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Thinking Outside the Box

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Michael Eisner
Michael Eisner
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Michael Eisner Interview (page: 3 / 4)

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  Michael Eisner

What does the American Dream mean to you?

Michael Eisner: When I speak, I speak a lot about the creation of the American intellectual product. There is no question that the reason that it is the most successful export from the United States -- in all areas, whether it's literature, fine arts, architecture, movies, television -- is, to me, the democratic process. We never think about what the government thinks. We made Reds. We made a movie about Golda Meir. We've made many, many movies that you would think somebody would say, "What does the government think?" We never think about what the government thinks. The point I'm making is, you just don't care. And it's one of the few countries in the world where you do not care. And we do take it for granted, which is healthy. You should always take good things for granted, good parents for granted, good children for granted. But you have to understand, it has to be protected. And our system of government, the system that precludes tyranny also includes the ability to be creative and therefore for me, the American experience is the right to express myself.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Michael Eisner Interview Photo
Now, I happen to also have the benefit that I did not swim to the United States from Cuba, or from South America, or from Asia. I have no idea which one of my grandparents, or great-great-grandparents came to the United States. They all came from the same experience as everybody else, but my family has been in New York, or Savannah, Georgia, or New Jersey for many generations. I just take for granted that I have the right to succeed here. It's never been a question. I didn't get granted it as a teenager during puberty, for instance. I know a lot of people that have escaped oppression, a lot of people in the entertainment business, a lot of people in Hollywood or New York. And, of course, they are more patriotic than anybody that was ever born here.

But it's the same story, it's that openness, that freedom of expression.

Can you talk about some setbacks you've had?

Michael Eisner: I don't happen to put it in my biography, but I'm an advocate of, not only allowing myself to fail, but allowing the people that work for me to fail. And no fear of it; they won't be fired because of it. If they don't fail, then they probably will never succeed. You can't succeed unless you've got failure, especially creatively. The question is, don't make the same mistake twice. American business kind of promotes permanent decisions made by temporary managers, who fail and then get fired, and then the next guy comes in and makes the same mistake. You know, so we encourage movies that are made that bomb, television shows that bomb, Broadway plays that bomb, books that bomb...because only out of that will you be able to have the really big successes. There's nothing worse than the middle. Mediocrity is the bane of my existence. I'd rather have the most celebrated failure, along with the most celebrated successes, than just a constant life of mediocrity.

Have there been disappointments?

Michael Eisner: Oh, my God. I worked at ABC, when we were fifth among three. I was at ABC when they used to say, put the Vietnam War on ABC, it will end in 13 weeks. I knew how to succeed. I knew how to buy out contracts, and to deal with actors and producers. But ABC never knew how to do it, because we turned it around to be number one, because we didn't know how to deal with success. We just were paralyzed by success.

I've failed. I've made movies that are terrible. I've had problems financially, not personally, but in various parts of the company. I've had executives who have had monstrous problems and dealing with failure and hardship. I've been lucky. Although I've had age-appropriate problems with illness and death, I haven't had tragic problems. So that kind of tragedy I'm happy to keep outside the door.

It's not my own failure that I now have to deal with. I have to allow people that work for us to fail. As a matter of fact, I have a policy that I'll never fire anybody, until they've succeeded. And that sometimes creates a problem, because if a person is really unqualified and you stay with them too long, you may have to change that policy, which I have on very rare occasions. But I don't want anybody in my company to think that they are in jeopardy of leaving during a failure. So, as bad as they may be, and as many people call me up and say, get rid of this person, I just will work with that person until they succeed, and then we'll make our change.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 09:24 EST
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