The Best Advice Ever for Succeeding In Record Time | Michael Ovitz on Impact Theory | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "The Best Advice Ever for Succeeding In Record Time | Michael Ovitz on Impact Theory".
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One doesn't get to a place of success without having made mistakes. One of my closest friends passed away about nine years from Michael Crichton, the great author. You should always say to me, there's always another race track. There's always another game. So take your game and ratchet it down just to drop. And you're gonna have another game. And he was right. I didn't listen to that. To me winning was everything. - Hey everybody, welcome to Impact Theory. Our goal with this show and company is to introduce you to the people and ideas that will help you actually execute on your dreams. All right, today's guest is one of the most legendary entrepreneurs in the history of the media industry. The iconic co-founder of CAA, he and his partners turned a small handful of clients, a couple of folding tables, and a pittance and startup capital, into the world's most dominant talent agency. Just 10 years after opening for business, they had roughly 70% market share, in an industry that was almost 100 years old. During his tenure, he was often referred to as the most powerful man in Hollywood, and he represented some of the most enduring names in entertainment including Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Martin Scorsese, Sylvester Stallone, Dustin Hoffman, and Barbara Streisand, through tenacity, brilliant tactics, and aggressive unbridled enthusiasm for the sport of business. He helped create some of the most culture-defining movies of the 20th century, including Jurassic Park, Rain Man, Tootsie, back to the future of the Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, and many, many more. One of the first to realize that content is king even outside of Hollywood, he was instrumental in brokering mega deals with multinational corporations, such as Coca-Cola, Sony, Matsushita, Electric, et cetera, and since moving on from the entertainment industry, he has introduced his innovative approach to deal making and storytelling to Silicon Valley to tremendous effect. Billionaire and famous Uber investor, Mark Andreessen, referred to him as a key advisor to Andreessen Horowitz, and he has advised many other prominent people in the tech world including Tony Bates, the president of Skype and Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb. So please, help me in welcoming one of the top 200 art collectors in the world, Silicon Valley VC, an author of the Captivating Memoir, who is Michael Ovets, the man himself, Michael Ovets. Thank you.
Michaels' Insights On Life And Career
Michaels background (02:35)
Thank you so much for being here. - Must have worked hard with my mother on that intro. - She was amazingly helpful by the way, so you'll have to thank her. Truly, what I was saying off camera is really sincere. What came to define my childhood were the movies in that list. It's pretty extraordinary what you were able to accomplish, but it's all the more impressive, given that your story starts just sort of plainly in the valley, and I wanna talk about starting from the bottom. How did you A, have the audacity to pursue what you did, and then B, tactically, what did you do to actually learn? - So first of all, I consider myself incredibly lucky to be here sitting with a fellow entrepreneur who founded a company from scratch and went through all of the ups, downs, trials, and tribulations to get it to work, and what most people don't realize is, for every success story, there's probably 10,000 failures, maybe more frankly, so it's really a pleasure to be here and thank you for having me. From, I was just a very lucky young guy, frankly. I grew up in a family that was wildly supportive. I had terrific parents, we had a really good upbringing. Grew up in a really kind of upper, lower, lower middle class area in the San Fernando Valley. I think the key for me was, as a young kid, I was always told that I could do whatever I wanted to be, whatever I wanted to be, as long as I studied hard and worked hard, and those two issues were really at the foundation of my young life. And then I also had something else come into being, which is four blocks from our house was the RKO studios at Howard Hughes own. And in those days, there was no such thing as security. There was no such thing as not being able to go where you wanted to go. We didn't have terrorist activity. We didn't have people questioning everybody every second. And as kids, when we were done with our paper routes at the end of the day, especially at daylight saving time, we would go over at the end of the day and sneak under the fence and kind of watch them shoot until we got thrown off the lot. And I kind of got the bug at a very young age. I was nine years old when that started happening and it went all the way through into my early teen years. And that coupled with my nuclear family and the surrounding that I had also going to public school, there was no such thing as private school unless you were a delinquent in those days. Not the way my kids grew up, but it was a different world. Private schools were for kids that didn't go to school or had problems. And I had a really strong foundation and I decided there were two paths in life. There was one path which was to just sort of float with it. And there was another path to be aggressive and try to make something of yourself and do something that would put you in a position to be able to do something else, to be able to do something else, to do something else. - Yeah, the level of aggression seemed to start quite early for you.
