#327 Ted Turner

Summary Notes


In this episode, the host shares two significant updates: his recent experience speaking at Notre Dame on the art of investing, which is now a podcast episode with valuable takeaways from his years of studying history's greatest founders, and his collaboration with Readwise on Founders Notes, a product allowing users access to his extensive collection of over 20,000 book highlights and notes. He emphasizes the utility of Founders Notes for successful company founders, providing a searchable database of insights from historical entrepreneurs, particularly useful for real-time business applications. Additionally, the host reflects on Ted Turner's autobiography "Call Me Ted," detailing Turner's complex relationship with his father and the dramatic expansion and challenges of Turner's advertising company, which set the stage for his future media empire and the rollercoaster of his career, including the sale to Time Warner and the subsequent loss of billions.

Summary Notes

Introduction to Podcast Episode on Ted Turner

  • The podcast episode features an introduction that describes the episode as having one of the most shocking intros.
  • The introduction sets the tone for Ted Turner's multi-decade career.
  • The host mentions a previous engagement speaking at Notre Dame for a class called "the art of investing."
  • The class was recorded and released as a podcast episode, which the host encourages listeners to follow and listen to.
  • The host summarizes main lessons learned from studying history's greatest founders over seven to eight years.

"I was invited to fly to Notre Dame to actually speak to a class called the art of investing." The quote explains the host's participation in an educational event that was subsequently turned into a podcast episode, emphasizing the importance of sharing investment knowledge.

Collaboration with Readwise

  • The host has a collaboration with Readwise, a favorite app used to make the podcast.
  • Readwise helps the host manage over 20,000 highlights and notes from books read for the podcast.
  • The collaboration resulted in a product called Founders Notes, accessible at foundersnotes.com.
  • Founders Notes allows users to search and view all of the host's highlights and notes.
  • The host uses Founders Notes daily to reference ideas from history's greatest founders, particularly useful for those running successful companies.
  • Founders Notes is currently priced at 50% off, with the price set to double after adding new features.

"I have over 20,000 highlights and notes for all the books that I read for the podcast to the Readwise app." The quote highlights the extent of the host's meticulous note-taking and how Readwise facilitates the management and retrieval of this information.

Ted Turner's Family Business and Father's Downfall

  • Ted Turner's father ran one of the largest billboard companies in the South.
  • His father formed a partnership with Bob Nagel to acquire General Outdoor and split it, leading to a quadrupling of revenues.
  • The acquisition required heavy financing, and Ted's father became CEO of the largest outdoor advertising company in the South.
  • After the acquisition, Ted's father's behavior became erratic, and his health declined due to emphysema, weight gain, and addictions.
  • Ted's father struggled with the pressure of success and had insecurities rooted in the Great Depression.
  • Ted's father advised setting goals so high they cannot be accomplished in one lifetime.
  • Ted's father's fear of debt and loss of wealth consumed him despite the business doing well.
  • His father tried rehab but became dependent on prescription drugs.
  • Ted's father sold a large chunk of the company, leading to an argument with Ted.
  • Shortly after, Ted's father committed suicide, which was a shock to Ted, who considered him his best friend.

"Dad was elated. This was the most energized I had ever seen him." This quote reflects the initial excitement and ambition of Ted Turner's father following a successful business acquisition before his eventual decline.

Ted Turner's Early Career and Inheritance

  • At around 24-25 years old, Ted Turner inherited his father's company, worth about $15 million in today's dollars.
  • Over the next 50 years, Ted worked on the company, eventually selling it to Time Warner for $8 billion.
  • After the Time Warner-AOL merger, Ted's net worth peaked at $10 billion but then dropped by $8 billion over 30 months.
  • Ted humorously notes his rapid loss of net worth, possibly setting a record.
  • Ted had been working for his father's billboard company since he was twelve.
  • He decided to work full-time at Turner Advertising Company, which focused on outdoor advertising.
  • Ted's father imparted business lessons during commutes, emphasizing hard work and advertising.
  • Ted was groomed to take over the company and demonstrated a strong work ethic and discipline, often working long hours and sleeping in his office.
  • Ted and his father had a complicated relationship, with control issues and a strong desire for independence from Ted.

"Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell, and advertise." This quote is a motto shared by Ted Turner and his father, encapsulating their shared philosophy on work and success.

