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IGNITION transcript

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June 4, 2003
Hyatt Regency Reston 


ted leonsis: all you need is love

 

I'm here to talk about one word: Love.

           I'm an only child. I love my mom and dad very, very much. They used to tell me that if you love what you're doing—if you love studying, if you love playing sports—everything will turn out okay.

           I started my first company in 1981. I fell in love with the personal computer. I bought an Apple II, then I bought an IBM PC, and I started a company. I raised $1 million in venture capital and I hit it. The timing was just right. I grew the company really fast and I sold it to this big publishing company in New York City.

           I was an employee of that company. They reorganized, and I had a lot of bosses, so I said, “Enough,” and I bought it back. I ran it and I grew it and then I sold it to America Online. At the height of America Online's market cap, that little company ended up being worth $12 billion, and all I could think of was that big company didn't love what we were doing, and I walked away. Four years later, it turned into an asset that was worth 12 billion bucks.

           That got me to think about how literature and people connect with the ups and downs of life. Kathy referenced third acts. If you look in the Bible, if you read the great Greek writers, if you look at Shakespeare, there are really only three acts written about. In the first act is the young upstart, the young entrepreneur, David, the person who is the outcast and comes out of nowhere and wins. The win captures the public imagination and everyone is rooting for that company or that person to win. In the second act, due to acts of God or bad decisions or fate, there's a very public fall. The third act is all about redemption and comeback. At any one time in everyone's career, you will be in one of those acts. The good news is, when you get older and you have experience, you realize that these acts have their arcs and they go up and down.

           I had a good 10-year run. I joined AOL in 1993.

           I had a terrible arc over the last 30 to 60 days. My hockey team, which I love—my partners and I are so passionate about it—we made the playoffs. We went up 2-0 and we lost. We got knocked out of the playoffs. That was really painful. In basketball, it didn't work with Michael Jordan and he left. Steve Case, my mentor and great friend, stepped down as Chairman of our company. My mentor at Georgetown turned 100 years old. On his 100th birthday, when we were having a party for him, he collapsed at 4:00 and went to the hospital. I went to see him this Saturday, drove home, walked into the house and the phone rang, “Father Durkin died.”

           You have to weather all of these downs. It's how you act on the down cycle that will drive how big the bounce is. It also makes victory taste sweeter when you taste the defeat. I think that one of the things that happened to our generation, unlike my dad's generation that fought in wars, is that we kind of deluded ourselves into thinking that we had permission to just have this up cycle. I look at what we've been going through, and there's a natural cadence to this. It's about life.

           I can also tell you that there is no metaphor or lesson that can be drawn. I've heard people say, “I've seen these kinds of markets before and these things always happen.”

           I was in a plane accident in 1981. I got on the wrong plane, the plane crashed, and I survived. On the way out, the pilot said, “The odds of you ever being in another plane accident are so infinitesimal, you're golden.” About two months ago, I was on a plane with a friend who is really smart. He's an engineer. The plane is shaking and it starts to go down. This guy is panicked and people are screaming. I said, “Relax, I've already been through this. You're safe with me.”

           The guy says, “Are you a moron? Do you think this plane knows you were in a plane accident in 1981?”

           It struck me that, of course, it doesn't know, and the market doesn't know that it's in its third or fourth year of being bad. None of those atmospherics matter; it's what you do. What you do.

           About nine months ago, I put my hand up because I love America Online and I feel pain about what has been happening to our company. We're now back on a mission. In 10 years we went from $60 million to $10 billion and from 200,000 customers to 35 million customers. I believe that if we can get our members to love us again, if we can get our employees to love what they're doing and stop thinking about the atmosphere and get focused on love again, it will make our company great.

           I believe being nice is important. I know a lot of people here. I wasn't nice to one person that I met earlier today, and it felt good for a moment to unload on somebody. But I feel terrible now, so I want to say that that wasn't me and I apologize. Contrition is good. I used to call Mario “Saint Mario” because you could go to him and give your confessions and he would grant you absolution and tell you to go back to work. So it is an honor to be here. If I had planned better, I would have manufactured a bunch of little cockroach pins, because the fact that you are here and we've made it this far means that you can survive anything. Just keep love in your heart and be focused on what you do, and everything is going to be okay. Thank you.

 

Ms. Bushkin: Hard to tell he's a Greek, isn't it?

           Now we're going to turn to the sales prodigy, also known as the founder of AOL International, Jack Davies. This is a fellow who started his career at age 10 hounding his family, friends, and neighbors with door-to-door greeting card sales. Does this sound like the Jack Davies we all know and love? He then honed his skills to work in his dad's car dealership, where he became the salesman of the month one July when he was 17. Jack had it going then. He says that his biggest failure was getting booted out of a job at RCA by the new owners from Germany, Bertelsmann. The irony is that the biggest coup while he was at AOL was to get AOL Germany off the ground with that very same company.

           Jack, I think you have learned some lessons about things going both ways. Come up and tell us about it.

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