When to be aggressive (05:44)
I remember hearing a story about even your paper route you were trying to do in record time so that you had time to really push yourself forward. When did that real drive for advancement start? - Well, it's really interesting. A lot of individuals, and when you and I were talking earlier, you talk about what are your reasons for getting into business, why just start your company? And money was low on your priority list. I grew up in a very, very non-affluent section of the valley. Money was very high on my priority list, but not for reasons one might think. It was more for advancement and for the ability to put oneself into a better place. And again, this is the 50s and 60s in Los Angeles. It was a different time. So you can imagine how there was a big desire to be able to pull oneself up by one's own bootstraps and make something of themselves. So I tried really hard to do that. And aggression, aggressive activity was very much a part of the way I grew up in my neighborhood. There were different kinds of aggression. There was mental, physical, mostly physical where I grew up.
Getting bullied (07:03)
And one had to deal with it. - Yeah, one of the stories that you talked about with getting bullied, I thought that you handled it so interestingly. And I'd be curious to know if your son had been in that same situation, what advice you would have given him. So you get in a fight with a bully, decide you're gonna stand up for yourself and he just beats the daylights out of you. And then where'd you go from there? - Well, I remember it like it was yesterday, which it's so interesting in our lives. There are some little moments that we remember all the way back to childhood. And I remember this incident happening, where it happened, how it happened. I literally can picture it in my mind. And I made a decision at the time, if you can't beat him, you should try to join him. Because I couldn't beat this guy, it was a head bigger than me. I also couldn't show that I was afraid of the guy. So I had to take the beating. And afterwards I went up to him and talked to him a bit. And we ended up becoming friends. It was a slow route, but at the end, we actually ended up being fairly good friends from that very strange beginning. - And that strategy of being able to befriend people on any, whether they were good for you, a natural connection or not, the ability to connect with them, I'm assuming is something that played pretty heavily as you advanced up in Hollywood.
How to befriend anyone (08:12)
- Well, I started in Hollywood when I was 17 at Universal Studios, I was a tour guide. We learned very quickly that the customer is always right. At the end of the day, it's no matter what happens, the customer is always right. There's a story in the book of when Michelin Connery Sean's wife ran out of gas in a rental car and called my office very upset that the car was stalled in the northern part of the valley, somewhere between Warner Brothers and Columbia Pictures. And had no clue that it had run out of gas, but it was my fault that it ran out of gas. So we dispatched one of our mailroom personnel over and they brought some gas in a new car. So the customer is always right. I figured that out really early. It didn't make a lot of sense to go against the grain, particularly starting out at a low level in the entertainment business. And also in dealing with the people there, I learned very early that it was easier to deal with them in a very specific way, which was just giving. Since you were trying to take, you had to give a lot. And a lot of times you'd run into people that were just stressed out of their minds as you can well imagine with your, having been in your own business and also in the entertainment business, people get very, very stressed very easily. Everything's personal, everything. So one had to learn at 17, when to back off, when to try to get more information. For me, information and knowledge were the key to everything. - I'm glad you brought that up. - So speaking of knowledge, being the key, talk to me about the key to the file room. This was, and put it in context of where you were at the time. How new you were to WMA. This story, it feels like one of those legendary stories that literally they teach you about in film school and you hear about your climb. It was pretty extraordinary to read in your book. - So I went into the file room by accident. I was delivering mail, I was in the mail room. When I went and applied for a job at William Morris, I am always, even at that stage of my life, looking for something that differentiates me. I find it kind of interesting, 'cause now I work up in the valley up between San Francisco and San Jose. And the key word up there is disruption. It's just the word that you hear every day. And it's fantastic because you have all these young people up there who come in and they're brilliant and they want to change the way the status quo is in every single business. And they don't take no for an answer. And that's the way it was for me 50 years ago when I started. There's no such thing as a no until you get a yes. And I wanted to differentiate myself.
