who were you going after? Usually being all things to all people or sinking to the lowest common denominator doesn’t usually work.
That’s the first thing I’d say. Given you have you want to go after 1, 2, or 3 segments, what is it about that segment that they’re looking for? Are they looking for behind the scenes player stories, the history of a team, or the history of the sport? What are they looking for that they don’t get today? What they mostly get now is the game and excellent commentary about that game but they don’t necessarily get the backstory. If you think, there’s always been a backstory and that’s interesting. Maybe a modern version of Hard Knocks, that kind of thing. I think you have to think through and what are the trends out there in the marketplace. The trends out there are definitely back to authenticity and user-generated content. We’re so used to, in my generation, having everything be flawless. I would say that perfect is the enemy of good.
Sometimes if it’s too perfect, it doesn’t appear to capture the imagination particularly of the younger audience. I do think content is, to some degree, a hit or miss program. It’s different. What it’s like, and you’ll relate to this, politics. Content is nonlinear. Sometimes things that people think are not going to make it at all or a total mess end up being a hit and vice versa. Part of this is experimentation. Try things and if it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t work, don’t do that and pivot to something else. Those of you who are thinking about content, that experimentation is super important and when you find something that works, do more of it.
How much of that is based on analytics, the science of it versus intuition and maybe some dumb luck once in a while?
I have learned this spending a few years in Hollywood. This is a blend and this was the basis of Quibi, which is the joining forces of Silicon Valley, which is a left-brained, analytical, engineering-oriented view with Hollywood, which is completely right-brained and intuition. If you can bring them together, that’s sometimes the magic but I will tell you creatives are different than engineers. Sometimes you have to let the creatives tell you what their vision is and let them do it. Not at any cost but you have to let them. They do things that are quite magical, and I would count myself among them, the left brain often doesn’t see. It’s a blend but you don’t want to do stuff that makes no sense that has no basis in data, facts, or analytics. There’s a nice merger there that if appropriately managed, you end up with some great offerings.
It’s finding that sweet spot, that perfect middle of the road.
One of the challenges we have in the sports industry is that we want to be out there. We want to be present and we want to create platforms by which our fans can engage with us and us with them. You mentioned politics. Let me talk about something that’s somewhat political, and I’m not asking for your personal opinion on this, but rather, your advice on how we might handle it. There have been a lot of talks about platform companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. getting called on the carpet in Washington, DC because of content, not only creation but perhaps control. Where I’m going with this Meg is, let’s say I run a Major League Soccer team. I want my fans to engage with our website or with our social platforms but perhaps some of that content that they’re producing the commentary gets a little bit far afield from where we want to be, and we want to be what we want to be known as. How do we keep that control while also keeping it authentic, real, and not to be perfect like you were suggesting?
My personal view is that every organization, team, or group that you’re associated with has to have a moral compass. The question I always ask my teams is, “What is the right thing to do?” This is a complicated question because you and I might have a slightly different point of view about what the right thing to do is, but it is incumbent upon the leadership of that organization to make the moral calls. My view is everyone needs to make a call about, are they doing the thing, not for that moment, click, or headline? Are they doing the thing for their team, the players, and the country? It’s super important.
I’ll tell you a little story that will bring this home. When I was at eBay, our point of view was that if it was legal for sale in the United States or whatever country in the world we were doing business, that it would be legal for sale on eBay, until we got to household names status. You’ll be interested to know that it’s legal to sell Nazi memorabilia in the United States. It’s not legal in France, it’s not legal in Germany, but it is legal here. Ultimately, we decided that that was not a category of merchandise that we wanted to be involved in. We also decided not to sell over the internet firearms, alcohol, and tobacco because you don’t quite know who’s buying those products when you’re on the internet, so we decided not to sell those.
These were moral issues that ultimately came down to me and our founder, Pierre Omidyar. Other people might have come down on the different places when we got out of those two categories, two new websites popped up and did the great distance in those categories. We didn’t feel bad about it, because there’s something that I call the character of the company. The character of the organization. People say, “How do you make those decisions because particularly if you’re doing business overseas, the Koreans might have a different point of view than the French and the Germans or whatever?” I say, “Usually, this works. If your mother, someone you care about, your dad, or your sister, or someone you love and respect within the room watching you make that decision, would you make the same decision? If that doesn’t work, if it was on the front page of the New York Times or your local newspaper, would you make the same decision?” That’s the thing that is super important for organizations.
A great rule of thumb to follow and you’re answering my follow-up question. You’ve been working with national and international brands your entire career. If I’m a minor league baseball team in the mid-market, I’m not looking for national attention, but I’m not trying to appeal to a national audience. I’m trying to appeal to my local market, the culture of that community. Does that weigh into the decision as to whether or not we should allow certain things versus others?
