Tag Archives: Biography

Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business by Mark Robichaux

  1. Malone is considered the grandfather of the cable industry but many also saw him as a rapacious, Machiavellian bully. He skated close to securities laws violations and extracted a price for the progress he offered, much like industrial powers Andrew Carnegie or JP Morgan before him. He had the power to decide which cable networks survived, he defied regulators, and he crushed competitors. And all of this he did brazenly.
Key Takeaways
  1. Instead of taking a cushy job, Malone chose hardship and a pay cut to join TCI, an obscure company that had lurched from crisis to crisis for the preceding 20 years. Bob Magness, a former cottonseed salesman and cattle rancher used a wobbly foundation of brinkmanship, bald faced gambles, and abundant debt to build TCI into the fourth largest cable provider in the US. Malone had picked TCI because Magness, fatigued and running out of luck, was ready to relinquish power and let a new man run the entire show – and because, if Malone could make it work, he might become extremely wealthy. TCI, which had become a publicly owned company in 1970, might be a diamond in the rough. “I can’t pay you very much, but you’ve got a great future here if you can create it,” Magness told Malone. Malone was more of a treasurer than the president his first few years at TCI – fending off lenders, raising money, talking to analysts, and more.
  2. Malone started at TCI and helped make it a powerhouse through acquisitions and financial engineering. The structures of the dals were exotic, and his financial alchemy often befuddled Wall St. and investors. The flurry of complex mergers, acquisitions, stock dividends and spin-offs clouded the picture of the company’s true performance, which was phenomenal by one measure that counts in almost all business: shareholder value. A single share of TCI, purchased at the 1974 low of 75 cents was worth $4,184 by the end of 1997 – a 5578 fold increase. His shareholders got very rich alongside Malone. For Malone, it was a noble, if not moral achievement, the fruit of his enormous capacity to deduce and strategize
  3. Magness was a master at reading people – he got Malone on board by playing to his desire for control over his future and freedom to lead. His wife was also an astute business partner, cotton raiser and learned to listen rather than talk – reading what a person wanted in every negotiation
  4. Learned of cable antenna TV (CATV) and started it in Memphis, Texas. If pulled off, he would be able to charge his neighbors a monthly fee for the television service – which he would get free of charge, basically pirating the programming from the TV stations themselves without paying a cent. He directed the construction, climbing the poles himself to string wire, while Betsy deciphered the finances and took service calls at the kitchen table. He invested everything he had, and still he had to go into debt. He sold this operation a few years later at a handsome profit. Tax laws made it attractive to reinvest as cable operators could gradually write off the cost of their systems over a number of years, allowing them to reduce the leftover profits they reported as earnings and thereby sheltering a healthy cash flow from taxation. And once they had written off most of the value of a cable system’s assets, they could sell it to a new owner, who could begin the tax-eluding depreciation cycle all over again.
    1. Don’t need to be a genius if you can see and place yourself ahead of a wave
  5. Magness never wrote a memo but the headquarters in Bozeman were Spartan and this frugality never left Magness or Malone. By the mid-1960s, Bob Magness had realized the potential of community antenna to fill a vast need; he likened cable to the oil rush days in his native Oklahoma and Texas. It was genius, really, to anyone who took the time to figure it out. Cable TV systems generated bundles of cash from installation charges and monthly service fees. Most of the money was plowed back into the companies, with hardly anything going to pay dividends to shareholders. This high cash flow could service an immense amount of debt, which was used to buy more systems. The companies paid hardly any taxes because of the high depreciation on the equipment – the average cable system enjoyed a profit margin of 57%, far better than most businesses. Because of this structure, and the tax incentives, TCI had to keep expanding, no matter what, buying up new cable companies to start the write-off process anew and build cash flows. To fund TCI’s expansion, Malone courted companies with capital to invest and an abiding interest in cable – but no expertise. Malone used different classes of shares with differing voting rights. A standing joke around TCI was that if TCI ever did report a large profit, Malone would fire the accountants. Malone had to “teach” the street what was really important – there is a big difference between creating wealth and reporting income. A focus on cash flow rather than reported income was hard for most to accept and was controversial for decades but those who invested alongside Malone would come to benefit greatly. He always pushed a long-term mindset and time horizon.
  6. The next step from owning cable that delivered the programming, was to own a piece of the cable channels themselves, thereby sharing in a whole extra upside. This way, TCI could own both the pipe and the water flowing through it. Vertical integrating of companies would become an awesomely powerful and controversial tool in building TCI. TCI came to own parts of BET, MTV, the Discovery Channel, and many more
  7. Malone was able to be patient when things got too expensive, building up cash reserves, making smaller acquisitions, and waiting for prices to normalize after the buying frenzy dried up.
  8. Malone’s father was gone a lot, had very high expectations for John and John wanted to prove himself and gain his acceptance. He did this in school (especially math), through track and field, and other entrepreneurial adventures. His father always recommended “guessing at the answers” before he saw them. Guess before you figure them out helped him develop an intuition and make split second decisions and was an important weapon of his – allowing him to “see” the answers before others did.
  9. Malone worked for Bell Labs out of school and focused on economic modeling and proposed that AT&T to shift its debt-to-equity ratio, taking on more debt and buying back its own stock in the market
  10. When Malone moved to McKinsey, he started by interviewing everyone from the senior ranks to the new hires. What works? What doesn’t? How would you fix it? Over time, Malone found that if he interviewed 30 people or so and listened intently, themes would emerge. The best ideas were sometimes hidden, or they were lost on senior executives. By laying the patterns bare, studying in detail the disparate parts – not unlike disassembling a radio – he learned how big corporations don’t work. It was not rocket science, Malone realized, you simply take the best ideas from anyone who has them, polish tem, and serve them up to the chairperson. His mind was like a spread of glue – it held fast any concept or pattern it encountered.
  11. Main rule he ruled at McKinsey: listen intently
  12. Always ask the question, “if not..?”
  13. Loyalty is more important than anything else
  14. Malone’s strategy was simple: get bigger
  15. Malone, like Magness, didn’t believe in memos. No paper passed from his desk to his underlings. No executive sought to curry favor or engage in the sort of Kremlinesque politics that caused ulcers in so many midlevel executives. Communication was direct, effective, and efficient. Every Monday morning, Malone sat with his closest executives at a broad round table, to figure out a way to squeeze more out of TCIs growing cable kingdom.
  16. The TCI men were cable cowboys. Though the term was repeated in derision by the bankers and politicians who coined it, the TCI team wore the nickname like a badge
  17. Malone liked to use naval metaphors, such as bulkheads, to describe the setup. Large ships are designed to withstand battle damage because they have watertight bulkheads, separate and self-contained compartments that can be sealed off to prevent an injured vessel from capsizing. You can take a torpedo in any one part and still stay afloat. With each new system he bought the debt was secured by a TCI subsidiary, not by the parent company. So, if the cable system defaulted on a loan, only one subsidiary would be threatened. Another way Malone eased risk was to spread it out among an ever-broadening array of partners, thereby protecting TCI and enhancing its influence in the industry at the same time. Aside from the cable systems that were wholly owned by TCI, the company was a minority partners in more than 35 cable companies, all of which got the same price breaks in programming that TCI got – which amounted to as much as a 30% discount.
  18. Importance of courage
    1. In the early days, TCI was struggling financially and Malone met with the main lenders to ask them to bring down the interest rates because of the healthy cash flows. They countered instead by proposing to raise the rates and Malone told them they could have the keys and raise if the interest rates if they thought they could run the company better than he. They backed down and gave TCI some room to breathe
    2. Malone avoided acquiring at sky high prices during bubbles but once it burst, scooped in with a vengeance. Malone relished the role of bargain hunter amid the spoils of bad deals made by his competitors. Was able to wait without tiring of waiting
    3. Later on, Malone and Magness cut several deals that allowed executives to own cable systems privately, then eventually turn them over to TCI. For Malone, it was a way not only of compensating his top employees as the values grew but, more importantly, to teach them. “Guys will understand a cable system a hell of a lot better if they have skin in the game.” Critics may have judged the deal as enriching insiders, but Malone paid little attention. Malone’s attitude was: you don’t like the way we reward management? Don’t buy the stock
    4. By 1986, TCI was beginning to run the way Malone had wanted it to run – highly decentralized. He had cut the company into 6 separate operating divisions, each nearly autonomous, with its own accounting and engineering departments. When you’ve got it running right, when you’ve got it decentralized, when you’ve got it structured properly, it’s like flying the most powerful fighter jet in the world
    5. One of the hallmarks of Malone’s management style was to leave the founder in charge. If you buy a property and find a manager motivated by ownership in the company, keep him or her in power and trust him or her implicitly
    6. Forget about earnings: what you really want is appreciating assets. You want to own as much of that asset as you can; then you want to finance it as efficiently as possible. And above all else, make sure that the deals you do avoid as much in taxes as legally possible. And then some.
    7. Never sacrifice convictions  at whims of others, no matter what the price
    8. Instead of high salaries, paid in equity which helped align incentives
    9. The idea, Malone liked to think, was to collaborate with your enemies – especially your enemies – to avoid the large and costly fight of real competition. It’s like mutually assured destruction: both sides could really hurt the other if they did something really stupid. We have to treat each other with civility to avoid all-out nuclear war.
  19. Redstone’s motto: content is king
  20. Tough times in the industry created incredibly tight bonds among the people at TCI
  21. Cable franchise essentially a legal right to a local monopoly
  22. The Cable Communications Act of 1984, the first national legislation establishing government authority over cable TV, ushered in a new era of growth, opening up financial markets, programming ideas, and billions of dollars in untapped revenue to cable. The law also kept the giant phone companies at bay, forbidding them from owning cable systems in their service areas. Incredible bidding wars ensued between cable operators and telcos. While cable had a fatter pipe, phone companies could offer cable firms badly needed capital and world-class expertise in switched, two-way communications. The first big move by a Bell came just two weeks after Malone made his 500-channel pledge. Both cable and telcos wanted to deploy similar technology but over separate sets of wires: cable companies over their thick coaxial cable lines and telcos over their twisted-pair copper networks. Coaxial cables offered orders of magnitude more data to be sent than the high speed lines of phone companies.
  23. “Malone is the kind of guy you want to run through walls for”
  24. “I’d gladly give my life to save his” – Ted Turner
  25. Used scale, penetration to get discounts and ownership of channels. The more horses Malone bet on, the likelier his chances of winning – BET, MTV, QVC, CVN. By 1988, TCI generated $850m in cash. Though it had no earnings, it had more cash flow than ABC, CBS, and NBC combined.
  26. Malone’s incredible commitment and focus had a massive strain on his family life. He also made enemies because he was seen as a bully, as taking a disproportionate share of the wealth he created, was unrepentant and unabashed about his and TCI’s clout
  27. Set up Liberty to prevent regulation, anti-trust, but also to make him very rich as he had 20% ownership. Used tracking stocks often – an interest in the earnings of the company but don’t own the underlying assets.
  28. After the 1992 regulation, Malone came up with the “500 channel” vision and interactive TV
  29. Maine and his boat were Malone’s retreat. Escape is necessary. Getting away gives you a new perspective and makes you more human. When you’re running a large corporation, you’re not able to show your human side all that much. It’s just not productive.
  30. Don’t chase too many rabbits simultaneously – know your main goals and focus on them intently until you reach them or find a more important goal to focus on
  31. Malone believes his greatest weakness was allowing his loyalty to get ahead of performance.
  32. One of the TCI insider’s favorite analogies for TCI’s problems was that TCI was a gas station company acting like a pipeline company. Pipelines deliver fuel in bulk. But gas stations sell it to retail customers, a far more service-oriented business. Customer service would win the day, and no one could argue that TCI didn’t need to pay more attention to its customers. Running a pipeline business is a pretty easy business – you just turn on a pump. Running gas stations is a really hard business. Hindrey wanted to put marketing and purchasing decisions back in the hands of local operators. You market from the bottom up, and not from the top down. What works in Bozeman doesn’t work in Birmingham. He also demanded to see copies of customer complaints for weeks at a time
  33. In June 1997, Bill Gates became cable’s savior in one simple, decisive move: he had shocked Wall St. by having Microsoft invest $1b in cash in Comcast at the behest of Brian Roberts. Until then, cable had been left for dead; the reregulation effort had crimped cash flow, the industry faced huge investment to go fully interactive, and cable stocks were near all-time lows. Suddenly everyone wanted to know the answer to the question: just what does Bill Gates know that we don’t? Gates had bought on the cheap and though he would be involved in the coming years, Malone and others were careful not to let Microsoft get too ingrained by having their software become the default on cable top boxes.
  34. Malone had a “3-D chess” type of mind – truly has the hologram in the head
  35. If you can get scale economics, you can get the costs down. If you get the costs down, you get the scale economics. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you get the scale economics you can develop applications that are really important to a lot of people. If you can get applications that are important to people, you get people to buy the boxes, and you’ll get more scale economics
  36. Malone almost always reached out directly to deal. He would pick up the phone and reach out to the other side and look for the common ground where he could put together a mutually agreeable deal – win/win
  37. Malone Family Foundation – to promote the secondary and liberal arts education of the most able young men and women of our society and train such individuals as future leaders of society; acquire and preserve land and open space, preserving forever Nature’s natural and pristine beauty
  38. Malone was a man who was fiercely proud of what he had accomplished. A man who believed that wealth creation was a noble, moral achievement and believed the definition was not freedom from obligation, but freedom to choose which of those obligations to take on, which roles to play in business and in life.
  39. TCI made wealth not by pretending to be the best cable operator but through investments and complex financial engineering.
  40. Once TCI was sold to AT&T, Malone wanted to created separate stocks for the stable, dividend paying business and the more growth-oriented businesses. He wanted, as Jack Welch had done at GE, to create autonomous units with a total delegation of operational parameters within budgeting controls. If you do these things, you’ll have a great company and you will maximize shareholder value. Malone had pulled off one of the largest sales in the history of telecommunications and the IRS had to treat it as a tax-free stock merger. Basically, Malone had exchanged his personals take of $1.7b in TCI and Liberty for $2.4b in AT&T and Liberty stock. Malone always paid as little in taxes and as late as possible. It is my job to save as much of shareholder’s money as I can
  41. Later, Malone got into raising cattle. He loved the inherent efficiencies in hybrid vigor, the known improvements in growth or yield in one generation of hybrids over their parents. The idea is to have a 1,000 pound cow producing a 550 pound calf at weaning. She is more efficient. The smaller the cow, the less grass she eats. If you get a 2,000 pound cow producing a 300 pound weaning calf, you are doing it the wrong way. He also bought a ton of land and the basic idea was to own land in pretty places that haven’t been ruined yet and to not develop it. The elements of success in cable could also be applied to buying land: scale, timing, and efficiency. Almost all of the land and ranch purchases by Malone had a single element in common: conservation easements, which allow landowners to take charitable tax deductions if they opt to never develop a property.
What I got out of it
  1. The innovation, courage, focus, and hard work Malone exhibits in building up his empire was fun to read about. How he was able to stay ahead of the game, know what the important things were and focus heavily on those, and waiting for the right time to pounce are all admirable. His hard-nosed, no bs fashion earned him many enemies and run-ins with government regulation