Disrupting the Willam Morris Agency (11:17)
So when I went in for my interview, there's a three year training program and I said to the head of the human resources at the time that I could do their whole program in 10 weeks. And it was actually an incredibly stupid thing to say. You know, because it wasn't really possible, but I was looking for something that was so outrageous to disrupt that moment. And it did because the guy just wheeled back in his ruler chair and just fell off laughing. He thought it was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. 'Cause here's this guy who's 21 years old, just graduated from college. I'm wearing a suit that looked like I was working for the FBI. You know, my pants were up to my knees. I had shoes on, you could water ski in a reptile and a button down shirt. And this guy's laughing at me. So I figured one of two things, it's binary. Either I've made my point and I'm gonna get in 'cause I had no connections. Or I'm gonna get thrown out of here really fast. So it's like 50/50. And he said, you know what, I'm gonna let you have this job. By the way, I offered to give my salary back if I couldn't learn everything. There was to learn about show business in 10 weeks. And I got in and I discovered very quickly that it was all about knowledge. Knowledge was power in that place. Service business, dealing with people, you had to know something. But the key was two things. One, get the information faster than anyone in the 20 person mailroom class that I started in could get. And B, how do you apply that information to move yourself through a system? How do you get noticed? And I figured out pretty quickly from delivering mail that everything was in the central file room. There was no computers. Everything was written on paper and filed away for a hundred years of history of that company. And I basically took a page out of my dad's book who was a liquor salesman and used to give away broken cases of liquor to the local police and fire and service people. So we got great service even as a lower middle class family. And I brought a little gift for the head of the fire room and worked it and worked it and worked it until she and she was the nicest lady. And she had this kind of grandmotherly thing. And we hit it off and she wore this file key around her neck. And it was the key to the fire room, to the whole room because none of the drawers were locked in those days. And I got her to give me a copy of the key. And I went in every night, when everyone else went home and I just started reading, started at A and ended at Z. That part of the story to me is so incredible. So I want to paint a little context for people. So you've got that whatever 20, 25 people all starting at the same time. Some of them probably had connections, which is how they got in the door. But in terms, you said, it was like on page two or three of the book, you said you have to work long, hard and smart. And I say the same thing. And I always get pushed back on the long. And I've never understood that because people say, well, if I'm working hard and smart, why do I have to work long hours? And your story, I think, exemplifies what happened when you started working longer hours than everybody else?
- Well, you become a fixture for starters. You get recognized by people that you're there. They don't quite know who you are, what you're doing there. But when you're there at seven in the morning for what's called a nine o'clock call time and everyone else strolls in and I'm, you've been there for two hours? Let's not forget that many of the executives were coming in at seven, 30 or eight o'clock in the morning to get the jump on their day. Those were motivated smart people as well. So in order to meet those people, if you're sitting outside their offices randomly and they want help with something, they're not bashful to ask their agents. So they will ask and then you have your opportunity to deliver and it's all about getting asked, which is the key and then delivering an answer. And that's what I did and then I'd stay later. I discovered totally by accident that the head of the company left the office every night at 645 to go to dinner with the founder of the company. They were both on the first floor. And I realized that every night he came back at 830 from dinner and spent two hours at the office getting caught up on mail and paperwork, which you never is an executive of time to do during the day. No one does, it's even today. Trying to do email in the course of a business day. You do the best you can do, but it's usually done at odd hours, I think it's a fair statement to me. And I went in and I positioned myself so the two executives, the founder and the president would see me every night when they went out. So at seven o'clock, everyone from the mail went home. I went and sat at the front desk by the front door where they passed by every night. And when they came back, I was still sitting there. And I will never forget, I can remember this like