Read an excerpt from "Make Your Own Rules" below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library.
I always wanted to make my own way; maybe you feel the same way. The freedom to be your own person, to seize personal opportunity, to explore what works for you—these are the things that appealed to me, so I was destined to make my own way. But today, the volatility of the banking system, the byzantine contradiction of government regulation, and the relentless reorganization of the economy from the top down have made the business terrain far more treacherous for the individual. In this economic climate, I have found that learning to be creative, challenging convention, and seizing unexpected opportunities not only are liberating but also can make all the difference in whether you are successful.
Over the past four decades, I have been a founding shareholder in six banks, produced movies and Broadway plays, managed the finances and investments of others, and served on the boards of several companies. I have developed residential, commercial, and office real estate in five states. I have co-owned a convenience store chain, a film distribution company, a vineyard, a restaurant, and a hotel or two. I have helped turn around numerous distressed businesses, notably Kleinfeld, the largest bridal retailer in the country. Somehow, I even ended up owning a minority interest in a Major League Baseball team. And, yes, I have also acted in numerous films, television shows and series, and stage plays.
This will surprise you, but the common thread to the various businesses in which I have been involved is that I had never previously been in them. Most people would think that the lack of previous experience in a particular business would be a sure formula for failure. For example, would you hire a salesman who had never sold anything before, or, for that matter, would you retain a teacher for your school who had never before taught school? Previous experience can be valuable to someone who has chosen a career on the basis of his or her education and desire to work in a particular field. Because I didn't have a specific educational background—for example, a degree in medicine or law—I was not predisposed to make choices based on that criterion. In fact, it was an advantage in that I had no rules to follow, no premade decisions, no "books" to tell me how to find success. This allowed me to take a creative approach rather than an administrative one.
I have also tried to avoid being part of the system, which is not the same thing as trying to change it. You don't have to be "against the system" to succeed; you just don't want the system to systematize you, as it were. You don't always have to be a rebel, but, at the same time, you don't want the system to turn you into an automaton. The goal is to maintain your individuality while functioning within the system.
When I went to Hollywood, one of my first jobs as an actor was in a Western where I was playing the part of a deputy sheriff. I had an immediate disagreement with the director. As the character, I had chosen to wear a round derby hat. I had invented a little story about the hat and how my father had given it to me. The director told me to get rid of the hat because I didn't look like a sheriff. I asked him what he thought a sheriff looked like. To which he replied, "A ten-gallon hat, a vest, and spurs."
"I see," I said, "but excuse me, you don't look like a director."
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
"You don't have on a safari jacket, riding boots, and dark glasses. And you're not carrying a bullhorn," I said, conjuring up the clichéd image of John Huston.
He just stared at me, and, before he could say anything, the cameraman led me away. This cameraman was an old-timer who had been a bi-plane wing walker in his youth, and he was about to retire from movie making.
"Wayne, let me explain something to you," the cameraman said calmly, putting his arm around my shoulder. "Hollywood has been here a long time. It will be here a long time after you and I are gone. Don't try to change it."
"I don't want to change it," I said. "I just don't want it to change me."
Beneath this story is something fundamental to the way I think. What starts in a writer's mind as a blank piece of paper ultimately becomes a script. I was given the script, mostly dialogue and a brief description of the part I was to play: "Jack Slade, early 30s, Deputy Sheriff." That was it. Taking this from the two-dimensional word and making this person into a living character is what actors are supposed to do. So, I invented the story about the hat, how my father loved the hat, what it meant to him and, therefore, to me. This became something that personalized the character I was playing and gave me an attitude symbolized by the hat. It's the process of taking a one-line description of a character and turning dialogue into behavior and making subtext out of text.
This may seem trite, making up some seemingly elaborate story out of a simple object, but it all had a purpose, and it is surprising how the subconscious can take a thought and make that thought a complicated, rewarding solution to a problem. For an actor, this is the creative process. This is how one changes the written word into a living, breathing human being. And that process is the one that sets my story apart from most business stories. It is my belief that the best results in business come from a creative process, from the ability to see things differently from everyone else, and from finding answers to problems that are not bound by the phrase "we have always done it this way."
At the risk of sounding pretentious, I'd like to add another fundamental principle to this—individual freedom—and a concomitant dictum—control your own destiny. We all wish to have the freedom to do what we want, to fulfill our lives by making our own choices and not having to do things by force of circumstances beyond our control. In a free society, that translates into economic freedom. We work hard to support our families and ourselves. We try to save money so that we can become independent and retire. But independent of what? Retire to do what? These questions are derived from the fundamental one, the desire for individual freedom.