Tiger Woods by Armen Keteyian, Jeff Benedict

  1. A deep look into Tiger’s history, family, career and lifestyle, helping us understand how someone can become so dominant in their sport and some of the costs it takes to get there
Key Takeaways
  1. Tiger’s parents guarded him fiercely when he was young. Tiger spent more time alone practicing or watching TV than playing with others. Family and golf was everything. He was always painfully shy, very secretive and protective of his privacy but his whole demeanor and confidence changed when he got a club in his hands
  2. Tiger’s nickname came from one of Earl’s friends in the army
  3. Tiger values privacy and loyalty more than anything
  4. Tiger’s father had abused and cheated on his wife. Tiger’s mom was strict and threatened to beat him if he ever hurt her reputation as a mother. She told him to go for the throat in competition or else people will come back and “beat his ass”. It was education before play and was told to always respect his elders
  5. Earl was married with three children when he went on tour in Thailand and met Koditta. After Tiger, Koditta could not have any other kids and committed herself fully to teaching and caring for her son. By then Tiger was 2, he was already practicing at least 2 hours per day. He was on talk shows and did interviews since this tender age. Earl helped his son get every advantage a country club kid gets and more – private lessons, custom made clubs, sports psychologists without having to pay for it because of Tiger’s skill. Earl even used psychological warfare training he learned in the military on Tiger to prepare him for anything he might face on the course
  6. Tiger had arguably the best amateur career in history and became a pro after his sophomore year at Stanford when he won his third US Open amateur championship. His start as a pro was no different, winning 2 if his first 7 tournaments
  7. Tiger was thrust on the national stage at such a young age but still had to mature and learn a lot emotionally. While Tiger found more balance after his first couple years on the tour, it shows how athletic success often overshadows character flaws
  8. What drives tiger? Never being satisfied. This brings restlessness and total perfection. He wanted total control over every area of his life
  9. Tiger had just won the Masters but wasn’t satisfied. He saw videos of his swing and wanted to completely revamp it. It would take him nearly two years to master the new swing and win again. Nobody else has taken a step down from the top to fix their swing in what would be best for the long term like Tiger did in this situation. He lost some length but gained a lot more control and repeatability.
  10. Nobody had his ability to execute difficult shots and to deal with he mental side of the game like he did
  11. Tiger developed a love for the ocean and scuba diving and learned how to control his breathing and heart rate through stressful dives which translated to his golf game
  12. When Tiger got famous he got even meaner. Power corrupts. He started spending a lot of time in Vegas and with Charles Barkley and Michel Jordan. Jordan, maybe the only other athlete who could compare to Tiger’s dominance and fame, exerted a lot of influence over the younger Tiger. Tiger was gambling more, became rude with the press and became more entitled and a bigger jerk
  13. Tiger hit a drought from 2002-2004 and fired most of his crew who had been with him for years. Hank Haney was his new coach and Elin was now in his life
  14. His emotional detachment was part of his formula for success.  No matter how well he played, there was always better. Tiger was able to compartmentalize life like nobody else and somehow managed to play his best golf while the rest of his life was falling apart. He needed adrenaline and an outlet and found this through golf, navy seals training and women
  15. An affair was covered up in 2007 but in 2009 the story finally broke and all of Tiger’s infidelities became world known. Tiger stepped away from golf for nearly 2 years got treatment for sex addiction and to try to repair things with his wife but eventually she determined that she wanted a divorce
  16. Today, Tiger is back on tour but not nearly the force he once was. He is also in chronic pain as he has worn out his back and his knees. Although he hasn’t been able to reach the same level as before, this process humanized him and allowed him to enjoy the game and relate to fans like never before
What I got out of it
  1. Had heard about Tiger’s dedication to golf before but this book made me appreciate it at an even deeper level. He was raised to be the best ever and was wholly consumed. It helped him reach his goal but it also distorted his personality and sense of reality. Book ends on a positive note with Tiger becoming more human and relatable after the scandal, although he may never reach his dominant self again due to age, injury, and maybe a change of mindset/priorities

