Ted Leonsis has just about done it all. He spent 15 years at AOL, eventually becoming vice chairman and president, and he now serves as the company’s vice chairman emeritus. He went on to become the founder, chairman, and majority owner of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, where Leonsis oversees not one, but three professional sports teams: NHL’s The Washington Capitals; the NBA’s Washington Wizards; and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics. In 2008, Leonsis pursued yet another passion when he founded SnagFilms—giving online audiences an outlet to find, watch, share and support thousands of documentary films. But according to the investor, film producer, philanthropist, and best-selling author of The Business of Happiness, he’s just getting started. Inc.’s Tennille Robinson met up with Leonsis to discuss how to be happy and über-successful.When did you first realise the correlation between happiness and business success?
Shortly after I graduated from Georgetown University, I started a company I called LIST (Leonsis Index of Software and Technology). It was a magazine that outlined what software programming was available on personal computers. It was akin to the TV Guide, but it was for software instead of television programming. In less than two years I sold my company for $60 million. That wasn’t my original intent, but it’s hard for me—at the time I was 27-year-old—to turn down $60 million. I declared victory. I had studied hard, was accepted at a great university, earned good grades, got a job, started a company and made a lot of money. I thought I had made it. But then I realised that despite all the financial fortune, I wasn’t truly happy. So clearly business and financial success didn’t guarantee happiness. Later, I became a student of happiness, reading everything I could get my hands on, and I wanted the companies and organisations that I was involved with to pursue a double-bottom line—be successful from a business standpoint but also be community-minded. Today I don’t become involved with companies or projects that don’t have a commitment to a double-bottom line.
Explain the double-bottom line business model.
When developed correctly, a double-bottom line creates a happy and what I believe to be a more successful organisation. A company should strive to make profits, but it also should be in pursuit of a high calling or some larger purpose. It also provides an outlet for employees to feel that they are helping to make a difference in their community or in support of a particular cause. Today’s entrepreneurs have to determine what higher calling they and their companies want to pursue. For a double-bottom line to be truly meaningful, you need a passion to pursue.
When implementing organizational change, how important is it to be transparent?
Transparency is demanded by today’s consumers and employees. So listen to your customers, listen to your employees. Try to understand their perspectives and motivations. Once you do that, you can determine what changes, decisions or plans you may or may not want to implement. At that point it is imperative that you be open and honest with all of your stakeholders. And there undoubtedly will be times when you don’t have all of the answers—you may not even have all of the facts—but it’s ok to share that as well. Don’t let others play a guessing-game with you or your brand; keep them informed by whatever communications channels are most effective for your business.
What is the best way for business owners and CEOs to encourage engagement, empathy, and collective wisdom within their organisation?
It’s simple. CEOs must exhibit those traits in their day-to-day interactions. It they don’t, they can’t expect others in their organisation to do so.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to pursue other ventures outside of their core business?
I’ve found passion to be the primary motivator for pursuing your short-term goals as well as your long-term dreams. Consume as much information as you can with regards to your potential new venture. Connect with those who can provide guidance. Knowledge is power, so gather it, process it and utilise it.
In living a life and building a business with no regrets, what is your No. 1 Do and your No. 1 Don’t?
No. 1 Do: Play offence with your life.
No. 1 Don’t: Don’t lose sight of what is truly important to you and makes you happy.
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