it was yesterday, about five or six nights in. It's about 930 at night. And the president of the company comes out of his office, walks up to me and says, can you Xeroxis for me? That was all he said. And I said, of course, I went. I Xeroxed the material from him. I brought it back. I put it in a pretty folder. I did everything I could to kiss up properly. And laid it on his desk and then sat in his office. And he said, yes. And I said, what else can I do for you? And he said, well, you could do this. And then I did that. And then I came back. These are stupid things in their minor, but minor things can be major. They remind me of a surah painting. Surah was a pointillist. And he made paintings with a million dots. And if you looked at a square inch, it looked like nothing. You looked at three square inches, nothing. Maybe if you got to six square, six inches by six inches, you start to see something. So I realized this guy was a health freak and stocked juices and special in those days, whatever the health drink of the '60s was in those days. I don't-- I think it was early for this. But I'm there. I do have to take a moment and tell you that I live on these things. That's class. That's class. First day cake, my favorite. I'll put it right here. So I saw what he had. And the next morning before I came in, I went to the farmer's market, not the supermarket. I got up at six o'clock in the morning to get there. I bought him all these fresh squeezed juices and all this stuff. And I put it all in as a refrigerator. And when he went in, I could see-- see his face, he was in a state of shock. Because he called me in. He said, what is this? You know, is it edible? I was like, I'm not trying to kill you. And that was the beginning. Then I got the break of breaks. His assistant, his secretary at admin, got sick. And she had the flu. And he made a request for me to sit on his desk. And within 90 days after that, I became his full-time assistant. So at 22, I was the assistant to the president of the most important theatrical agency in the business. And it gave me a-- I was sitting on Mount Olympus. I read every piece of his mail. I had already read all the files. I knew what was going on with every client. I knew what was going on administratively. I was like a trusted member of the inside team. And I worked-- I didn't sleep much in those days. I worked seven days a week. Every hour that I could work, I was available to this guy 24/7. It didn't matter what time he called me. I didn't care. As a matter of fact, I went overboard to encourage him to call me at 7 AM on a Saturday morning when he went out to do his five-mile walk to call me. I wanted him to think that I was there and reliable. I really hope everyone listens to that story. Because you say it's really simple, and it is. It's deadly simple. But it is exactly how people get ahead.
Simple is exactly how people get ahead (19:38)
And I was admittedly armed with your story. But when I first got into being an entrepreneur, I forced my wife to pick an apartment that was no more than seven minutes from both of the guys that were the partners that hired me for that exact reason. I wanted to make sure if they called me at 2 AM on a Saturday, I could be to their house in five minutes or less. And we actually would go to an apartment. Baby, do you like it? Yes, I like it. And then we'd get in the car and we'd time it and see how long it took to get to each partner's house. And when I think about the people, even in this company, that are really going to succeed, it's the ones that I see calculating like that. They're not trying to go, you haven't compensated me for that, so I'm not going to do it. They go, I know where I'm trying to get, and I know what I have to do to get there. And it's pretty extraordinary when people are willing to go to that length. How long was this after they made you an agent? So I was in the mare room for under 100 days. That's parents, Andy. The norm is what, a year to two years? The norm in those days was two to three years. And then it was a year to three years on a desk. And the desk was critical because the only way you could learn that business and had been going on since the 20s is listening in on calls and doing things under the supervision of the person you were working for. There were no handbooks, there was nothing to read. There was no way of learning how it was to communicate and deal make. And how do you learn creativity? How do you learn how to put something together? You have personal taste. You look and see what other people like. You try to combine those things. But how do you create that instinct that works intellectually and with your gut? Steven Spielberg didn't read a book, How to Direct. He went out and did it, made some mistakes, made some brilliant things, figured it out, and then just kept growing and growing and growing. As, by the way, with most creative people, it's trial and error. It's just trial and error. And that's how it was for me. It was no different.