The Farmer From Merna: A Biography of George J. Mecherle and a History of the State Farm Insurance Companies of Bloomington, Illinois by Karl Schriftgeisser


  1. The life of George Mecherle and his founding of State Farm Insurance

Key Takeaways

  1. Mecherle’s ancestors were German farmers and immigrated to America, eventually settling down in Bloomington, IN. The rule of George’s household was integrity. It was their duty to become trusted members of the community. George showed early signs of being sharp, independent, a leader, a potential baseball star, a “doer” in whatever he was responsible for
  2. George was not content to do things one way just because that was the way his father, or anybody else, did them. He was always studying and reading about what the other fellows had done
  3. Left a couple jobs just because he didn’t like how his bosses ran the business. He wanted to use skills, his farmer mindset, and his connections to form a statewide auto insurance to the farmers of the state of Illinois, at rates which they could afford. He worked tirelessly to bring his farmers the lowest rates that could possibly be justified. George became so obsessed with his idea that he eventually became a “pest”, wanting to discuss all aspects of insurance with anybody that would hear him out.
  4. There were three provisions that were fundamental foundation-stones of State Farm which were diametrically opposed to the standard methods of automobile insurance: the clauses setting up the membership fee, the premium deposit, and the six-month term of insurance. The membership fee exempted people from further membership fees for similar vehicles. The premium deposit got the customers to lower their risk profile as they had some skin in the game. The six-month term of insurance allowed State Farm to adjust rates as needed, this allowed them to be more adaptive than other insurance companies who only adjusted annually
  5. Insurance was the third largest industry in the US in 1921
  6. He had, and this was what counted most of all, the faith and encouragement of his wife
  7. Mecherle had the ingenious idea of installing a theft and movable object collision clause which said that the policyholder would pay for anything less than $10 and State Farm would pay for anything above $10. It was his theory that if a farmer had to pay for minor repairs he would be more careful with his automobile. It also would save the company from a flood of petty claims each time a member scraped a fender or dented a mudguard
  8. From the very beginning, the agency force was the heart of the company. People who are “more than order takers, for the selling of our insurance requires a man of ability to create a demand, sell the insurance, take the application, and complete the whole deal in one call if he hopes to make a success of this business. These men seem to be a rare article.”
  9. In the early days, George sent out a list of 14 questions which helped him determine pretty accurately how the idea was being received around the state
    1. Don’t you think our proposition the best insurance plan for farmers that you have seen?
    2. What did your board of directors think of it?
    3. Would you like to save your friends and the members of your Farm Mutual Ins. Co. some money?
    4. Would you like to make some money for yourself
    5. Are your Farm Mutual members satisfied with Old Line or Reciprocal rates and their method of settling claims?
    6. Would you endorse our proposition if you found, after a thorough investigation, that it was worth of your endorsement?
    7. Will you write to Mr. SB Mason for his opinion of our proposition?
    8. Will you write for information concerning us?
    9. Will you write to Prairie Farm about our proposition?
    10. Did you see our advertisement in the April 29th issue of the Prairie Farm?
    11. How does the fact that Mr. JW Coale wrote 32 applications in two and one half days appeal to you?
    12. How much time could you devote to selling our insurance?
    13. If you had the time to devote to our proposition, could you do as well or better than Mr. Coale?
    14. How soon would you like to have our Special man spend a few days with you to explain the plan to your neighbors?
  10. Great companies always look different
    1. “During the years of its growth to the commanding position of the largest automobile insurance company in the US, the secret of State Farm’s success was a continual source of puzzlement to the insurance fraternity. The incontrovertible figures of its annual statements proved that it was a financial success, and the findings of the examiners for the insurance departments of the various states in which it was licensed to operate revealed no flaws in its method of doing business. But questions were forever being asked. What was the secret formula that allowed this company, almost alone of all automobile insurance companies, to undersell the market and still show such amazingly large figures on the right side of the ledgers? How did it actually work? One obvious answer to the first question was the organizational genius of the “super-salesman” who was at the head of all its operations. In George Mecherle, who had come to the business at a time in life when most men have long since reached the peak of their ability, State Farm owned a chief executive of exceptional talents. He had been at the forefront of every progressive move the company had made, and as the years went by he had chosen those capable associates who had worked so well under his all-seeing direction. Especially in the early years was it true in his case, as Emerson said in a rather larger conception that, “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” But there was really more to it than that. There was, for one thing, the philosophy underlying the institution that was his lengthened shadow. State Farm was different than anything that had preceded it but, paradoxically, there was little that was original in its plan.”
    2. No companies previously had attempted to establish a basis for selective risks, based on geography, age, etc. By taking this information into account, State Farm was able to operate for nearly 40% less than its stock competitors. They charged its members every six-months which was easier for most people at that time to financially handle than the lump sum annual payment other companies required. They also required a smaller unearned premium reserve. And an inadequate, or excessive rate, could be corrected at the end of six months rather than waiting until the end of the year.
    3. Another feature that contributed to operational economy was the issuing of policies by the home office rather than by the agent in the field. Relieved of this clerical work, or of the expensive necessity of hiring someone to do the work for him, the agent could concentrate on selling. Since his income depended on sales, he could afford to work for less than the agent who had to keep an office force.
    4. State Farm policies, once written, were not rewritten and replaced each policy term. This greatly saved expense, work, and time. The same policy remained outstanding until the policyholder bought a new car – and, in those days of agricultural uncertainty, the farmer did not turn in his old Ford or Chevrolet for a new car each year, by any means – or made a major move or change of coverage. This feature was borrowed from the standard practice of life and accident companies; but it had never previously been tried out in automobile insurance companies before
    5. Also borrowed – this time from mail order houses – was another feature, one never before used in automobile insurance but one that had been found efficient in the operation of many accident and health and several life companies. This was the system of billing and collecting renewal premiums by the home office, or by branch offices after they were established. This relieved the agent of the task of collecting renewals, and thus obviated the necessity of compensating him for such collections. This, of course, resulted in a material saving in expense for State Farm, which was passed on to the policyholders. Agents were, however, paid fees and expenses for adjusting losses. This, at first, was on a per diem and mileage basis, but later was changed to a percentage of the premiums, largely for ease of administration.
    6. All premiums had to be paid in cash in advance, avoiding the expenses of establishing a credit system
    7. The most novel feature of the State Farm plan was the lifetime membership fee system. Any person who joined State Farm did so for life, or at least for as long a part of his life as he remained a “good risk.” His membership did not cease even if he should allow a policy to lapse for some time. State Farm’s advantage was that it charged the member the cost of solicitation and the sale of the insurance policy only once. Since State Farm renewal policies contained no provision for new business costs, this factor alone provided a large part of the price advantage which State Farm enjoyed over its competitors. This membership fee, it is interesting to note, was not a premium. It was, instead, an admission and inspection fee. It was not returnable. For this reason, no unearned premium reserve was set up on it. This allowed the company to not be burdened with reserves, typically a big issue for new businesses. But, in this case, new business was paid for by the new clients. The phenomenal growth rate of State Farm could not have been realized without this innovation, and yet the very plan that made this growth possible also provided a price advantage to create this growth
    8. The 80-20 plan was adopted from other insurance companies, where the policyholder assumes 20% of the risk and the insurance company 80%. The sound psychology of this lay in the fact that it gave the policyholder an interest in keeping his losses to a minimum
    9. Mecherle devised a system of classing all automobiles by list price into seven classes, from A to G, rather than having hundreds of different rates for each car. This system was easy to understand and to apply. In the first agent’s manual – a masterpiece of simplicity there was an uncomplicated formula by which anyone could readily determine the amount of insurance that could be written on any car, whether new or old.
    10. Another saving for the policyholder came about through lower average losses resulting from the careful selection of business. The restriction of those eligible to membership in State Farm, and such clauses as the drunken driver clause, not only appealed to farmers, with their more rigid code of morals, but also saved the company money.
    11. There existed no contractual obligation on the part of the company to pay any dividend to the policyholder at the end of the term. This system had the merit of favoring the continuing policyholders and discouraging lapses, much after the system of surrender charges generally in use in life insurance companies
    12. All of these economies, acting together, enabled State Farm to do business in the early days for nearly 40% less than the stock companies!
  11. Created an internal publication to get new policies and any other information across to the nation-wide network of agents and offices. It was directed mostly to the agents and sent them the company message, the news of what the various state agencies were doing, the pertinent facts, figures, and news of the entire organization. It was also a medium for the expression of George Mecherle’s messages – his inspiring talks.
  12. The goal had always been to build an honest insurance company, one focused on service and square dealing, giving to each member equal and just consideration; and to build the organization grounded on the principles of true equality and right-dealing as between men
  13. Even through the Great Depression State Farm continued to grow, thriving in tough times. “We have truly learned that what we really keep is what we give and that the returns are immediate. Therefore, under this new philosophy, the standard of success will eventually be the measure of service given.
  14. The service fee bonus gave each agent an opportunity to participate in that underwriting profit in his respective state in an amount not exceeding 25% of his annual service fee compensation, provided his own business was also profitable. It not only augmented the agents’ income but also provided an incentive for each agent to use care in the selection of drivers to be insured and to render efficient claim service. In placing a bonus fee along with the service fee it makes every agent careful of his record; if an agent secures unprofitable business it puts him on the spot as far as the rest of the agents in that state are concerned
  15. Mecherle was adept at picking high level employees. He demanded and got the same loyalty to the company which he himself gave. He established an esprit de corps that was remarkable and that left its imprint on the organization long after it had grown beyond his wildest imaginings. Most of the roots of the company came back to loyalty – loyalty to State Farm and loyalty to the “Chief”. In the eyes of most people the man and the institution were inseparable
  16. The paternalism of George Mecherle evolved into a scientifically controlled welfare program that approached its human problems on five fronts: physical welfare; financial welfare; morale of the workers; training and education of those who chose to make State Farm a career; other problems not connected with the others
  17. State Farm was the height of enlightened industrialism. The steadiness of employment, the lack of “unrest” among the employees, is traceable in good measure to this system. In a larger city, with more diversified amusements and cultural interests, it might not be as necessary to all concerned as it is in the flat prairie city of Bloomington where, without this self-interested setup, boredom could well result
  18. If needed to shrink, they would wait for employees to retire and then not replace them. “We have a responsibility to our present force. We wouldn’t do anything that would break that loyalty. The big factor in productivity is morale.
    1. Left a red rose on the desk of all employees on their birthdays
    2. Handed out pins denoting length of service in ceremonious presentations. Today, there are also cash bonuses for five-year periods, ranging from five to thirty years’ service
    3. Held “Coke parties” on each floor whenever an employee passes a ten-year service milestone, and all employees who have been with the company for fifteen or more years are honored annually at a special dinner party
  19. “As we have become more independent, we are becoming more conservatively minded. This – I am satisfied – is natural, and comes from maturity. It should be our greatest desire to build for permanency on a sound business policy rather than to attempt too great a volume from this time on.”
    1. Permanency through honesty 
  20. “Our plan is very simple when boiled down to its essence. It will consist primarily in establishing a contact and working agreement between local banks and our agents, so that the bank will finance the purchase of automobiles for deserving policyholders and will accept our policy, with proper safeguards on the loan. Such a plan, when carried to its utmost possibilities, will open the door to a vast new field of business, in view of the fact that two out of three sales of new and used cars are one deferred payment basis. Furthermore, we will be able to retain many policies which we are now losing when the policyholder trades in his old car one new one and finances the deal.
  21. As State Farm was not a factory, they could not be “converted” during WWII. Others said that they should focus on other lines but Mecherle turned a deaf ear. State Farm might lose as much as half its business, he stated firmly, but it would come out of the war as clean as a hound’s tooth and without resorting to diversification. This long-term mindset would pay off only years later when massive pent up demand for new cars, repairs, insurance, and more would be let loose once the war was over
  22. One of the keys to the growth was the fact that since establishment, State Farm paid losses promptly and satisfactorily. In the long run, Mecherle felt, this may have been the greatest factor – this and the confidence of the agency force in the company management
  23. When George was beginning to step away from the business he asked, “The only thing I insist upon is that you do not depart from the membership plan, the continuous policy, the six-month’s premium, and the happiness of our agency force. Those are fundamental. Beyond them there are no restrictions. So, go to it.” He would step away from the business, allowing the new generation to lead but still kept every detail of the business at his fingertips. He kept the facts and figures of State Farm up to the very last minute in his worn loose-leaf books. He knew what was going on in every department. In spite of the growth of State Farm, he still kept his interest in the individual welfare of the staff, and knew the names and personal histories of an incredibly large number of them.
  24. The secret to his success – “A man has to live and sleep with his business if he wants to make a go of it. You have to take it home with you at night, so you can lie there in the darkness and figure out what you can do to improve it. In fact, you have to become sort of a ‘nut’ about it, so that you become so enthused that you will bore your friends talking about it. You have to become a one-man crusade.”
  25. Good character above all else
  26. “An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” – Emerson
  27. The greatest troubles we have are what we bring on ourselves
  28. Remember this: every man who accomplishes anything worthwhile in this life will leave behind him many temples still unfinished when he departs this life
  29. From his associates on every level he demanded three things: willingness to work hard, faith in the organization, loyalty to the “spirit” of State Farm. Few were those who did not give him all three in good measure. In return he gave to his associates what he demanded from them. He was no swivel-chair commander, but the hardest worker of them all. His faith in the high purposes of State Farm as an organization dedicated to the service of its members was all-absorbing. And his loyalty to the men and women who were loyal to him and his ideals was legendary
  30. “Things do not happen – they are brought about by careful planning, diligence, application, and direction. The tiny seed planted in the year 1922, which has been nurtured by the sunlight of agency devotion and sustained by the life-giving waters of policyholder persistency, has grown in root and branch – spreading a mantle of service and protection throughout the nation – until today the ripened fruit of its many branches is falling as a benediction into the lives, homes, and hearts of our people.”