Ted Turner's Business Acumen and Expansion

  • Ted Turner was determined to expand the business and get creative with financing.
  • He negotiated deals that often required finding creative solutions to raise funds.
  • Ted learned the importance of creativity under pressure from his father's deal-making strategies.
  • After his father's death, Ted worked to undo a deal his father had entered with Bob Nagel.
  • Ted found a loophole in the agreement and used it to negotiate his way out of the deal.
  • Ted's aggressive and creative approach to business is illustrated by his efforts to "jump leases" and devalue the assets Nagel wanted.
  • Ted's acquisitive nature led him to expand into radio and TV, leveraging his existing billboard assets to gain a competitive advantage.
  • He made acquisitions with little to no money down by convincing sellers to finance the purchase or by offering equity in separate entities.
  • Ted's strategy of maintaining separate legal entities for different businesses allowed for financial flexibility and tax advantages.

"I learned a lesson that would stick with me throughout my career. When the chips are down and the pressure is on, it's amazing to see how creative people can be." This quote underscores the crucial lesson Ted Turner learned about resourcefulness and creativity in the face of financial pressure and challenging business situations.

Efficiency in Sales and Promotion

  • Ted Turner utilized the same sales team to sell ads across different media platforms, showcasing efficiency in sales and promotion.
  • By owning both billboard and radio businesses, Turner could use unsold billboard inventory to promote his radio stations, increasing listenership and ad revenue.
  • This strategy of cross-promotion was also applied to local TV stations before expanding into satellite and cable TV.

"If I'm selling ads on a billboard, my sales team can sell ads on billboards. The very same sales team can also sell ads in a radio station."

This quote highlights Turner's strategic use of his sales team to handle multiple advertising platforms, thereby increasing efficiency.

Geographic Constraints and Competition

  • Radio and local TV stations are limited by geographic constraints, making competition a zero-sum game for listeners and viewers within that area.
  • Turner's strategy to outcompete other stations involved using his billboard advertising company to promote his own radio and TV stations.

"You're constrained by a specific geographic location. So therefore, it is a much more zero sum game."

This quote explains the competitive environment for local broadcast media, where the audience is limited to a specific region.

Strategic Asset Combination and Industry Transfer

  • Turner was adept at leveraging assets in innovative ways that his competitors could not replicate.
  • He successfully transferred successful strategies from one industry to another, such as using billboard advertising to boost radio and TV stations.
  • Turner's focus was on investing in mediums that promised rapid growth, such as television over radio.

"He's combining the assets that he has in a way that his competitors cannot."

This quote underscores Turner's strategic advantage in utilizing his assets more effectively than his competitors.

Passion for Television and Growth Medium

  • Despite a significant portion of his career being in TV, Turner did not initially have a passion for radio, which he later developed for television.
  • Turner believed in betting on the fastest-growing medium, which at the time was television.
  • His acquisition of a local TV station was based on this belief and his recognition of TV's potential as a powerful distribution channel.

"I never developed a passion for radio the way I later would for television."

This quote reflects Turner's evolving interests and strategic focus on television as a more exciting and rapidly growing medium.

Monopoly on Local Content and Pricing Advantage

  • Turner capitalized on the lack of competition in the Atlanta TV market to secure exclusive deals on syndicated content.
  • Understanding the financial incentives of content providers allowed Turner to acquire a vast library of movies and shows at favorable prices.
  • The temporary monopoly provided by being the sole bidder in the market allowed Turner to strike long-term deals, securing content for his stations.

"There's thousands of old movies and thousands of TV shows that no one else is competing to air them on in the market."

This quote explains the unique opportunity Turner had to monopolize content in his market due to the lack of competition.

Ownership and Control of Sports Teams

  • Recognizing the importance of local sports to his TV station, Turner acquired the Atlanta Braves to secure long-term TV rights.
  • Turner's relationship with the president of the Braves and his strategic thinking allowed him to negotiate a deal to buy the team despite financial constraints.
  • The acquisition of the Braves was driven by the understanding that controlling the team would ensure consistent content and potentially increase viewership.

"By owning the team, I could control its long-term TV rights."

This quote shows Turner's foresight in recognizing the value of owning a sports team for its television rights and content control.

Relationship Building and Industry Insight

  • Turner's success was partly due to his ability to build relationships with key players in various industries.
  • He was known for being a friendly broadcaster among cable TV operators, which was uncommon at the time.
  • His innovative approach to the emerging cable TV industry included creating the first superstation, TBS, and embracing cable as an opportunity rather than a threat.