What Curtis Looks for in a Young Agent (21:45)
So going back to that hustle and just doing whatever it took, filling the refrigerator, being there, calls at 7 AM on a Saturday, what are the traits of success? If you were going to tell somebody what to cultivate in themselves or what to look for in an upcoming agent, somebody who's in that program, what are the traits that you look for? The factors that I looked for all the way up to my retirement in 2001 was I want someone who is kindly aggressive. And there's-- I qualify that. Because there are times in my career when I was overly aggressive and I regret it. And I write about a lot about it in the book. But I want someone who knows how to be aggressive, but also has some style. But what I look for and still do, I look for people that are curious. I look for people that are entrepreneurial. I look for people that are self-reliant. I look for people that have an aggressive tendency and don't put things off till tomorrow when they can get them done today. I look for people that don't think about ours and that they're just there. I look for people who don't complain. But the basic foundation of what I look for is someone who wants to make something of themselves better than where they started. They want to be somebody they have a reason for. I have a friend who's-- I have one friend whose father was very, very poor. And he is running a giant company right now. And his reason was that he just didn't want to be his father. He wanted to be successful. It was critical to him. But I have a friend whose father is incredibly well-off and very well-regarded. That friend's also very successful. He wanted to show his father that he could do it. Everybody has their own reason for why they want to do something. Other people, like you, want to have an impact on what is done in society and how do you do that. So maybe it has less to do with some paternal issue, has more to do with some desire that came out of some other part of your life. But we all have these issues and these reasons that drive us forward. By the way, those same issues and demons drive us backwards as well. There are times in my life where I remember some of those things that were helping me get ahead, slowed me up and got on my way and tripped me up big time. And 2020-- hindsight is 2020 vision. And it's always great to be the quarterback when you're looking at the game films. But when you're in the game, it's a different story. Yeah, that's so powerful. And looking at the trajectory of your career of anyone who's been incredibly successful and really trying to understand you talked about this in the book. And this may have been one of the most just like deeply fascinating parts to me. Was you said there was this sort of magic line that you crossed where I was being aggressive and was building this business. And I'm seeing there going, oh my god, what you built is so crazy. And really think about it. You must have internalized this in a way. But I really want the audience to really internalize. Going from-- you were in your 20s. You were in an industry at that time that was about 75 years old. And then within 10 years, you have 70% market share. It's so outrageous as to almost to defy logic. And so I'm like, OK, I get it.
Avoiding Making Money the Main Focus (25:19)
All these aggressive techniques are awesome. But now with the hindsight you were able to see, but at some point, it started to become the thing that was holding me back. How do people avoid that? Like, one, I played a secret fantasy I'm just going to confess, where you ask me, because I do a lot of research. And I always love it when people give me a little test to see where I'm at. And I thought it would be fun if you said, well, what did you think about the end of the book, just to see if I read all the way through. And my answer was going to be, I don't think you've written the end of the book yet. And I'm utterly fascinated by the fact that you are still so engaged in what you're doing in Silicon Valley. So I look at it, so I want to live forever. So I always look at people like in the, hey, I think we can push death off for a really long time. So it comes down to a matter of what energizes you. So I see you as somebody who's still energized, who's clearly still contributing in Silicon Valley in a pretty significant way. So how do you take that now knowing where it tripped you up, knowing that it did work sometimes, that there are times you have to be aggressive. But there's also times where you have to back off. How do you play that now, or how do you advise others to play that? So that's a really good question, and it's a theme that's been laced through my life. One doesn't get to a place of success without having made mistakes. One of my closest friends passed away about nine years ago, Michael Crichton, who was a great author. You used to always say to me, there's always another race truck. There's always another game. So take your game and ratchet it down just to drop. And you're going to have another game. And he was right. I didn't listen to that. To me, winning was everything. It was important to win. I felt losing was a weak-- a point of weak character. And it was critical to win. It was critical to have momentum. It was critical to thrust forward at all times. It was critical to move that wedge forward and to not stop. And I felt we had to have 100% market share. I felt we needed shelf space. You go into a supermarket, who's got the most shelf space in the soft drink aisle? Those are the big guys. And I felt we needed shelf space.