What I got out of it

  1. Slow book at times but learned a lot about the George Mecherle and the “honest-first” business he created. There are timeless business and overall life principles that we could all learn from and incorporate into our jobs and lives

Boyd: The Figher Pilot Who Changed the Art of War by Robert Coram

  1. “Boyd has had a bigger impact on fighter tactics, aircraft design, and theory of air force combat than any man in history but he was also court marshaled and investigated dozens of times for leaks to the public, stealing computer time to work on his theories, and more. He was cantankerous, loud, and offensive and made a lot of enemies but it was all in the pursuit of his theories which positively impacted how the US military trained and fought.”
Key Takeaways
  1. Boyd was a rare combination of skills and talents and became known as 40 second Boyd because of his ability to beat anyone in air to air combat simulation.
  2. He was the first to codify air to air combat. He was only a junior in the army when he changed how the Army and Navy at large trained fighter pilots. Much of Boyd’s work is classified so his contributions were almost unknown to the outside world during his lifetime. Even then, except for the Marine Corps, most divisions of the military didn’t give Boyd proper credit for his contributions because of how much of a ruckus he caused
  3. He was in search of truth and a pure man but he was also larger than life, rude, cared little for his appearance
  4. Boyd was born in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1927 and his father died when he was only three years old. His mother worked very hard to keep the family afloat and she taught her kids the principles of frugality and hard work that would stay with Boyd forever. The mother severed ties with religion, friends, and family if she thought it would hurt her children. Also, Boyd’s sister contracted polio and the family became a sort of pariah because at the time people didn’t know what caused polio. Although John was somewhat socially awkward, his mom instilled in him that if you work hard and had integrity, you would win in the end
  5. As a child, Boyd had incredible focus and was a championship swimmer in Pennsylvania
  6. Boyd questioned the limit of everything and often found that it was always greater than what people told him
  7. Boyd had little tolerance or patience for those who didn’t understand what he was working towards but for those who did, he would go into great detail to make sure they understood
  8. After Boyd graduated from flight school, he was asked to stay on as an instructor which is one of the most prestigious job requests that a pilot can get
  9. After several years at Flight Weapons School, Boyd wanted to get his undergraduate engineering degree and got it from Georgia Tech. It was here that he was able to intertwine thermodynamics with his aerial studies. It was the trade off between potential and kinetic energy that tied them together and the beauty and simplicity of the idea made his hair stand on end when it clicked for him. Like entropy, a plane could have energy that was unavailable for work because of his position, speed, or strength of opponent. This was his excess power theory, which eventually became known as the Energy Maneuverability Theory. At its most basic, this determines the specific energy rate of an aircraft – how fast can you speed up or slow down compared to your opponent. Using specific energy makes this ratio universal across planes because, simply put, it is energy divided by weight of aircraft
  10. Boyd’s EM did 4 things for aviation
    1. It allowed for a quantitative basis for teaching aerial tactics
    2. It forever changed the way aircraft are flown in combat
    3. It provided a scientific basis for how the maneuverability of an aircraft could be evaluated. It allowed for a comparison of aircrafts and how to negate or minimize the advantages when flying against a superior jet
    4. It became a fundamental tool when designing fighter aircraft
  11. Boyd was able to see a page of numbers and visualize how they would affect his airplane, flight, tactics, and more. He had the hologram in the head
  12. Boyd hated optimization. Instead, he iterated on his thoughts and processes, letting them grow in a very Darwinian, organic way rather than trying to have a set plan or perfect solution to work towards
  13. By getting his engineering degree and deeply understanding thermodynamics, Boyd was able to see and understand the pros and cons of fighter jets’ designs, often better than the designers themselves
  14. To say he was a perfectionist is an understatement of epic proportion
  15. When Boyd determined that somebody had an “obstruction” (didn’t agree with him or didn’t give him the respect he felt he deserved), he took it upon himself to show them why he was thought of as one of the best fighter pilots, instructors, and most knowledgeable person on jets
  16. Boyd’s temperament and harsh way of dealing with people came back to bite him as he was continually passed over for promotions
  17. Trade-offs are the heart and soul of jet fighter design. Discipline and understanding the mission at hand are key too
  18. Boyd’s incredible intensity and passion for his work of course hurt his family situation and many of his kids ended up distanced from him. He neglected and ignored his family to the point that sometimes they didn’t talk for years
  19. Ambiguity, although difficult for people to deal with, tends to reflect reality better than black and white thinking and allows for new thoughts and spontaneity to arise and help evolve an idea or situation
  20. Another of Boyd’s great contributions was Patterns of Conflict. This piece studies the emotional, moral, and behavioral aspects of people during war and is helpful to compare different strategies, technologies, and techniques to one another
  21. The OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) was another big contribution but what most people don’t understand or what they oversimplify is the fact that you always have to have one foot in reality in order to update your ideas and understanding of the situation. Otherwise, you’re orienting and acting with outdated and wrong information
  22. General Mattis developed a reputation as a genius simply by not saying much
  23. The Pentagon is not set up to protect America, it is set up to buy weapons
  24. Boyd cared far more for his ideas being spread, adopted, and practiced than for getting any credit or payment for them
  25. Boyd’s theories were all over the Gulf War and had a meaningful impact on how quickly and dramatically America overcame the local opposition
  26. Boyd experienced some severe health scares and later developed an all consuming depression. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of but it was real and it deeply frightened him. Boyd later developed aggressive cancer which was the cause of his death
  27. if you’re fighting for the right thing there’s always a way to win
What I got out of it
  1. A great biography on a man I didn’t know anything about. He had a deep desire to learn and search for truth but his rude, in your face manner earned him many enemies and opposition to his ideas. Energy Maneuverability, Patterns of Conflict, OODA Loop were his main contributions

