Founder and Chairman of Mandalay Entertainment, the visionary multimedia venture spanning movies, TV, sports, and new media, Peter Guber is perhaps the most successful executive in the entertainment industry. Films he personally produced or executed produced – including Rain Man, The Color Purple, The Witches of Eastwick, Flashdance and Batman – have resonated with audiences all over the world, earning over three billion dollars worldwide and garnering more than fifty Academy Award nominations.
Peter is also an empowering motivational keynote speaker, helping business professionals understand how to utilize the power of storytelling to achieve greater success in leadership, sales, marketing, and other endeavors. Peter obviously knows something about the power of a story, so we were thrilled to hear his insights on the subject during our “In the Spotlight” interview session with him.
TSG: You’ve achieved – and continue to achieve – the kind of success that many of us aspire to. What do you count as the biggest key to your success?
Peter Guber: Oral storytelling. While struggling to identify what separated my successes from my failures – and believe me, I’ve had plenty of failures – I realized in every endeavor I needed to convince someone or a group of someones to do something. Why was I able to do this sometimes but not most of the time? What I discovered was when I connected emotionally through an oral story, embedding the information I wanted to share with my listener inside the story experience, I was able to convince, motivate, incite, excite, galvanize and persuade far more effectively and consistently than when I presented with soulless bullets, facts and figures. Without a doubt, this is the biggest key to my success. The best news of all is that this can be the key to everyone’s success. We are hard wired to be storytellers. What I aspire to do is shine the light on this talent, providing the key to unlock each individual’s storytelling ability to its maximum potential.
TSG: As you look back on your career, what do you count as your greatest success/accomplishment?
Peter Guber: Being a full professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television for almost four decades. I have always believed that knowledge is power and that those who have achieved power should give back by empowering others.
TSG: And what has been the greatest challenge you’ve encountered – either personally, or as a leader – to getting to where you are now?
Peter Guber: My greatest challenge has been attempting to identify what separates success from failure. What I discovered was that inside each success were the seeds of failure and vice versa. So, what’s the difference maker? Without wanting to sound repetitive, the difference in my experience, has been telling and selling through the oral story.
TSG: What are the defining characteristics of a successful business in the entertainment industry, and how are they similar or different from those of a successful business in retail, professional services, technology, or other industries?
Peter Guber: Make no mistake, the entertainment industry is as results-focused and brutally competitive as Wall Street. The defining characteristic of a successful business in the entertainment industry, as in all industries, is providing a product or service that resonates with or solves a problem for a specific market for which people will pay. You are always striving for competitive advantage. There is always someone breathing down your neck. You can never rest on your laurels. Technology can be disruptive in a positive way or catastrophic, depending on how you’ve “read” the future. You must compete in a global, flattened world. If you are a public company, you must answer to shareholders. And finally and most importantly, you must confront head on your fear of failure and take risks – or, risk a certain failure since holding on to the status quo is a ticket to distress – regardless of your industry!
TSG: It’s obvious that storytelling is at the core of the movie business, but how do we incorporate storytelling into other businesses?
Peter Guber: Every business has a story as does every person employed in that business. Businesses that fail to perpetuate their stories miss an opportunity to create a culture that reinforces the values, behaviors and norms that can fortify their goals. For the individual, it is the oral story that will enable them to propel sales, manage better, lead more effectively, inspire creativity, forge deeper relationships, communicate change, problem solve and a host of other day to day challenges every working professional faces.
TSG: You developed a course at UCLA’s film school called “Navigating a Narrative World,” and your guest lecturers ranged from Chris Anderson to Deepak Chopra to Mark Burnett to Pat Riley to Tony Robbins. What is that course about, that such a wide variety of individuals could contribute?
Peter Guber: Great question! The course is about the universality of the oral narrative and its centrality to the success of individuals across every industry and profession. So, Chopra spoke to the narrative of wellness. Riley spoke to the narrative of sport. We had 22 extraordinary leaders, generously give their time to share how they use the oral narrative in their different industries. The class itself was inter-disciplinary as graduate students came from the schools of Law, Public Policy, Business and Theater, Film and Television. It was truly an amazing experience.
