As Marc and Ben led me into their world, I felt like a privileged student in a graduate school of one. After they sold Opsware, I asked Marc about joining their angel investment group. “Funny you should mention that," he said. “Ben and I are thinking about doing something more formal.” As their venture capital firm began to take shape, I coached them about how to make Andreessen Horowitz stand out. The idea that took was to offer a full menu of business services-a novel approach in venture, whose stars tend to be one-man bands who freelance out of a larger firm.
One day, to galvanize him and get his mind back on business, I mentioned a big idea I'd had for a way to break the studio-network-cable stranglehold on content distribution. The phone companies had plugs in everybody's walls-why not use them to bring content to the home? I told Michael I'd gone to Ivan Seidenberg, the NYNEX president, who had an eye for next-gen technology. Together we envisioned an interactive service that would combine telephony, TV, and the internet, all through existing phone wires. We'd have an array of news and sports and entertainment, with original programming by CAA clients.
If you want to be happy, forget yourself. Forget all of it-how you look, how you feel, how your career is going. Just drop the whole subject of you... People dedicated to something other than themselves-helping family and friends, or a political cause, or others less fortunate than they—are the happiest people in the world.
staff meetings and retreats, I began to talk about the philosophy of the Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu, whose The Art of War I'd read in college. We took his ideas on loyalty, on teamwork, and on how having complete information was the key to decision making. The book also resonated with me because it prioritized strength and toughness. Ron and Bill thought my emphasis on Sun Tzu was crazy, until they realized that it worked—that our team bought in. In truth, though, the Chinese general was always a bit of a prop. It wasn't so much what he said that inspired CAA, as the idea that we, a five-yearold company, were adhering to a philosophy from 2,500 years earlier. It gave us instant roots.
In dealing with the studios, Ron and I developed an effective one-two punch. After I opened with a hard line, asking for an amount some where between more than we expected to get and ridiculous, execs would back-channel Ron and say, “My God, he asked for six million for Warren Beatty against ten of the gross”—meaning 10 percent. “Can you help us out?” Ron would smooth their feathers and say, “I'll talk to him," or "Try this.” After they called me back, I'd tell Ron where things stood for the next round. On occasion I would offer a small concession. More often I'd hold firm and close the deal where I started, but the buyers always felt better because they'd been listened to. They never seemed to get that Ron was my agent.
CAA HAD FOUR COMMANDMENTS: (1) NEVER LIE TO YOUR clients or colleagues. (2) Return every call by end of day (or at least have your assistant buy you a day's grace). (3) Follow up and don't leave people guessing. Every desk phone at CAA bore the message COMMUNICATE. After our Fred Specktor heard me use that word in every speech I gave, he stuck the plaques on Ron's phone and mine—and when we admired them, he stuck them on everyone's phone. It was our version of IBM's famous imperative to THINK.
The last commandment, and the hardest one to follow, was (4) Never bad-mouth the competition. Gossip was a tool of the trade. Other agencies routinely disparaged soon-to-be-released films by directors they hoped to sign. The performances stink. The studio's pulling back on publicity. It won't make a dime. The worse the buzz and the weaker the box office, the more open a director might be to changing representation. But if you were confident about your own work, why snipe? Why tear down someone you're hoping to be in business with? We built our company around positive thinking. We had no hierarchy, no titles, no reporting lines, no nameplates. We killed ourselves to take everyone's point of view in meetings, to make everyone feel empowered.
Brian asked, “How did you learn to think so big at CAA?” I reminded him that Airbnb had consistently thought big: it hadn't been at all content with its original business of renting out air mattresses on floors. Then I added that one way to conceptualize how to think in business is a martial-arts precept: “If you aim at the target, you lose all your power. You have to hit through the target to really smash it." To get where you want to go, you have to set out to go even further.
Watching how David worked taught me the efficacy of elegance and understatement, how to sell by not selling. When MoMA wa launching a capital campaign, David took Judy and me to dinner and during the three-and-a-half-hour meal never once mentioned a donation. He just talked about how great I was, how great Judy was, and how magnificent the museum was going to be. Somehow, by the end of the meal, we knew we had to give at least the minimum: $5 million.
If you want to be happy, forget yourself. Forget all of it—how you look, how you feel, how your career is going. Just drop the whole subject of you. ... People dedicated to something other than themselves-helping family and friends, or a political cause, or others less fortunate than they-are the happiest people in the world.
He was my wisest friend and the most steadfast; he was quiet when I succeeded but generous and comforting when I screwed up. As he liked to say, “There's always another race and another racetrack."