East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart by Susan Butler

  1. The life and story of Amelia Earhart
Key Takeaways
  1. The author spends a lot of time describing Amelia’s ancestors, their settlement in Kansas which was a hotbed for abolishment and pro-slavery tension and how this affected her desire for equality in opportunity
  2. Amelia was smart, healthy and independent from a very early age – singing herself to sleep by age 2. She was adventurous and would always love exploring and trying new things. Because of the restrictions placed on girls, her and her friends would often pretend to be boys and roughhouse with the  boys near them
  3. Her father, Edwin, eventually became an alcoholic and forced the family to move several times. He saw reality not as it was but how he wanted it to be and this often put him and his family in a difficult position. Amelia also had to take care of her mother for a while because of poor health. She didn’t have much time to simply be a teenager
  4. Amelia volunteered to help serve the wounded in Canada during WWI and this got her exposure to airplanes and flying. Her obsession grew with every air meet and once she moved out to California, her passion was stoked. She learned from some great teachers but she was able to recognize their flaws and limitations and either find someone else to learn from or went her own way. She soon became quite well known for her stunts and other flight tricks.
  5. Pasadena, Glendale and LA became the hotbed for everything related to avionics
  6. She went to Columbia but experienced some financial difficulty and health issues and at 28 was further away from a career than she was at 21
  7. A relative of steel baron Henry Phipps wanted to be the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic after Lindbergh accomplished the feat in 1927 but determined it was too risky. Instead, she wanted to choose an able women she thought could do it. She wanted someone young, educated, attractive and who had some flight experience. They chose Amelia
  8. Amelia was always a fan of poetry and had a tendency to retreat into it when uncomfortable or difficult situations arose
  9. Amelia received much attention and recognition after completing her first cross-Atlantic flight on the Friendship as a passenger. She gained incredible notoriety and was able to work at the Cosmopolitan magazine, fly and continue her social work
  10. Several years later she would fly transatlantic solo and be the first person to have flown over twice
  11. She married George Putnam of the famous publishing house. Though she was married, she made it clear that her career and ambitions would come first
  12. She used her name wealth and notoriety to get into many different new projects from helping start an airline (what would eventually become Northeastern Airlines) to designing her own line of flying clothes which were prominently displayed at Marshall Field’s stores
  13. Amelia got involved with Purdue to inspire women and as a technical advisor to the Department of Aeronautics
  14. Will Rogers, probably the most popular man in America, did more than anybody except Lindbergh to popularize flying
  15. Amelia began her round the world flight just before her 40th birthday. The trip was quite smooth until her leg from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island. The US Navy, her suspected lover Gene Vidal and her husband didn’t give up looking for her for nearly a year. Incredible conspiracy stories arose from the Japanese having captured and tortured her, to her being a spy for the Navy to study Japanese defenses and more but eventually it was agreed that she had crashed and her plan had sunk to the bottom of the Pacific in 1937
  16. Amelia was an inspiration in her generation and has been since her death. She set her mind and made her goals happen in a time when many of these goals were deemed inappropriate for women to pursue
What I got out of it
  1. Good biography on Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments – first solo female flight across the Atlantic, many other flight records and many successful ventures in business and academia

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump with Tony Schwartz

  1. Trump’s philosophy on negotiation, business and more as well as some of his background and early life
Key Takeaways
  1. Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks
  2. Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose. I don’t carry a briefcase. I try not to schedule too many meetings. I leave my door open. You can’t be too imaginative or entrepreneurial jd you’ve got too much structure. I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops
  3. It never stops and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the pr sent. That’s where the fun it. And if it can’t be fun, what’s the point?
  4. Sometimes it pays to be a little wild
  5. I don’t hold it against people that have opposed me. I’m just looking to hire the best talent, whenever I can find it
  6. I hate la suits and depositions but the fact is that if you’re right, you’ve got to take a stand, or people will walk all over you
  7. Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – less is more
  8. I always take calls from my kids, no matter what I’m doing
  9. I understand the game and while I don’t like to play it, there is no graceful way out
  10. I’m not too big on parties because I can’t stand small talk. Unfortunately they’re a part of doing business so I find myself going to more than I’d like and then trying hard to leave early
  11. I like to keep as many options open as I can
  12. Ivana is one of the most organized people I know…she’s almost as competitive as I am…I wouldn’t bet against her
  13. I’m loyal to people who’ve done good work for me
  14. It just goes to show that it pays to move quickly and decisively when the time is right
  15. That experience taught me a few things. One is to listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper. The second is that you’re generally better sticking with what you know. And the third is that sometimes your best investments are the ones you don’t make
  16. My philosophy is to always hire the best from the best
  17. If the city won’t approve something I think makes sense economically, I’ll just wait for the next administration and try again
  18. Small details make all the difference in the look and ambiance of a building
  19. My style of deal making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought but in most cases I still end up with what I want
  20. More than anything else, I think Deal making is an ability you’re born with. It’s in the genes. I don’t say that egotistically. It’s not about being brilliant. It does take a certain intelligence, but mostly it’s about instincts. Most people who do have the instincts will never recognize that they do because they don’t have the courage or good fortune to discover their potential
  21. Trump Cards – deal making tips
    1. Think big – most people think small because most people are afraid of Success, afraid of making decisions, afraid of winning. And that gives people like me a great advantage. One of the keys to thinking big is total focus. I think of it almost as a controlled neurosis, which is a quality I’ve noticed in many highly successful entrepreneurs. They’re obsessive, they’re driven, they’re single minded and sometimes they’re almost maniacal, but it’s all channeled into their work. Where other people are paralyzed by neurosis, the people in talking about are actually helped by it. I don’t say this trait leads to a happier life, or a better life, but it’s great when it comes to getting what you want
    2. Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself – people think I’m a gambler. I’ve never gambled in my life. I happen to be very conservative in business I always go into the deal anticipating the worst. If you plan for the worst – if you can live with the worst – the good will always take care of itself. You can’t be too greedy
    3. Maximize your options – never get too attached to one deal or one approach. Even if deals are made, I always come up with at least half a dozen approaches to making it work because anything can happen
    4. Know your market – I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions. I don’t hurt many number crunchers. I’m a great believer in asking everyone for an opinion before I make a decision. I ask and I ask and I ask until I begin to get a gut feeling about something. And that’s when I make a decision. Another group I don’t trust is critics as very few of them have any feeling for what the public wants
    5. Use your leverage – the worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood and then you’re dead. The best thing you can do is deal from strength and leverage is the biggest strength you can have. Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can’t do without. It often takes salesmanship and imagination to come up with leverage
    6. Enhance your location – more than purely location, a great deal enhanced by promotion and marketing is the key
    7. Get the word out – hiring outside consultants is never as good as doing it yourself. Be straight with reporters, have bravado and play to peoples fantasies
    8. Fight back – if you believe in something deeply and people are obstructing you unjustly, fight back
    9. Deliver the goods – you can’t con people, at least not for long. At some point you must deliver the goods
    10. Contain the costs – every dollar counts
    11. Have fun
  22. Father was a real estate developer as well and built low income and rent controlled housing in NY
  23. Almost boasts about the fact that he gave a teacher a black eye when he was in the second grade
  24. Learned to “finesse and manage” the drill instructor at the military academy
    1. Maybe shows some of the early innate manipulation or as Scott Adams says, hypnotic, powers that Trumpe exhibits
  25. His father was a great negotiator because he knew the price of everything and was always fair and reliable
  26. Clean and well maintained apartments are always worth the investment
  27. Finds ways to cleverly deal with people and situations – manager Irving great but stole so paid him a low salary and expected him to steal
    1. Seems like a temporary strategy which will only destroy cukture and hurt in the end
  28. You can’t show fear. You have to stand your ground and whatever happens happens
  29. The simplest approach is often the most effective
  30. Early on I didn’t have much but what I did have was the willingness to go after things that people even in a better position wouldn’t consider seeking. I also couldn’t sell people early on on my experience or accomplishments so I sold them on my energy and enthusiasm
  31. In the end, we won by wearing everyone else down. We never gave up and the opposition slowly began to melt away
  32. The city’s desperate circumstances became my biggest weapon. I could act when others weren’t willing and help the city get back on its feet
  33. If you’re going to make a deal of any significance, you have to go to the top
  34. New manager at Grand Hyatt got Trump and his wife to leave them alone by being overly friendly and solicitous, asking for their opinion on every mundane decision
  35. Much more often than you’d think, sheer persistence is the difference between success and failure
  36. Regardless of industry, you want your customers to feel special
  37. I understand now that certain events can take on symbolic importance
  38. Controversy sells
  39. When you set the highest standards, they’re expensive to maintain
  40. Good way to end a partnership on a classy note – “as with most things in life, time calls for change and it jd best to accept that fact. Nevertheless, I shall always be proud of my involvement in the creation of Trump Tower and finely remember how we worked to bring it about.”
  41. I think it better to pay more for a sure thing
  42. There is always a buyer for the best
  43. I have a very simple rule when it comes to management: hire the best people from your competitors, pay them more than they were earning and give them bonuses and incentives based on their performance. That’s how you build a first class operation
  44. You don’t act on an impulse, even a charitable one, without considering the downside
  45. In any partnership, you’re only as strong as your weakest link
  46. Committees and high priced consultants can’t hold a candle to a group of guys with reasonable amount of common sense and their own money on the line
  47. My attitude is that you do your best and if it doesn’t work, you move onto the next thing
  48. You’re not measured by how much you undertake but by what you finally accomplish
  49. What I admire most are people who put themselves directly on the line
What I got out of it
  1. Some revealing insights from Trump how he thinks about business, life, competition. Some I thought were helpful but the vast majority show what I think is a “win/lose mindset” which isn’t sustainable