Learning essential peripheral information (27:30)
I totally got that. I want to go back to this notion of not just learning, but really applying what you learn. So you start in the file room, you just go in A to Z. But now I'm assuming you have probably a better path. So one, how do you approach learning now? Like when you went to Silicon Valley and were a new entrant into just really learning about the raw technology, how do you-- and this is-- I'm asking on the behalf of the people watching this. This is one thing I know they all struggle with. I have this interest, but I feel so hopelessly lost. It is so big, and I don't know where to start. And then once you get on the train of learning, how do you see those opportunities to use it? Well, learning to me is strictly a frame of reference. Knowledge is power. And I believe I will never know what I need to know. I really believe that I am a voracious reader of everything. I like to know. I like frame of reference. I felt it was important in the business that I was in to be able to talk to everybody about something that was interesting to them. That's a big menu. So when you're talking to Paul Newman who races cars, you better have read car and driver, motor trend, automobile, or at least flip through them. But then when you're going to go talk to somebody else who's interested in tennis, you better know who just won the Grand Slam. You've got to have some wide sense of not so deep, but peripheral information. But I tried to then go deeper. Reading Files from A to Z gave me an immediate deal reference. So that was off my plate. You could come to me as the host of a new show. Say, I want to put this show together. Here's what it's about. I want to make it about social change and how people impact each other. And I want to get to the widest audience. I had all that frame of reference in my head from seeing what was done in the past and then innovating what could be done in the now and then thinking a little bit about the future. How do we disrupt? I remember my partner and best friend Ron Meyer at the time. We were sitting on a Saturday with a young agent we had worked with at William Morrison. We had just quit. And he said to the two of us, he said, you know, you guys are crazy. And Ron looked at him and I looked at him and he went, what do you mean we're crazy? You're starting this business. You're going to fail. You're going to fail. You're going to end up looking for a job as a casting director, which was a job that failed agents would take. There were great casting directors and then there were failed agents that were casting directors. So it was a connotation of negativity. And we looked at him and Ronny said to him, you know, if you were doing what we did, maybe you'd fail. And I looked at him and I said, we're not going to fail. There was an away we could fail because there was no alternative but to succeed. We didn't have an alternative. We didn't have any money. We started the business with a $100,000 credit line, which we paid off 12 weeks after we started. We had nothing to fall back on. None of us had well to do families. None of us had put any money away. None of us were in a position where if we didn't make this work, that we could go with our hat and our hand to someone and say, oh, William Morris, will you take us back? And then we also knew going to another agency at that time, we would have been tainted twice once for leaving William Morris and once for failing in our own business. Yeah, I love that. So it would be insane not to talk to the man famous for his negotiating abilities to find out what is the art of the negotiation. How did you pull some of those deals off? I mean, it's in the book you've detailed it, which by the way, the book is phenomenal. It's so cool the way that it goes into the detail on this stuff. But how, A, how did you become so unflappable? Let's start with that. There were times where it's just like everything was crashing down. And it was only because you could stay cool through that process that you would actually get across the finish line. And then, B, if you had to give it one overarching idea, what is it that one needs to cultivate to get a deal done? Well, first of all, you have to listen.
How to stay calm in the midst of deal making (31:50)
And my dad used to say to me when I was a kid, you have two years in one mouth, so you should listen two times more than you talk. And I never forgot that, Adley. And I've kind of dopey, simple advice. But I also knew that there were a lot of hysterics in the entertainment business. I saw that from the time I was a kid 17. I remember working at the studio and seeing people screaming at each other over creative arguments and arguments over dressing rooms and titles and who got a script first and a seat in the commissary. That seats better than my seat. Ego. And I made a decision that I wasn't going to have an ego at the beginning. Now, by the way, that changed. That changed, and success does that to you. But made a decision that I was going to try to be completely above all of these problems. And as the problems came to me, they just kind of fend them off and redirect them to either other people or to back onto the people. If I didn't do that, I probably would have had a coronary early on. Because as I say in the book, you're dealing in a business where people would just come to you, they shake your hand. While they're hugging you like we did at the beginning of the show, they stick a spigot in your stomach. Twisted in. And then they turn it on all the way. And they take everything out of you that they can. And I understand that, by the way, I do it. I think that it's really critical in a deal process to know your players. I think it's critical to stay above the fray. I think it's critical to not get caught up in the emotion of it all. At the end of the day, we're not curing cancer. We're trying to make a deal. I spent years as the chairman of the UCLA Medical Center and raising money to build the hospital. That's important work. That's important work, what those people do over there. Being in the agency business was not important work. It was a living. And I always looked at it that way. Getting certain movies made, that's a different story. Getting Gandhi made was important work. Had a big message, it was important. Getting certain comedies made was important work because it made people feel good. But by and large, a career in the entertainment business was not saving someone's life. It just wasn't. And I was very realistic about that. You were insanely busy. Probably still are. You had kids. Why'd you start practicing martial arts?