I miss him every fucking day.
Except for start-date gifts, my rule was that important gifts shouldn’t be disposable: no champagne, no muffin baskets. Instead, rare first edition from Heritage books, ancient Greek coins, paintings and prints, even the occasional car-sturdy, thoughtful presents that would last. If a client was paying us $500,000 a year in commissions, and we spent $5,000 on a gift for him or her, it didn't hurt us much and it made the client feel fabulous. Our gifts office spent more than $500,000 a year, and generated a ton of good will (though we did send one writer for The Simpsons the same Weber grill on three separate occasions). Every Christmas we gave Tiffany key rings or the like to the secretaries of our favorite executives, and we messengered over $500 to $1,000 to our favorite restaurant owners and maître d's, those who'd made us seem more important at the beginning than we actually were
We instituted CAA's famous gifts office in the late seventies on the uncontroversial theory that people love free stuff. I had learned about gifting from my father, with his bottles of Seagram's. So one of my assistants kept track of all our clients' hobbies and charities. When an agent found out some new bit of relevant data-Tom Hanks is taking scuba lessons, or the like-it got passed to the gifts assistant via a buck slip, or interoffice memo. The next time the client had a birthday or a book coming out or a movie shooting, he'd get an outdoor watch or a nice piece of luggage or, say for Paul Newman and Tom Cruise on The Color
Of Noney, an ornate pool cue. When Ron told me Sylvester Stallone admired my old Ferrari, I gave Sly the title.
Creating a zone of calm, in a chronically overexcited world, proved disarming. Whenever disputes arose with a studio, and I had to dest with an exec sputtering with outrage, I'd go even calmer and say, "I'm confused about something." Or, slightly more aggressively: "Could you educate me?" They're expecting you to ream them, and you've put them at ease by being neutral and mildly curious. Also, you've gotten them talking, and you're learning. It preserves your options.
Another move I developed, almost unconsciously, was ground shifting. If someone on the other side of the table very confidently asserted a number that was confidential or that was plausibly in disputethe budget of a rival studio's competing film, for instance-I would instantly say “It's higher” or “It's lower," depending on which served our interests. That assertion would throw the other guy off balance, and suggest that I knew everything, when in truth I only knew some things. At the very least, it would give me a gauge of how solid the information was, and how confident they were. If they fired right back with "No, you're absolutely wrong," I'd just say, "That's not what Im
hearing from the highest levels," or something equally ominous, then change the topic.
Every actor, writer, or director believes he or she is responsible for his or her own success. All I did was sell that belief back to them. “Look, you're going to make it with or without us,"I'd say.
If a potential client was reluctant, I'd say, "You should take all the you need. No pressure." And by "no pressure," I meant, "No pressure until the next time I'm in touch, which may be in an hour.”
My growing art collection made me feel I'd escaped the Valley at last. But escape is never painless. One day my dad came to our house in Brentwood and saw my first Picasso, which I'd bought for $100,000. He looked at it, looked at me, then looked away. Neither of us said anything.
I bought my parents a large condo, and my dad was grateful, if a little embarrassed, that I was now taking care of them. My mother was grateful in a general way, but she complained that I never spent enough time with her: she was a guilt expert. She increasingly reminded me of a demanding client, the kind you can never satisfy no matter what you do. Families always want you to stay the person they think you were.
This grudge against my surroundings, this sense that I had been raised in the wrong nest, like a cuckoo's egg, fueled me when I began my working life. I always felt one step inferior to the people around me, and one step superior. I wasn't as creative or cultured as they were, but I was a lot smarter and more hardworking than most of them. Insecurity and ambition make a powerful cocktail.
I sat up straight, I was sympathetic, and I focused intensely on you, always turning the conversation away from myself. As I discovered by seeing my persona reflected in the eager eyes of my clients, that focus drew them in. And the contrast between the relaxed demeanor and the humming engine underneath, which people felt subconsciously, was comforting if you were on my side of the table, and curiously alarming if you were across from me. It suggested untapped power.
If you want to be happy, forget yourself. Forget all of it-how you look, how you feel, how your career is going. Just drop the whole subject of you. .. . People dedicated to something other than themselves-helping family and friends, or a political cause, or others less fortunate than they-are the happiest people in the world.
one way to conceptualize how to think in business is a martial-arts precept: “If you aim at the target, you lose all your power. You have to hit through the target to really smash it." To get where you want to go, you have to set out to go even further.