It depends on what it is and it comes back to the owner, the president, the CEO, the coach, or whoever is in charge of that decision. How did they feel about it? Does it reflect well on them? Does it reflect well on the brand they’re trying to create? People will come out in different places and that’s okay as long as people have said, “How do I feel about this?” As opposed to, “It might be good for my business, but I don’t feel great about it.”
From your experience and where you see the world now, what are some trends? You talked about trends. You like to follow the trends to have the wind at your back. I know you’ve been busy with Quibi and other things being on the board of P&G, but for the sports industry, what are some trends that perhaps you think we’re missing, especially as it relates to technology? What are some trends that we need to be keeping an eye on now?
The sports teams are doing well in this dimension, in many ways. For FC Cincinnati, we’re building a new stadium and what’s always great is when you have a de novo site so we have a de novo stadium, a brand-new stadium so we can take every bit of technology and put it into that idea. You have to think, for example, holistically about the fan experience and your connectivity in that stadium is critical. Think about what you want those fans to be able to do.
You want them to be able to navigate to their seat off of their smartphone, be able to find the restroom with the shortest line, be able to order food from their seat and they want to go to the concession stand with where’s the shortest line. You also want them to be able to replay something they saw on the field that was cool. Think about it. You’ve got a big stadium, a soccer stadium with 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 folks and/or an NFL stadium with many more than that. Think about the replay and the bandwidth requirements on that stadium. That fan experience with technology can be completely differentiated. That’s super important.
Also collecting the data about what your fans are doing, not by name, not by Rob or Meg but collectively, what are they doing and what can you learn from that? It’s back to what do they like that you’re doing and how can you give them more of it versus things that they’re not taking advantage of. All of that I would call that big data and analytics. It’s super important and every company now should think of themselves as a technology company.Perfect is the enemy of good. Click To Tweet
If you don’t have a data scientist, a data engineer, or an analytics team, and you don’t have a good chief information officer, you’re probably falling behind. You may not know it yet, but you’re falling behind. By the way, it’s less expensive now given cloud computing. When we set up eBay, I don’t know how much money we spent building our own data center, buying all the servers, and getting it out but now when we launched eBay, we basically built this app completely in the cloud. The capital costs were dramatically less. Technology isn’t nearly as expensive as it used to be, which means the barriers to entry are less but it also means smaller teams can compete with bigger teams and bigger teams can do things. It’s a real addition and a real enabler of fundamentally evolving the fan experience.
This evolution that you’re describing, we’re seeing it in real-time now as you and I are talking the World Series is 1 or 2 games away from completing. The NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup wrapped up. We’re seeing sports in a way that none of us would have imagined since COVID hit. What’s your view of it? As a fan, how do you do your sports now? Do you like it? Are you tired of watching it on TV? Do you want to get out there?
I will tell you that once sports were completely shut down, our household went into withdrawal. We missed watching sports on TV. We missed going but probably everyone else watches more on TV. We missed it dramatically. We look at each other on a Saturday or Sunday and go, “Where are our sports?” We missed that and now that it’s back on television, we miss going to the venue. We happen to like doing that. It’s where we’d meet friends and see people. It’s part of being something greater than yourself. It’s being part of a team effort. Even though you’re a fan and you’re not helping but you’re cheering them on. Particularly in soccer, the fans are wild in a good way. We miss not being able to go in person but I will tell you our household is happy that sports is back on TV.
You mentioned that the Coronavirus, the pandemic is going to be here for a while. That’s your viewpoint. Do you think this way of observing sports is going to be with us for the next several months or years?
I do. It may be well worth it into 2021. Honestly, you’ve seen it. You see these waves of spikes in the virus and this is not going to return to any sense of normal until we have a vaccine. I’m not a scientist, but my husband is. That’s going to be mid-2021 would be my guess. The other thing to think about and it’s important for your audience, is to think about how many different ways there are now to consume sports. It’s not only for TV. It’s mobile and streaming services.
The ability to give your fans what they want to see when they want to see it, how they want to pay for it, that flexibility is going to be super important. Over time, these big media contracts start to dissipate in importance over time, because if you look at the television viewing audience, it’s going straight down. If you’re under the age of 30 and I’m sure your audience knows this, the television viewing of the younger audience is strikingly low. That’s something that as you think about capturing the next generation, we’re all going to have to be focused on.
We have to be creative and innovative. That’s why conferences like ALSD are important to our industry’s future. Can I clarify something you were talking about? Do you see the model that we’re going to have to pursue being more subscription-based or PPV, Pay-Per-View? Do you see it more still on the ad generated side?
All of the above. It’s not going to be like pick one and go with it. It’s going to be, “What’s your ad-supported venue? What’s your subscription offering? What’s your streaming offering? That could be the same as a subscription offering.” We’re going to have to think carefully. Back to market segmentation, what are the offerings that we’re going to have to make available to our fans?