It set up my day. I got all my aggression out in the morning. I came into work as zen-like as you could be because I had just blown through every piece of physical power in my body and felt good about it and gotten a great sweat, got my heart rate up, felt really good about how I felt physically. And frankly, it turned out to be a twofer for me because not only did I get great exercise. When Japan took off in the late '70s and into the mid '80s, I had spent so much time studying the Far East, Japan, and China that when Westerners were going to do business in Asia, I was so comfortable there. It was beyond explanation of anyone. I knew how to sit. I knew how to stand. I knew how to present a card. I knew when to bring a gift, when not to bring it a gift. I knew not to ask people about whether they're sick or not or what the reason is. I knew what I was supposed to do and not do. That turned out to be just insane luck. That was not by design. Just insane luck. So the weird thing that I didn't even connect until we were midway through this interview, I studied Aikido for a while. And it's because of you. So this is a true statement. If you hadn't gotten into Aikido, I never would have gotten into Aikido because you find a trainer that comes to your house, a guy named Steven Seagal, and he starts training you, finally confesses that he wants to be an actor. And I think you're in line with something like, of course, you want to be an actor. You're here at 7 in the morning teaching me. And you put him on screen. My dad and I, the first thing that we ever really bonded over, because I hated cars. He loved cars, but we both love Steven Seagal movies. And so then I became absolutely obsessed with that. And Aikido and that notion of the reversal of energy. And also he just looked so cool to me. It was just the coolest thing ever. So yeah, because-- That's too fun. Well, I hope it was a good experience. It was amazing. I actually loved it. Unfortunately for me revealed something. So you talk about Sean Connery getting his wrist broken. I think it was a bicycle. Yeah. And I got a wrist sprain doing that in college. And I was like, I was too weak at the time to do it. And so you and I had to learn maybe very different lessons. I wasn't bullied as a kid, so I didn't have to learn. I wasn't forced to learn it young. I didn't find out till later that I was really weak. And so-- and I mean emotionally weak. I was unprepared to face the challenge of being hurt. And so that was in business toughened me up. And it's interesting because my wife, the one complaint that she has of what business has done to me is she has to remind me now to soften up. In fact, this was not a segue that I planned. But vulnerability is something that you talked in the book. And I think people that knew you at the height of CAA would never expect to hear you talk about vulnerability. They would not expect to hear you talk about how we all create personas and that you'd gotten so much trapped in the persona of the ultra-aggressive when it all costs guy. What have you learned about vulnerability?
Impact And Vulnerability
Well, first of all, I felt vulnerability was a crime in my day. I thought showing any vulnerability would kill anything we were doing as a whole, as a group, not just me. I was the head of the business. I had a partner who was very vulnerable. And that was the act that we put together. We were good cop, bad cop. I wasn't the bad cop when we started the business. Weirdly, going through William Morris, I was the ultra-good cop. That's what was interesting. But we made a decision to do that when we flipped the business from TV into movies in the late '70s, because it was a business that necessitated toughness, not the creative side, but just the whole business of putting a movie together. So I felt being vulnerable was a negative. And I couldn't look vulnerable in front of the people I was leading. It's easy to look backwards. It's not easy to look forwards. As I got to the tail end of what I was doing, it became very clear to me that I had overstepped. And that I could have cut back a bit and opened the kimono just to drop. And I didn't. I regret it. But I've learned also you can't go backwards. You can't. There's no such thing as going backwards and doing it again. What I did worked, and it would not work today. It wouldn't work today under any condition. We couldn't start that business today the way it is. We'd have to reimagine it completely. - So where does vulnerability play in? Are there things that you think that it gives people? Like now in their general life, is it something, a willingness to, even if it's just a one person, to open up, to connect? - You're referring to now, bringing it out at this point in my life. - Yeah, like where you definitely seem pretty open. And I would say vulnerable. I don't know if it's a word you're comfortable with. But. - I don't know that I'd ever be comfortable with a word, but it's factual. I've made a decision in my life. You know, I'm at a stage in my life. I'm not at the beginning of my life, not at the beginning of my career. I'm at the end. And I want to leave the planet a little better than when I came on. If I could learn a lesson during the course of it, and I've learned many, that's probably one of them. It's no crime in being vulnerable with people. Everybody has an issue. By the way, the reason that I wasn't vulnerable is I knew everybody else was, 'cause all humans are. To be human is to air, and to air is to be vulnerable. And I knew that and I took advantage of it. Now is that right or wrong? I can make that argument both ways. I can make the argument that it's wrong, because if everyone's vulnerable, then I should be too. And I can make the argument that it's right, 'cause it worked. And we took that business faster than anyone in history had taken. No one has taken a business from a standing start with five people and no clients, and no office to the position of dominance that that company had. Now is it because I wasn't vulnerable? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. I'll never know. I do know that was the act that was chosen at that time, and it was conscious. This was not an accident. It was completely thought through, and it was conscious. Would I do it again that way? Absolutely not.