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark

  1. Duncan Clark describes the history of Jack Ma, his personality, how and why he founded Alibaba (after a couple failed start-up attempts), his vision for the future and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Jack founded Aibaba in Hangzhou in 1999
  2. Alibaba looks to exploit the inefficiencies created by a government who exerts as much control as China does without pissing them off
  3. Alibaba’s strengths lie in ecommerce, logistics and finance
  4. Consumer discretionary spending is only about one third of GDP versus close to two thirds of GDP in the US. Latent spending power and high savings rates and lack of things to spend money on are the main causes for this discrepancy
  5. Alibaba is even China’s largest retailer
  6. Taobao is like a bazaar with 9m merchants and alibaba has no inventory and TMall is like a glitzy shopping mall. Major brands like Amazon Costco apple Zara and Moore are all on T-Mall
  7. About 10% of retail spending in China is done online compared to 7% in the US. China has been able to leap frog the brick-and-mortar retail business model which is much less efficient and expensive than e-commerce
  8. Nature abhors a vacuum and in China the Internet is filling in for eight created by an official state owned enterprises and government regulations
  9. Alibaba accounts for 40% of grocery sales in China and even does next day delivery of refrigerated items. It stands at only 10% in the US
  10. The rate of e-commerce packages is growing like crazy and has years of high-growth ahead with less than one package per customer per month being delivered on average today
  11.  JD.com it’s taking a different approach than Alibaba in that it is investing directly in logistics and becoming acid heavy versus acid light. JD wants to control the process from order to delivery end to end and I think a good analogy is Apple and other closed and companies that want to control quality throughout
  12. Alibaba‘s finance edge comes from Ali pay which is Alibaba is equivalent of PayPal  Ali pay handles more than $750 billion every year. Always pay is no longer own by Alibaba but is controlled by jack and has become the defect of method of transactions for an increasingly digital China. Alibaba can also serve as a savings account and often gives better rates than the banks. Because Alibaba had so much data on its customers it can better underwrite the credit risk of people who invest and pay through their platforms
  13. Jack is it your typical corporate titan and is quite humble and talks his intellect and ability down often. He said that the most influential role model in his life was Forrest Gump
  14. Jack’s presentation and oratorical skills are superb mainly because he focuses on messages he is deeply fluid in and suddenly changes his emphasis or message depending on the crowd and their expectations. Jack is quite funny and empathetic and the nature of his speeches tend to reach a broader audience due to his fluent English and Mandarin
  15. Jack’s mantra his customers first employee second and shareholders third. Another popular “often heard from Jack is 102 years with the point of trying to survive through out three different centuries
  16. Corruption and counterfeit goods are some of Alibaba’s major obstacles but they are taking certain precautions to begin limiting the amount
  17. When Jack was a boy he would relish the opportunity to practice his English often waking up before dawn riding his bike for 40 minutes to the nearest big hotel just to talk to English speaking tourists. Jack for friended on Australian family who he visited one day and on this visit he saw that what he had been taught that China was the richest country on earth was in fact falls and this taught him that he had to think for himself make his own decisions and use his brain to truly determine what was true and what he believed in
  18. Jack twice failed the college entrance exam and eventually on his third time got a good enough score to go to a fourth grade university in his hometown. Today he speaks of these failures as a badge of honor
  19. After university Jack became an English teacher but soon started his first company called hope which helped local companies find foreign customers. Jack has the uncanny ability to sell his vision and get people excited and to buy in completely
  20. Wong Joe were Alibaba is headquartered has been a prime an important trading hub for over 1000 years connecting the northern and southern China
  21. Jack was first exposed to computers and the Internet in the mid 90s when he travel to the US. From this exposure he started china pages which was the Chinese equivalent of yellow pages. China pages failed after a couple years and from the adventure Jack went on to work for the government for sometime before founding Alibaba
  22. Alibaba was chosen as the name of his company because it is a universal name that everyone can pronounce and most people know the story behind Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. This has saved a lot of money on marketing and advertising as the image of open Sesame and everything else that comes with the name is tied in to most people’s memories already
  23. Jack decided to distance himself from other Chinese portals such as Sina so who and that is by focusing on shrimp or small businesses
  24. Alibaba got first major investment from Goldman Sachs – $5m for 50%. A few weeks later soft bank invested $20m for 30%
  25. Jack decided to start hiring people who were a notch below the top of the class because he found they were better at handling adversity than the people at the very top of the class
  26. Today is brutal. Tomorrow is more brutal. But the day after that is beautiful. However, most people die tomorrow night
  27. The bursting of the Internet bubble was actually good for alibaba as this meant their competitors would not be receiving money and they had a lot in the bank from soft bank
  28. Author makes an interesting connection between the 2002 SARS outbreak and a massive ramp up in broadband usage, texting and increased investor appetite in china tech
  29. Taobao was alibaba’s response to eBay and was able to fend off the global powerhouse by better understanding the local market – free registration, busier home pages, free listings, ability to negotiate, online payment with Alipay, complacency and arrogance
  30. If you simply use money to solve problems, there’d be no need for businessmen. Businessmen are able to solve problems with few resources and leverage them to great benefit. eBay simply tried throwing money at china to regain their dominance and at this point Jack knew he had them. They first didn’t treat them like a rival at all and then took them too seriously. They showed their hand and didn’t change strategies at all
  31. There is a lot of controversy over the transfer of and financial to Jack’s personal account where he had total control of the company. Defenders say that without doing this day would never have gained financial approval from the Chinese government but other say this is not the case
  32. Shortly after the IPO Alibaba I got into some controversy what the government over baked goods which still is lingering over the company today
  33. Alibaba is beginning to expand into cloud computing, healthcare, entertainment and other markets where retail is inefficient and ecommerce under-penetrated
What I got out of it
  1. Does an excellent job providing some history of Jack and the company as well as some of the cultural differences between Chinese and American entrepreneurs and their relationship with their respective governments. Jack’s vision, persistence and charm were all really interesting and inspiring to read about