"They told me that I was their first friendly broadcaster that they had ever met."

This quote emphasizes Turner's unique approach to building positive relationships with cable operators, contrary to the norm among broadcasters at the time.

Creative Problem Solving and Adapting to Change

  • Turner faced challenges in proving his audience size to advertisers due to Nielsen's reluctance to measure his superstation's viewership.
  • He used direct response advertising data, such as the postmarks on personal checks, to demonstrate the reach of his station beyond Atlanta.
  • Turner's ability to adapt and find creative solutions to problems was a key factor in his success, as evidenced by his unique programming scheduling and investment in colorizing black and white films.

"Direct response advertising could be a solution to our problems."

This quote illustrates Turner's innovative thinking in using alternative methods to prove his audience size to advertisers.

Legacy and Influence in Media

  • Turner is credited with creating the world's first 24-hour news station, CNN, recognizing the potential based on the success of other 24-hour networks like HBO and ESPN.
  • His career intersected with other prominent figures in the media industry, such as John Malone, Warren Buffett, and Bob Iger, highlighting the collaborative and competitive nature of the business.
  • Turner's story is a testament to his relentless work ethic, willingness to take risks, and vision for the future of television and media.

"He always had this kind of basic, almost childish logic about him that refuses to accept artificial impediments."

This quote from John Malone captures Turner's attitude towards overcoming obstacles and his impact on the media industry.

Genesis of the 24-Hour News Channel

  • Ted Turner conceived the idea of a 24-hour news channel, recognizing the unused potential of the big three networks' resources.
  • Turner spent five years contemplating the concept, aware that the big three had the necessary assets to expand their news coverage.
  • Despite the apparent opportunity, the big three networks lacked belief in the potential of cable, which Turner possessed.

"There should be a 24 hours news channel? And he thought about this idea for five years before he winds up doing it."

This quote highlights Ted Turner's initial thought process and the duration he spent considering the idea of a 24-hour news channel.

The Power of Belief

  • Turner's belief in cable was so strong that he predicted his future success based on the expansion of cable TV.
  • His confidence in the viability of a 24-hour news network was unwavering, akin to the conviction of historical innovators like Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell.
  • Turner's belief was often mistaken for insanity, but it was actually foresight.

"They had everything but a belief in cable."

The quote emphasizes the big three networks' lack of faith in cable TV, which was the missing component that Turner capitalized on.

Ted Turner's Early Vision and Commitment

  • Turner foresaw the potential of cable TV and had a clear vision of becoming a billionaire by leveraging satellite technology for broadcasting.
  • His plan included a comprehensive media offering: news, sports, movies, and more, around the clock.
  • Turner's vision was detailed and ambitious, as he explained using a Delta Airlines magazine map to illustrate his plan.

"I'm going to put this station up on a satellite and I'm going to get a news thing going, sports, movies, and news 24 hours a day all over the world."

This quote captures Turner's early and clear vision for his media empire, which included a 24-hour news network as a cornerstone.

Reading as a Tool for Visionary Thinking

  • Turner was an avid reader, focusing on history and biographies, which informed his business strategies.
  • He drew parallels between historical events and his own business challenges.
  • Turner's decision-making was influenced by his knowledge of the past, rather than formal market research.

"He's reading history. He's reading biographies. He's constantly comparing stuff he read in books, like from history to what's taking place in his life."

The explanation for the quote is that Turner used his extensive reading of history and biographies to draw parallels to his own experiences and make strategic decisions.

Financial Risks and Strategic Asset Management

  • Turner was willing to sell off profitable assets to fund CNN, knowing that he lacked sufficient capital.
  • He identified non-strategic assets for sale to finance his vision, such as a local TV station he previously purchased.
  • Turner likened his launch strategy to that of General Rommel in World War II, aiming to capture resources (in this case, capital) through an initial offensive (launching CNN).

"What is the most valuable but least strategic asset that I have, that I can sell so I can actually make it to the next fuel station?"

This quote reflects Turner's strategic thinking in identifying which assets to liquidate to fund his vision for CNN.

Competitive Strategy and Commitment

  • Turner's commitment and belief in his vision were stronger than that of his larger, more resource-rich competitors.
  • His enthusiasm and charisma were key in recruiting talent and convincing others of his vision.
  • Turner's willingness to engage in legal battles against anti-competitive behavior demonstrated his determination to succeed.

