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If you like Ted Turner's story, you might also like:
Steve Case,
Ray Dalio,
Michael Dell,
Michael Eisner,
Lawrence Ellison,
Bill Gates,
Larry King,
Craig McCaw,
Pete Rozelle,
Carlos Slim and
Dennis Washington

Ted Turner is also featured in the Audio Recordings area of this web site.

Related Links:
Nuclear Threat Initiative
Turner Enterprises, Inc.
The Turner Foundation

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Ted Turner
 
Ted Turner
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Ted Turner Interview (page: 5 / 7)

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  Ted Turner

How did your father get into advertising?

Ted Turner: He got into it while he was in college taking traffic counts for the billboard company that he was working for, counting the number of cars that passed their billboards in certain streets. I've done it. You stand there with a clicker, and you click every car that comes by that has a chance to see the billboard. You do that for an hour. There's a formula that if that many cars go by in an hour, then in 24 hours, you have ten times as many, depending on the time of day you do it. It's like Nielsen auditing the television audience, but there was no television in those days.

He worked his way up then in the company?

Ted Turner: Oh, yeah. He went into business for himself later on. I worked for him in the summers starting when I was 12 years old.

Did you like it?


Ted Turner: I would have rather been able to play, but I was working a 42-hour week when I was 12 years old in the summer. I'd come home from military school, and I'd get a week off at the beginning of the summer and a week off at the end of the summer. The rest of the time, I had to work. I think he started out paying me ten cents an hour. It was below the minimum wage; I remember it was 85 cents an hour. I said, "Dad, first of all, I am too young to be employed." I think you had to be 15 or something before you could be legally employed, and I said, "You're paying me below the minimum wage." He said, "What are you going to do about it?" I said, "Well, I could turn you in, but I better not. What good would that do?" So I just did what he said.


Were you a good salesman from the beginning?

Ted Turner: I wasn't in sales to start with. I started as a bill poster, constructing billboards and painting them and maintaining the billboards. I did that for about five years. Then, when I got to be about 17 years old, I put on a coat and tie and went out with our sales manager to learn sales.

Isn't that underage for selling?

Ted Turner: I don't know, but by then, I had gotten accustomed to doing what I was instructed to do.

Around that time, you started at Brown University. Could you tell us about your experience at Brown?

Ted Turner: Brown is in the Ivy League. My dad wanted me to go to an Ivy League school, if I could get in. I wanted to go to Harvard, but I didn't get in, so I went to Brown. I did get in there.

And you declared classics. I believe your father disapproved of the classics study.

Ted Turner Interview Photo
Ted Turner: Right. But Brown was a liberal arts school. He wished I had gone to business school, but I didn't. I chose to go to Brown, and he let me make that choice, and then he wasn't particularly happy with it. Like the economics courses, I took several of them, but they were all theoretical. They weren't practical business. It wasn't a business school, so whatever I majored in there, whether it was English literature or whatever, I don't think he'd have been happy with. He wanted me to be successful in business, and I know he would have been happier if I'd been attending business school. I was in the liberal arts. It was a small school. That's all it had.

Did you get kicked out of Brown?

Ted Turner: I didn't get actually kicked out, and I'm a graduate from there. I was suspended. That's what they called it. I was suspended a couple of times. The first time, I got back in right away, and the second time, I decided not to finish college at that point and went into the business with him. He still wanted me to do that.

Can you tell us how you got suspended from Brown?

Ted Turner: What difference does it make? Breaking the rules. I had a little too much to drink and was disorderly. Drunk and disorderly. But I wasn't driving.

Is it true that you got in trouble for having a girl in your room?

Ted Turner: That's right. The second time I got suspended, it was for having a girl in my room. In those days, that was against the rules. I didn't have any money, so I couldn't go rent a hotel room or a motel room. I was breaking the rules, and I knew I was, but that's just the way it went. Now it's okay. I was really just ahead of my time. The rules changed.

You had to deal with tragedy early, with the loss of your sister and then with the suicide of your father. Can you talk about how that affected your early life?


Ted Turner: It was hard to lose my sister and then, a couple years later, my father too. If I had spent my time just sitting down and thinking about it, it would have absolutely crushed me. I did give it some thought, obviously, but in both cases, whenever I had tragedy occur in my life, I'd just go work harder. I think that's the best way to heal from wounds -- spiritual wounds, wounds of the heart. The best thing to do is to get your mind off of it as quickly as you can, and the best way to do that is do something that requires your thought process and your efforts, so that you can do something else and concentrate on it and grow, grow out of the tragedy.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


Was your father having business problems? Do you think that caused it?

Ted Turner: Not really. My father just had a classic case. In those days, I don't believe that they diagnosed clinical depression, but I think he had clinical depression primarily, and he had up and down mood swings that could have been a bipolar situation. We know so much more about psychiatry today than we did 50 years ago, but I never really went back and tried to study what it was. Whatever it was, it was unpleasant.

It must have been absolutely shattering. How did you find out about his death?

Ted Turner: I can't really recall. I think I got a phone call.

How soon did you decide to take over the company?

Ted Turner: Very shortly after his funeral, a couple of days later, they probated the will, and he had left me as executor, even though I was only 24 years old. I basically had control of his little billboard company and the responsibility for meeting the other instructions in his will. I was already working at the company. So I just moved into his office and worked very hard.

Do you think you were driven to succeed partly because of that tragedy?

Ted Turner: I think to some degree. Dad and I were very close. He was my best man at my first wedding, and we were very close. I did have a desire to show the world that he had a viable, good business and that it was going to be successful, and we did that.

What struggles and challenges did you face in taking over the company at that point?


Ted Turner: He had expanded the company dramatically, taking on a lot of debt, and tripled the size of the company with acquisition of part of the biggest billboard company in America. He got a small piece of it, but it catapulted us size-wise up several notches. There was a lot of debt associated with it. He was concerned, unnecessarily so, about the level of debt, and was afraid he wasn't going to be able to make the payments and he was going to be like his father and lose everything, which he wouldn't have done. But he had been an alcoholic, and a chain smoker too, and just about the time he made this acquisition, he also quit smoking and drinking at the same time, which was a traumatic situation for him, and I think that that helped to push him to the edge of wherever he was.


They say that drinking is a form of self-medication, and if you don't have the medication...

Ted Turner: Right. And he was a heavy drinker. He had health problems, too. He had smoked three packs of cigarettes a day his whole adult life, and he had developed emphysema a year or so before, and he was having a real hard time breathing. Emphysema is terrible, and smoking is terrible. Drinking to excess is terrible. I learned a lot of things from my father and from others, and one of them was to drink moderately and don't smoke. That's been helpful to me, I'm sure.

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This page last revised on Nov 20, 2007 19:05 EDT