An American Original: Walt Disney by Bob Thomas

  1. Disney was able to entertain billions of people the world over. His background doesn’t point the way to how he achieved this, His parents were plain people, young Walt showed no brilliance as a student, and his drawings were often uninspired but in the end he is one of the most successful entertainers in businessmen in history
Key Takeaways
  1. Didn’t want to be devious unless constructive in some fashion
  2. Disney put his name on everything so that people knew that when they saw ‘Walt Disney’ on a picture, they would know that meant good, family entertainment
  3. Walt was his own best publicist
  4. Very little retrospection, his visionary eye was always set on the future
  5. Mickey and Walt were inextricable – Walt’s personality was completely reflected in Mickey’s
  6. Fair man but little patience for anything bad or weak
  7. “I want Disneyland to be a place where parents can bring their children – or come by themselves and have a good time”
  8. He seemed to consider his time limited, and his impatience to get things done sometimes made him hard to work for. Little patience for those whose thinking was earthbound. When he dropped an idea, he didn’t expect you to pick it up where he left it, you were supposed to move a couple of steps beyond
  9. Disney possessed a remarkable skill for drawing the best from those who worked with him and had an uncanny capacity for reaching the human heart
  10. Had a natural progression, moving the audience from spectators to participants
  11. Ancestors were from France and last name was Isigny
  12. Father Elias had many misadventures in business and was a stern man
  13. Older brothers Herb and Ray left family due to Elias’ tyrannical nature and soon after Roy left too
  14. Customer service instilled during his time as a newspaper boy – father forced him to place the newspaper on people’s porches, even in the middle of freezing winter
  15. Only paid attention to what interested him – animation, magic, trains
  16. He stepped on a nail and this injury gave him time to think of the future and it was then he determined he wanted to go into cartooning
  17. Walt welcomed criticism from a young age
  18. Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt and Walt left for Hollywood to get out of cartooning and into directing
    1. Felt he was too late to cartooning now and couldn’t catch up to those in New York but soon his deal with Winkler on Alice got him back into it
  19. Had rare powers of persuasion – shown when he convinced Ub to move to Hollywood to join him in the Disney Bros. Studio
  20. “It wasn’t enough to be an original and creative artist, Disney learned; survival in the film business required a jungle toughness
  21. Grew his mustache as a bet and left it because it made him look older
  22. Almost messianic in the leadership of his staff
    1. Got incredible devotion and long hours but encouraged periods of refresh (played baseball during lunch)
  23. Strong, attractive central character is essential and a good storyline is always needed but too much plot can destroy laughter
  24. Loss of Oswald to Mintz solidified view of never working for anyone
  25. Realized quickly the importance of sound and action being in sync and eventually also added color. Those who got in first lead to big advantage if you can work for quality, rather than quantity and quick money
  26. Walt did not believe in holding grudges
  27. Silly Symphonies began to allow Walt to expand creative outlet
  28. Was swindled by Pat Powers of Cinephone of $100,000+
  29. Two years after the creation of Mickey Mouse, the Mickey Mouse Club had more than 1 million members and was known in every civilized country
    1. Licensing revenues were enormous – Ingersoll sold 2.5 million watches in two years
  30. Walt had developed one of the most valuable traits of a leader – the ability to recognize talent and forcing them to reach their potential
  31. Long-term and second order thinking – “Maybe United Artists won’t give us any more dough [to produce color pictures], but the pictures will create so much excitement that we’ll get longer playdates and bigger rentals. That’ll bring the money back eventually.”
  32. Feed during difficult times – “Depression my greatest ally in assembling top flight talent”
  33. Created systematic training courses for young animators in order to develop:
    1. Good draftsmanship
    2. Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features
    3. Knowledge and appreciation of acting
    4. Ability to think up gags and put over gags
    5. Knowledge of story construction and audience values
    6. Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his work, in order that he may be able to apply his other abilities without becoming tied in a knot by lack of technique along these lines
  34. Always challenged himself – “As he discovered each new, unexplored medium, his interested dwindled in the one that he had previously conquered.”
  35. New office predecessor to Disneyland – Walt involved and thoughtful of every detail
  36. Issued stock due to debt
  37. On Unions – “It’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way, and I don’t care what idealistic plan is cooked up, nothing can change that.”
    1. Strike had taken away some of Disney’s idealism – creatives at the studio would never again have the same, intimate relationship with Walt
  38. Disney production was pretty much put on hold during WWII and they produced many educational and propaganda films for the government
  39. Walt was a times gruff, not given to intimacy and self-revelation. Rarely issued direct praise for work that had been done well and seemed to expect excellence and did not express gratitude when he received it. Commendation usually came in the form of a bonus check or a remark to a third person, with the realization that the praise would be handed on. He commanded attention – he wouldn’t let go o four eyes, people couldn’t stand up to him if they weren’t pretty confident
  40. Disney soon became synonymous with quality entertainment for the entire family. “Look – Disney is a thing, an image in the public mind. Disney is something they think of as a kind of entertainment, a kind of family thing, and it’s all wrapped up in the name Disney…You see, I’m not Disney anymore. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we’ve built up in the public mind over the years  It stands for something, and you don’t have to explain what it is to the public. They know they’re gonna get a certain quality, a certain kind of entertainment. And that’s what Disney is.”
  41. Lillian was no ‘yes-wife’ – she stood up to Walt and would honestly share her opinion on films and other topics Walt asked her about
  42. Considered self religious but no church and respected every religion
  43. Had no Disney items in his own home
  44. “We can lick ’em with product”
  45. Was a tough boss but in times of crisis was especially gentle
  46. Assigned all top talent to Cinderella when success was paramount
  47. Struggle with Alice led to Walt to never mess with a tamper-proof classic again
  48. Race against time – a fortune teller told Walt at a young age that he would die by the age of 35. He was not superstitious but this prediction had a profound effect on him and continued to brood about it long after it had been proven false – instilled a sense of urgency in him
  49. Understood the value of publicity and always made himself available
  50. How Walt thought of himself in some regards – “The last of the benevolent monarchs”
  51. 2 dislikes at work – being interrupted while interpreting a scene and someone arguing a point he had already rejected
  52. Studied amusement parks, fairs, zoos, etc. the world over in order to get inspired for Disneyland. His metric for gaging the success of the park was whether people felt entertained or cheated
  53. TV allowed public to get to know original plots and characters rather than this simply happening through theater productions
  54. With Disneyland, quickly gained deep fluency in architecture and engineering. Was always extremely adept at mastering new things quickly
  55. Faith in people – “We can run Disneyland as well as anyone. All you need are people who are eager, energetic, friendly and willing to learn. They’ll make mistakes, but we can learn from their mistakes.”
  56. From the beginning, he insisted on utter cleanliness at Disneyland. “Remembering the tawdry carnivals he had visited with his daughters, he told the staff that if you keep a place clean, people will respect it; if you let it get dirty, they’ll make it worse. He didn’t want peanut shells strewn on the sidewalks; only shelled nuts were sold. No gum could be purchased inside the park. Young men strolled through the crowds, retrieving trash as soon at it was discarded
  57. On music – “I just want you to remember one thing: if the people can’t go away whistling it, don’t play it.”
  58. Desire for utmost control – studio was almost self-sufficient from the beginning
  59. Opening day of Disneyland was a debacle but, as always, Walt never dwelled on disappointment
  60. TV vision – “we’re not going to talk down to the kids. Let’s aim for 12 year olds. The younger ones will watch because they’ll want to see what their older brothers and sisters are looking at. And if the show is good enough, the teenagers will be interested, and adults too.”
    1. Mouseketeers were normal kids, not Hollywood personalities – produced an audience response that TV had never seen before. With this incredible response and fan devotion, Mickey’s status as a folk hero was guaranteed for another generation
  61. On money – “I’ve always been bored making money. I’ve wanted to do things, I wanted to build things. Get something going. people look at me in different ways. Some of them say, “the guy has no regard for money.” That is not true. I have had regard for money. But I’m not like some people who worship money as something you’ve got to have piled up in a big pile somewhere. I’ve only thought of money in one way, and that is to do something with it, you see? i don’t think there is a thing that I own that I will ever get the benefit of, except through doing things with it.”
  62. On art – “I was a corny kind of guy, so I went for corn…Be commercial. What is art, anyway? It’s what people like. So give them what they like. There’s nothing wrong with being commercial.”
  63. Walt and Ray fought – Walt often cause but also first to apologize
    1. Most empires have a yin/yang leadership situation
  64. Always succeeded with quality and uniqueness, not in following trends
  65. Bought out ABC in 1960 so that they owned Disneyland outright
    1. Moved TV to NBC because they could pursue color with them and Walt determined that was the future
  66. Guests, not customers – we’re selling happiness
    1. If they ever stop caring, it’ll cost 10x to get the guests back
  67. Cartoons designed to be timeless – re-releases were essentially pure profit
  68. Walt did not like to be oversold on anything
  69. Always put self in the position of the public – “At Disneyland, queues were doubled back, so that those in line would have a sense of advancing toward their goal and would see a constantly changing human vista
  70. On time and urgency – “Time is getting on, and I still have things left to do. I don’t want to go back and cover the same ground.”
  71. “I have a theory that if it’s good enough, the public will pay you back for it.”
  72. On Chouinard – students must learn a variety of skills, be multi-disciplinary and have a place where cross-pollinization is possible. “Imagination is an intuitive thing; I think it’s something you’re born with. But it has to be developed.”
  73. Disney World started out with the vision of being the utopian city of tomorrow – EPCOT, “an experimental monarchy”
    1. “When I see things I don’t like, I ask myself, why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?”
  74. Roy, who is typically the profit-focused financier – “Wait a minute, let’s give them a better deal. They’ve been good to us, and we may have to go back to the well again. Besides, the offering will be oversubscribed  His staff felt that they had lost their negotiating power, but Roy’s strategy proved correct. He had made friends, as well as lenders, of the Eastern banks.” – Understood the power of thinking ahead, of reciprocation and of placing the cue ball for future shots and not just the first shot
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating biography which had a lot of detail about Walt’s childhood and his personality – quirks and strengths alike. Vision was extraordinary and we can learn a lot from how he thought, dealt with people, issues and decision making