"I'm always convinced that one of the reasons that I've been successful is that I've almost always competed against people who were bigger and stronger, but who had less commitment and desire than I did."

This quote underscores Turner's belief that his success was due to his greater commitment and desire compared to his competitors, even when they had more resources.

Strategic Understanding of the Media Industry

  • Turner recognized the lack of synergy between broadcast and cable networks, which he sought to exploit.
  • He proposed mergers with major networks to create a competitive advantage by combining news hours and resources.
  • Turner's understanding of the media industry's dynamics allowed him to identify opportunities that others missed.

"You guys at CBS, you have 4 hours of news a day, right? Okay, I have CNN, and I have headline news. So we have 48 hours. That means if we combine, we have 52 hours."

This quote illustrates Turner's strategic proposal to CBS, highlighting the potential benefits of combining broadcast and cable news resources.

Overcoming Complex Deals and Retaining Control

  • Turner's deals became increasingly complex, often involving high levels of debt and complicated terms.
  • He faced challenges that threatened his control over Turner Broadcasting, leading him to seek assistance from John Malone.
  • Turner's struggle with losing autonomy underscores the importance of retaining control in business ventures.

"Genius has the fewest moving parts."

This quote, although not directly from Turner, reflects the principle that simplicity in business deals is often a sign of genius and that complexity can lead to problems.

Legacy and Exhaustion

  • After decades of intense work, Turner sold his company, exhausted by the effort required to maintain control and grow the business.
  • The sale to Time Warner made him the largest shareholder of the world's biggest communication company, fulfilling his father's legacy.
  • Turner's journey from a small billboard company to a media giant exemplifies the endurance and vision required for entrepreneurial success.

"I was tired. It was now more than 30 years since my father's death, and I'd been running the company on my own ever since."

This quote reveals Turner's exhaustion after decades of relentless work, which ultimately led to the sale of his company and the culmination of his entrepreneurial journey.

Importance of Great People in Small Companies

  • Small companies rely more heavily on the contributions of great people than large companies.
  • The quality of individuals in a small team can significantly impact the company's success or failure.

A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.

This quote emphasizes the critical role that individual team members play in the success of a small company, highlighting the importance of meticulous hiring practices.

Leveraging Biographies and Notes for Hiring Insights

  • The speaker has read over 300 biographies of entrepreneurs and keeps detailed notes and highlights.
  • These resources allow for searching specific topics and reflecting on hiring practices of successful founders.

I've read 300 something biographies of entrepreneurs now, but I have all of my notes and highlights stored in my readwise app.

The quote shows the speaker's commitment to learning from successful entrepreneurs and the value of having an organized system to retrieve and apply that knowledge, particularly in the context of hiring.

Hiring Strategies from Established Founders

  • Steve Jobs and David Ogilvy used their reputations to attract talent by recognizing great work.
  • Jobs and Ogilvy's approach may not be as applicable to new or lesser-known companies.

Find somebody who does great work. Usually you can do this.

The quote suggests a hiring strategy that focuses on identifying and pursuing individuals who have already demonstrated excellence in their field.

Rockefeller's Hiring Priorities

  • Rockefeller valued social skills in his hires, considering the ability to deal with people as a crucial commodity.
  • He hired talented individuals as they were found, not as needed, stacking his team with capable people.

The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I pay more for that ability than any other under the sun.

Rockefeller's quote underscores the importance he placed on interpersonal skills in his hiring decisions, reflecting a priority that may differ from other entrepreneurs' approaches.

Vannevar Bush's Interview Technique

  • Vannevar Bush engaged candidates in solving real technical problems during interviews.
  • This approach allowed Bush to assess the candidate's problem-solving skills and fit for the role.

An interview of that sort is always likely to be on an artificial basis and somewhat embarrassing. So I discussed with him a technical point on which I was then genuinely puzzled.

Bush's quote reveals his method of making the interview process more practical and insightful by involving the candidate in actual work challenges.

Nolan Bushnell's Creative Hiring Criteria

  • Nolan Bushnell valued creativity and asked about reading habits to gauge a candidate's curiosity and passion.
  • He believed that a diverse range of reading interests could indicate a creative and passionate individual.

I've never met a creative person in my life that didn't respond with enthusiasm to a question about reading habits.

This statement from Bushnell highlights the connection he sees between reading habits and creative potential, suggesting that a passion for reading can be a marker for a creative mind.