TSG: As if you weren’t busy enough, you’re also on the speaking circuit delivering a motivational keynote presentation. First, how do you find time to get out and speak? And second, what is the message you’re sharing?
Peter Guber: You make time for things that are important to you. So, yes, I run five highly successful, time intensive businesses. Yet, I make the time because giving back by helping others become more successful is what I am most passionate about. My message is simple. Oral storytelling is the secret to success. It can bring you closer to your target, more quickly and make your journey far more joyous and fulfilling. What’s more, you don’t need any special talent. You’ve been telling stories all your life. It’s no risk, high reward.
TSG: You say there is MAGIC to success… what is that “MAGIC”?
Peter Guber: Figuratively there is a MAGIC to how oral storytelling melts resistance, galvanizes others and can incite viral advocacy for your product, service or cause. Literally, I use it as an acronym to help business professionals learn the process I developed to sharpen their oral storytelling skills. It stands for Motivate your Audience to your Goal Interactively while surrendering Control.
TSG: You have stated that “what if” is more powerful than “how to” in a story. Would you talk a bit about that?
Peter Guber: “What if” opens the door to possibility. In oral storytelling you need to open the mind of your listener for them to open their hearts and then their wallets. “How to” describes a process. It lacks the emotional connection and subsequent resonation as “what if.”
TSG: What types of audiences do you like to speak to?
Peter Guber: Any audience who needs to convince someone or someones to do something. This pretty much covers the entire spectrum of businesses and industries. When I shine the light on a business professional’s oral storytelling ability and see his “ah-ha!,” I know this person has been empowered to try something that can propel his success. There is no entertainment award that can be as fulfilling as this experience is for me.
TSG: Is there anything you’ve noticed in the entertainment industry that you think is missing from mainstream corporate America?
Peter Guber: Very broadly speaking, as an inherently creative industry, the entertainment industry embraces risk and nonconformist personalities far more than mainstream corporate America does. While many companies in corporate America seek to improve their problem solving and innovation skills, they fail to create a culture that supports out of the box thinking, true inclusion and risk taking. In fact, the culture of many mainstream companies is one of very fitting in and not making waves. While this philosophy may not rock the boat, it won’t rock the vote either.
TSG: We’ve talked about how your work as an entertainment executive is not so different from that of executives in other industries, but not everyone gets to work with the Who’s Who of Hollywood as you have for the past 30 years. Before we go, are there any fun/interesting celebrity stories you can share?
Peter Guber: Yes. Since I discussed risk taking as part of my answer to your earlier question, a story about a dear friend of mine and one of America’s finest directors who recently past, Sydney Pollack, comes to mind. We were producing Rain Man. The biggest directors had worked on this project tirelessly, each for over one year, only to ultimately pass. They included Marty Brest and Steven Spielberg. Next, Sydney Pollack committed to direct the movie and we worked diligently on moving it forward. Sydney called me to ask if we could meet to discuss one remaining issue. Sydney, at the meeting, stated. “At this point in my life, I want first position producer credit myself.” Well, I thought, “I’m in that position, too.” I knew if I left the office without resolving this problem, Sydney might walk. But, surrender wasn’t part of my goal. I asked Sydney if he was willing to let fate decide. He said, “Sure.” So, I pulled out a dime. “Heads, you get first producer’s credit, tails, I get first producer’s credit,” “Ok,” he said. I won. One week later, Sydney withdrew from the project. I guess I lost. But, I didn’t give up.
What changed on a dime was not the producer credit, but my mission to get the movie made. It turned on one flip of the coin! The epilogue is I got Barry Levinson to direct the movie who brought in his own line producer. There was no time for flipping coins. I agreed to his request for a credit change. The epilogue to the epilogue is that Rain Man won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay. At the Academy Awards, Sydney was seated a few rows behind me. When we won the Oscar for Best Picture, I reached in my pocket and held up to him the same dime which I was determined to make into my lucky charm. Perhaps if I hadn’t been willing to turn on a dime that day, Rain Man would never have won Best Picture honors. To Sydney’s credit, he gave me a thumbs up as we received the award.
For more information about Peter Guber and his motivational keynote presentations, please view his speaker profile page at http://www.thespeakersgroup.com/Peter_Guber or contact The Speakers Group at (615) 866-1062.