The way that you’re talking about sports, I have to ask you, based on where you’re at now and where you spend your time moving forward, are we going to see you more involved in FC Cincinnati or in other sports enterprises or projects?
When asked, Carl Lindner is the majority owner of FC Cincinnati. When he asks, I certainly try to help in any way I can if I’ve got ideas. I also believe that someone has to be in charge. Too many cooks in the kitchen and you end up not being as smart as you can be. I will be as involved as Carl would like me to be in FC Cincinnati. I’m spending a fair amount of time on eSports, our LA franchise, and our gaming platform in Brazil. I don’t happen to be a gamer, but I can see the trends and I’ll spend more time on those two things, for sure. We’ll see what happens next, but I enjoy it. It’s great fun. It’s quite different than anything I’ve ever done before. Major league sports are different from working for Procter & Gamble, for a beta company, eBay, or Disney. It’s a bit more entrepreneurial and a little bit less linear.
You’ve talked several times about following the trends. Let me ask you on behalf of those people who are reading, where they see a trend, not so much with their business or their industry, but with their career. That trend is something that they don’t like and they’re saying, “I’ve got to switch things up. This is not going the direction that I had hoped.” I’m asking this, Meg, because you’ve worked at Procter & Gamble, Disney, eBay, Hewlett Packard, Quibi, and now you’re working in MLS, you’ve seen times in your career when it was time to move, it was time to make an adjustment or a pivot. Can you give those of us who perhaps are considering a pivot in our own career some advice on what are the things we should be looking for? What are the things that we should be avoiding when making those kinds of career decisions?
Let me reframe it for you because I don’t think it’s about leaving something, it’s going to something. Usually, you make a mistake if you’re trying to get away from something. When it works is when you see something clearly that is interesting and has a big opportunity for you. It’s more about what is coming your way? What’s happening in the world that you think is interesting that you have a passion for? Passion is an important thing and it’s what I admire about most people in sports. They care about their job, the league, the players, or the sport and it is a team sport. I would say, as opportunities come your way, I would look at a couple of things. What are the trends like? Will the wind be at your back? Who are the people you’re going to be doing it with? You spend a lot of time at work and it’s important for you to respect, like, and trust the people that you’re going to do business with.
Trust is paramount for me because even when you’re in a foxhole, as we were with Quibi, Jeffrey and I trusted each other. There was never any backbiting and snarkiness. That’s super important because you don’t know what way things are going to go. Lastly, I would say is it a stretch for you or is it something where you’re going to learn something? I learned a ton from Quibi. I’m not at the beginning of my career anymore. What are you going to learn? Something I always ask particularly if you’re going to go to something that’s a little bit riskier and people have to evaluate their risk profile. People have different risk profiles. I happen to have a high-risk profile but what’s the worst thing that can happen?
Like when I went to eat that, I said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll get another job.” When I went to HP, a lot of people said I should not go to HP. I said, “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I’ll figure it out,” but you have to be prepared for the worst thing that can happen and I would not be paralyzed by fear. I would lean into the possibilities and to have courage. That old phrase, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
I’d like to wrap up if we could by giving you several quick questions and maybe you could give us what comes to mind first. I was going to call these quick bites.
It’s okay. You can still call them quick bites. What we did is create a new category of mobile viewing so it’s fine.
It continues to live on and be a part of our culture. Here’s the first quick bite for you. If you are a sales or a team leader, what’s a book you should be reading?
Experimentation Works by a guy named Stefan Thomke. It’s relatively new and it’s a good read.
If you’re a new executive in the sports and entertainment industry, maybe not long after college has joined our industry, what’s a book we ought to be reading?
No matter what industry you’re in, if you’re new to the business, you’ve got to read Good to Great. It’s in the business. Everyone has to read Good to Great. I’ve probably read it 4 or 5 times and I’m sure you’ve read it. It’s one of those great Hallmark touchdown books.Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Click To Tweet
It should be in everybody’s library. Who’s your favorite athlete?
That’s a hard one because I tend to be admiring female athletes but I have to say probably now, LeBron James. I’ll tell you why. He’s been incredible. He has a raw athletic talent and how he’s conducted himself has been remarkable. I’m particularly admiring of the work that he’s been doing with his school and now schools out of Akron, Ohio called I Promise. Education happens to be a passion of mine so what he did is for these challenged kids who have all kinds of family issues, poverty, and all kinds of things. He figured he had to do almost like a surround sound so he helped the parents and gave folks a place to live. He had small classes focused on these kids and the results are extraordinary. He’s done a remarkable job in Akron and he’s now starting to roll them out. I admire his athletic prowess, him as a human being, and what he’s done for education.