Warren Buffett's Hiring Philosophy

  • Warren Buffett, Jeff Bezos, and others stress the importance of hiring people who are better than oneself.
  • The goal is to constantly raise the hiring bar to improve the talent pool within the company.

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

Buffett's adoption of David Ogilvy's philosophy illustrates the belief that hiring superior talent is essential for building a strong and successful company.

PayPal's Hiring Approach

  • PayPal, under Max Levchin, prioritized maintaining high talent standards over rapid staffing.
  • The company required all candidates to meet every team member, ensuring a thorough evaluation.

A's hire A's, B's hire C's. So the first B player you hire takes the whole company down.

Levchin's quote encapsulates the idea that the quality of hires determines the company's trajectory, advocating for a rigorous hiring standard to prevent a decline in overall quality.

Larry Ellison's Confidence-Based Hiring

  • Larry Ellison sought candidates with high self-confidence, believing it contributed to Oracle's success.
  • Ellison's hiring practices reflected his own personality and set the tone for the company culture.

Ellison insisted that his recruiters hire only the finest and cockiest new college graduates.

This quote reveals Ellison's unconventional approach to hiring, focusing on self-confidence as a key trait for potential employees.

Izzy Sharp's Hiring as Distribution

  • Izzy Sharp leveraged hiring as a form of distribution for Four Seasons by recruiting renowned chefs.
  • This strategy increased the hotel's brand recognition and attracted more guests.

Hiring as a form of distribution.

Sharp's strategy demonstrates how hiring can serve dual purposes: acquiring talent and enhancing a company's market presence.

Problem-Solving in Hiring

  • Even when great candidates are identified, personal circumstances might prevent them from accepting an offer.
  • Founders must be willing to solve these problems creatively, as exemplified by Elon Musk's intervention to facilitate a hire.

Musk told the guy that he wants to hire. So I heard you don't want to move to LA, and one of the reasons is that your wife works for Google. Well, I just talked to Larry, and they're going to transfer your wife down to LA.

Musk's quote exemplifies the lengths to which a founder may go to solve problems and secure top talent for their company.

Promoting from Within and Autonomy in Management

  • Les Schwab preferred to train his executives internally to avoid bad habits from other companies.
  • Larry Miller valued autonomy in management, allowing leaders to make their own decisions without micromanagement.

In our 34 years of business, we have never hired a manager from the outside.

Schwab's quote reflects his belief in the benefits of internal promotion and the value of cultivating a company's unique culture and practices.

Hiring for Non-Hirable Skills

  • Thomas Edison believed in developing skills that cannot be hired for, making oneself indispensable.
  • Founders should strive to acquire rare and valuable skills that complement their hiring decisions.

I can hire mathematicians, but they can't hire me.

Edison's quote highlights the significance of possessing unique skills that cannot be easily replicated or hired for, thereby ensuring a founder's unique contribution to their venture.

Aligning Hires with Founder's Values

  • Estée Lauder recommended hiring people who share the founder's thinking and values.
  • A company should be an expression of the founder's personality, and hires should align with that vision.

Hire people who think as you do and treat them well.

Lauder's quote suggests that cultural fit and shared values are essential when bringing new people into a company to maintain cohesion and direction.

Differentiating Recruitment Pitches

  • Peter Thiel criticizes generic recruitment pitches that fail to distinguish a company from its competitors.
  • Companies should have a unique and compelling mission to attract the best talent.

General and undifferentiated pitches to join your company don't say anything about why a recruit should join your company instead of many others.

Thiel's quote stresses the importance of creating a differentiated and compelling pitch to potential recruits, ensuring that the company stands out in the job market.

Elon Musk's Direct Involvement in Hiring

  • Elon Musk personally interviewed the first 3000 employees at SpaceX, demonstrating the importance of hiring to him.
  • Musk's approach reflects his commitment to building a team that meets his high standards for brilliance and work ethic.

Musk made hiring a priority. He personally met with every single person the company hired through the first 3000 employees.

This quote illustrates Musk's hands-on approach to hiring, dedicating significant time and effort to ensure each hire is a perfect fit for his vision of the company.

Post-Hiring: Building a Conducive Environment

  • After hiring, it is crucial to create an environment where employees feel part of something larger and surrounded by talent.
  • This fosters a sense of purpose and ensures that employees feel their work has a significant impact.

It's not just recruiting after recruiting. It's building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are.

Jobs' quote encapsulates the ongoing responsibility of the founder to nurture a workplace that continues to inspire and motivate employees after they are hired.

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