The good news is that the theory behind economic freedom is rooted in history. It was good 100 years ago; it will be good 100 years from now. Civilization requires the exchange of goods and services in a free market, which provides an opportunity to behave morally in the sense that you must think about and deliver what the other person needs if you are to get what you need. So free market exchange depends on moral values, such as honesty, cooperation, trustworthiness, and fairness. These are the guidelines when you're making your own rules. I have always tried to apply these values in my business dealings as the basis for building financial independence.
I sought financial freedom from the beginning of my career. I was a young actor in New York City, and I was living with three other guys, one of whom was Peter Falk, in a $100-a-month walk-up at Third Avenue and 14th Street. It was summer, and there was no work in the theater. My agent, Jim Merrick, told me to take a summer vacation. "Jimmy," I said, "I'm broke, and I'm not working. What am I going to vacation from?"
I had a cousin in Los Angeles who said he would put me up, so I headed west. I was introduced to a legendary agent named Stan Kamen in the William Morris office. Stan took a liking to me and sent me around for meetings with TV producers. I landed a role in a pilot for a one-hour series and shot the pilot. After seeing the result, I caught the next plane back to New York. There was no way it was going to be picked up for a series.
That February, I received a called from Abe Lastfogel, who was the head of the Morris office. Abe treated the agents and clients like family in those days. Once you were with the Morris office, you were part of the family. They looked after you. They made it personal. Abe was calling to tell me that the pilot had been picked up for thirty-nine episodes. In the movie business, it's not about quality. It's about luck, timing, who knows whom, and a whole lot of other intangibles that are too convoluted to divine.
In those days, TV series shot thirty-nine shows with thirteen reruns, as opposed to today's twenty-six originals and twenty-six reruns. I had never seen so much money in my life. The fear of most actors is that their last job will literally be their "last job." While I didn't think that way, when so many in your profession are not working, it puts a little anxiety in your gut. Because there's a large number of people—some qualified, some not—all trying to break into a business that can accommodate very few, the odds of success are so stacked against you that you either have to be crazy or very young and naïve to continue. At that time, I was still young enough to take discouragement as a challenge but old enough to know that I had to save my money. Acting is an up-and-down career, so I knew I had to get used to long periods of unemployment. Using my earnings from the series, I began making investments.
I also knew that several actors, including John Wayne, no less, had lost their money by trusting the wrong people as business managers to invest for them. In fact, I ended up starting a business—an incarnation of which I run to this day—to help artists with their investments and money management. Today, there are many more CPAs who act as legitimate management firms, so there are fewer stories of actors being defrauded. In any case, if I failed, I didn't want it to be because some other guy took my money. If I was going to lose it, I decided I would be the author of my own demise.
I have never read a business book; therefore, this will not be a conventional business book. I often see "how-to" manuals for every type of business and books on how to "win" in business. I have no interest in telling you what you should or should not do or in giving you lessons about how to get involved in a business, start a business, or run a business. I have no step-by-step plan for success or surefire tips to becoming a millionaire. Instead, I will tell you what has worked for me in business over the past four decades, what has not worked, and why. I hope that from some parts of the book you will learn something that is useful to your business, that contributes to your broad-based knowledge, or that simply makes for good cocktail party conversation. In other places, perhaps you will discover situations that are analogous to those in your own life and work. But, in all cases, what I write about is what has worked for me. It might work for you; it might not. So take from it what you will.
The subtext of much of these experiences is my interest in ideas and the exploration of those ideas, how they affect the small businessman, the free market, and society as a whole. Today most of our leaders—indeed most people—do not study history, having been persuaded that homage to past experience should be overcome by bowing to academic concepts born of the desire to do something "different," "forward looking," and "modern." This antipathy for looking back is best characterized by the esteemed Spanish philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
When you bought this book, you took a financial risk, albeit a small one. It may provoke you, positively I hope. If you read the book and find nothing at all of interest in its pages, then you can give it to somebody you think might enjoy it—or perhaps resell it online. If you thought about that risk, then you think somewhat differently than I do because I am interested in ideas and the exploration of those ideas. Perhaps reading ideas contrary to your own will prove valuable. If not, there is always the trash can.