You talk about education being important to you. I remember that about you when you ran for Governor of California in 2010. Here’s the next quick bite. What lessons did you learn running for such a public office that we all should be applying?
When you are in public office and when you’re in business, but particularly running for public office or in public office it’s almost guaranteed that only half the people are going to like what you’re doing at any given point in time. Meaning half the people are not. The barbs, the arrows, and the things that come at you are remarkable. I ran in 2010. Think about what’s happened in the last decade or so, it’s even worse now. That’s the first thing, you’ve got to have a thick skin no matter what you do. Once you’ve decided you’re doing the thing, you have to block it out and say, “This is what I’m going to do until I’ve been proven that I’ve made a mistake or something.” That’s the first thing.
The second thing I learned is communication. Having spent a career in business, I was good at talking to analysts, shareholders, board members, and my teams. What I learned in politics was to talk to large groups of people. Think about how you do that. It’s different. The facts and the figures. The left brain is not nearly as powerful as the brain. It’s the stories that you tell. Look at when the President does the State of the Union Addresses. Both parties tell stories. Why do they have the people up on the balcony? It’s because they’re telling stories about those folks and people to remember the stories. I promise you, they do not remember the analysis, the facts, and figures. They do remember the stories.
I’m a better CEO because of that. When I went to HP, it turned out HP was about exactly the same size as the State of California. Same budget and the same number of people so I said, “We’ve got to change HP. We’ve got to pull HP into the 21st century.” I borrowed a lot of things I’ve learned in politics from a communications perspective to lead at HP. The last thing is we should be glad that anyone wants to run for public office. I know you ran for public office and we both lost but that’s not the point. The point is how can you give back and whether it’s the city council, school board, state senate, or state assembly. People should think about getting involved because if people at this conference don’t get involved, we’re missing out on some real talent that is going to be needed over the next decades of this country.
I couldn’t agree more. I have a follow-up question to that but before the follow-up question, since you mentioned that we do have that one thing in common where we both ran. We happen to run the same year. I was in Oregon and you were in California. Would you agree with this lesson that I learned, which was, your friends may disappoint you but strangers will amaze you? Did you learn that?
Absolutely. You probably found it. You were running for Congress so you weren’t traveling the whole state, I was running for governor so I got to see California in a way I’d never seen California. I went to all but two counties. I saw the Central Valley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It was incredible and everyone who runs for office comes away thinking their state or their country and the people are quite extraordinary. What you learn from being out and about is an incredible life lesson. I’m glad I did it. It changed my life and it changed how I think about politics and our state. It was a wrenching experience in many ways but it was also a good experience.
You took the words out of my mouth. You said it better than I could and you said it better than I’ve tried to say it in the past. I would be remiss if I didn’t ask on behalf of our audience if the right opportunity came about, could you see yourself throwing your hat back into the public ring?
I don’t think I will run again for public office. Running for office for me was one of the lessons learned, it was a bad job person fit. What I mean by that is to run for public office you need to be a combatant. You need to love combat and you know this. When you’re doing a media interview, you say up, they say down and if you say down, they say up. It’s a given. It’s a combat sport and now is a full-on combat sport. I’m not wired for combat. I’d love to compete but that constant eight hours a day. It’s why litigators are excellent politicians. They love that and they’re good at it. I found it to be incredibly difficult and incredibly wearing so I would not run again, that’s for sure.
I understand what you’re saying. I appreciate your self-awareness because anyone running for office needs to have that before they throw themselves into it.
I thought I was pretty competitive. I was raised playing sports. I love to win and compete. It’s a whole other realm. It’s a completely different thing than competing in business or in sports.
We’ll have to talk some other time more about this topic. I have one more question for you that everyone would be interested to hear your answer. If you could sit at someone else’s desk for one day, who would that person be?
I’ll give you one, maybe you’ll find it surprising. Angela Merkel, the head of Germany, Prime Minister of Germany, or Chancellor of Germany. She is a remarkable woman. Think how long she has been in office. Think about her role in pulling together the European Union, which is fraying, embracing some things that were unpopular in her country like immigration, and how she has forged relationships with other European leaders. It would be fascinating. The crazy thing is, as you probably know, she was born in East Germany. She has risen to power and unified Germany. She’s been one of the probably most influential and successful leaders of that country. I’d sit behind her desk for a day and see what she knew.
That is a fascinating answer and it did surprise me, but I can see you’d be a great fit there. Meg, this has been rewarding for all of us. I appreciate you taking the time. We’re so grateful in the sports entertainment industry that we’ve got you, the benefit of your intellect, your experience, and your vision. We certainly look forward to having your participation even to a larger extent if you let us. Thank you for joining us at ALSD and at Game Face. We appreciate this.
You’re entirely welcome. Thanks for having me.