MICHAELS IMPACT (40:31)
But we're in a different time. That makes sense. All right, my final question is, what is the impact that you want to have in the world? Well, I don't know what I want to have. It's probably what I did have. I think I had some really positive things, and I think I had some things that weren't so positive. On the positive side, I'm very proud of the work I did at UCLA with the hospital raising money to build the hospital. I'm very proud of a lot of the research that I have endowed. I'm very proud of the kids that I've left on the planet. I've got four amazing kids, and I have to tell you that's not easy. So I'm very proud of each of them. And as far as impact, short of someone, I read a lot of biographies, and I marvel at the ends of the biographies. I love the biography of Churchill, who is a man who couldn't be more complicated. He makes me look like a simple man. And I look at him and I go, "My God, this man saved England." But I sure will, while he was depressed 50% of the time with what he called the black dog. And at the end, they drove him out. So when you talk about impact, I don't know what it means. I honestly don't know what it means. I think you can have impact and still be driven out. I think you can not have impact and be, then have impact, and I think it's all timing. I have friends who have passed to vet more impact than they're passing than they had when they were alive. And I have friends that had it when they were alive and when they passed, people have forgotten about them. I was talking with tomorrow, my fiance, about, a couple of friends of ours had passed away in the last couple of years, and they couldn't have had higher profiles. We never hear their names anymore. Yet they did some great things. And then I hear names of other people who did very little, but they left certain tools in place to have big impact. So I'm giving you a non-answer to a very good question.
End Arrival on Stage (42:31)
- It works for me. Michael, thank you so much for being on the show. - You take it. - All right, yours. Guys, I'm telling you right now, if any of you have any interest in being successful, the first 30 minutes of that interview is your roadmap. I didn't wanna breathe, I didn't wanna interrupt them. I'm telling you, go back and watch it. It is the roadmap to being successful. That's what you have to do. And his is the tale of somebody who comes from nowhere, but decides what he wants to be, and then asks himself, no bullshit, what's it gonna take? And then he executes against it. He just literally step by step goes about doing the things that he has to do in order to get where he wants to go. And look, he's very open. It's a complicated story. There's no question. But what he achieved is just mathematically unparalleled. It is absolutely extraordinary. And to me, it is the classic case of going in, working hard, working smart, and working longer hours, and figuring out that knowledge, and figuring out how to use it. That's the key, man. Hear that in the story. Figure out what you need to know, know more about it than anybody else. It's the nugget of advice that my own father-in-law gave me, which I ignored for three years, much to my shame, but I have finally embraced it. And once I did that, that's how I was able to take off as an entrepreneur. Because all of a sudden, I had a need to know more about what was being talked about than anyone else in the room. And all of a sudden, as Michael said, I had more power than anyone else in the room. So re-watch that one over, and over, and over. And be sure to buy the book, Who Is Michael Ovets? I'm telling you, it's awesome. It is very rare that I take the time to read a book word for word all the way through. But this one I read, word for word, it is fantastic. All right, if you haven't already, be sure to subscribe. And until next time, my friends, be legendary. Take care. Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching and being a part of this community.
One Last Thing. (44:22)
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