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler


  1. Disney’s influence is hard to overstate. He completely changed American culture and its consciousness by bringing in a lighter, more fun world during tough times. He completely changed animation and helped invent graphic design. His concept of a theme park was completely novel too as it was a totally immersive, imaginative experience
New Takeaways
  1. Isn’t actually frozen after passing away as many believe but shows how much Disney was associated with futuristic technology
  2. Disney reinvented the American past by adding nostalgia and patriotism to rural movies. He also garnered enthusiasm for technological advancement through his own films and it even helped NASA gain support
  3. He was able to blend paradoxes such as being a classicist and a futurist through his animation and family values and then through projects like tomorrow world which helped spur American interest in space exploration
  4. He invented the wildlife documentary and helped spread conservationist movements
  5. He created the first modern media corporation by blending TV, movies, action heroes, theme parks and more
  6. Above all his accomplishments however, his greatest achievement may have been instilling a belief of wish fulfillment in people – fantasy can be empowering and sometimes even transform the world
  7. He was able to tap into the essence, the fundamental, the genetic code to truly bring alive any project and make it resonate with people in a timeless way. He had platonic templates in his head for everything and was able to act on it, forming the archetype of anything he took on. This desire for an idyllic world lead him to create his various animations as well as Disney World. He wanted total control and since this ain’t possible in real life, he made a fictional world where he could
  8. Artistic reputation was hurt towards the end of his career and many considered him an Huber capital list which supplanted other countries cultures with Americas. He was also considered an anti-Semite and a racist. Many also thought he had sold out and become to corporate and therefore lost his artistic and creative power
  9. Even for those closest to Walt he was difficult to know intimately and was often moody and tough to work with
  10. Walt’s grandparents were from Ireland and his dad after moving around a bit decided to settle in Kansas which was a rough life at that time. They later moved to Marcilene, Missouri which Walt considered his home and the nature and serenity had a big influence on his creativity and his later animation’s focus on animals, farms and trains
  11. A local doctor named Dr. Sherwood encouraged walk early on to not be nervous about admitting ignorant and annoying her edging him that he was a good artist
  12. His father was a very hard working, frugal, strict and religious man. Elias had Walt deliver papers early in the morning for nearly no pay and he worked so hard he hardly he any free time as a boy. This made him very careful with his time as he grew older. Walt grew up to become extremely different from his father – light hearted, enthusiastic, charming, personable. Walt’s older brother of 8 years, Roy, was more of a surrogate father than brother and they became very close
  13. Walt quickly found that he was attracted to performing, drawing and show business and meticulously studied his idols such as Charlie Chaplin
  14. Walt entered into service for WWI but got influenza and ended up not heading to Europe to fight but was soon sent over to help with the occupation in France. His time in France helped him mature and solidify his desire to be an artist or actor
  15. Walked always had great confidence in his abilities even before he had croup and self or had any experience. When Disney became fascinated with something, he could spend days focusing only on that
  16. Animation was completely new at this time so Walt was not behind anyone although he was young. Him and a couple others would pioneer this field and make huge leaps in the following decades
  17. Even at 20, with little to no experience, Walt was too hard headed to be comfortable with being anyone’s employee and started a company called Laugh-O-Gram and was an incredible salesman getting employees and investors interested in working for him. The company struggled although Walt and his employees loved it and it soon went bankrupt. He then decided to leave Kansas City and went to Hollywood
  18. Walt almost always exaggerated the truth to make himself or his story more dramatic. He was absolutely a happy and extremely determined man with a lot of confidence but he, like everyone, had times of doubt
  19. Walt started up Disney Bros. with his older brother Roy in the early 1920s and began work on the Alice cartoons. From the beginning Walt had a deep need for artistic and creative control over the whole process in order to precisely execute his vision. He was tough on Ub Iwerks and the rest of his employees and often made others miserable and cause resentment until they either improved or left the studio. He soon lost his distribution partner in Winkler and many of his own employees even tried sabotaging him. It was at this point he decided he would never work for anybody ever again
  20. Mickey Mouse was first named Mortimer and the first idea was for Mickey to fly a plane in order to impress a lady mouse which was inspired by Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Mickey was designed for maximum ease as circles were easier to animate and by subtly changing some features, Mickey could easily become a cat, rabbit, dog, etc.
  21. Mickey struggled to gain a foothold until Roy and Walt brainstormed and determined to add sound to the animation. It was shown as a short reel before movies and became a nationwide hit. Mickey eventually evolved and became more real and proper and he lost popularity because of it. Donald Duck was soon after conceived to be Mickey’s foil, to be rude, offensive, hot tempered and this is exactly what the world wanted at this time
  22. Walt understood early on how important it was to make himself a brand as a producer that the country would recognize. He opened up a sound recording studio in California to gain a foothold in this up and coming area of animation. After the initial trouble with Laugh-O-Gram, Disney wanted a dominant, unassailable position in the animation market and determined to replace Felix the Cat with his own Mickey as worlds most popular cartoon
  23. Although the culture at Disney was casual, work was done with the utmost care and planning and the biggest difference from other animation studios was expectations. Walt would not settle for anything less than the best. He was always this way with all his early cartoons – Alice, Oswald, Mickey, Skeleton Dance and other silly shorts. Disney always took great pride in his informality, he always considered him equal to his employees
  24. Powers, who ran Cinephony Studios, was the man Walt relied on for sound recording and producing. Powers wasn’t a very trustworthy man and took advantage of Walt’s enthusiasm by promising to fulfill his vision as well as Walt’s lack of business acumen by crafting very unfavorable terms. Tensions eventually split the relationship after costly legal action but Powers managed to get Iwerks and Stalling to leave Disney studios
  25. Once Disney and his cartoons started getting a foothold in California, they began expanding nationally with the Mickey Mouse club which eventually reached over 800 chapters and 1m members. Mickey soon became a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most recognized figures in the whole world. Mickey had mass appeal due to his ability to allow people to escape the Great Depression and tyrannical leaders, his simplicity and people’s desire to root for the underdog – ultimate wish fulfillment. Mickey was also modeled after two of that generations most popular actors – Fairbanks and Chaplain. However, Mickey would ultimately evolve and could be considered simply an extension of Walt himself
  26. Walt only hired the best and created a very hard working but fraternal culture. The ethos was that all work had to be better than what was previously made and much better than any competitor
  27. Many of Walt’s colleagues believes that he achieved extraordinary success because his focus was never on money, but on providing the best product to his customers, something he could have fun with and be proud of
  28. His relationship with his wife became strained as he ended up in the office pretty much every night working late which eventually led to an emotional breakdown
  29. Disney avoided much of the pain of the Great Depression by plowing every dollar earned back into his company rather than the stock market. His cartoons were some of the best escapes for people going through tough times. Disney studios thrived during these tough times as they were able to hire some of the best animators in the business from studios that had gone out of business. The Disney short of three little pigs was a sensation and delivered one of the eras anthems with the big bad wolf song
  30. One of biggest contributions to animation was that he gave the cartoons a storyline and the characters life, a personality, embodied emotions, adding color, even taking gravity into consideration
  31. Disney studios entered another inflection point once they began licensing Mickey to distributors to put on lunch boxes, watches, clothing, toys, etc. This eventually became a larger source of profits than the cartoons themselves
  32. Walt played the bashful tycoon in public but this was part of his carefully crafted image which was influenced by Will Rogers. In private, Walt was often moody and sometimes blunt and egomaniacal. Walt stopped drawing and even procuring most of the cartoons but his influence and approval was still felt throughout. He was very instinctive, he a great mind for gags and had a great sense for what the public wanted and needed
  33. One of Walt’s main talents was his ability to bond a group, get the most out of them and always think in “we” terms. He made everyone feel great pride in the work they did and made them truly believe that it was important
  34. Walt took great pride in keeping ahead of the pack and his next step was a full length film, Snow White
  35. After a trip to Europe Walt decided to try to make his cartoons more universal by keeping dialogue to a minimum so that translation errors wouldn’t affect enjoyment
  36. Believed it was easier to train young people with no experience and bad habits that to hire people who did have some experience
  37. Walt was very exacting and demanding of his employees but he paid them extremely well, gave them great benefits and created an exciting and innovative atmosphere people loved. Again, money was always secondary to talent, customer experience and quality
  38. Snow White was an undertaking unlike any other. He got the most out of his people by aligning incentives – their bonuses were tied to the success of the movie. After toiling away for years, Snow White was released and became a huge success – the highest grossing movie ever in the US
  39. Walt was a self absorbed workaholic who had no close friends. He devoted himself entirely to his vision
  40. After Snow White, Disney and his crew began work on Bambi but put it on hold to start work on Pinocchio
  41. The move from the studio in Hyperion to Burbank was necessary but it also removed some of the informality, morale and drastically increased bureaucracy
  42. In 1940, Disney decided to issue shares to the public to raise money for Bambi, Disney shorts and other projects. He never wanted to do this but the company was spending money like crazy
  43. Disney – “Every mistake I made was because I didn’t truly feel it.”
  44. Disney was very loyal to those who stuck with him during the early stages but he later was very callous and cold hearted with firings of newer employees. A union workers strike soon ensued and killed much of the esprit de courts of the studio
  45. Walt got to making educational films for the navy and government during WWII. He often lost money on these and they distracted him from other endeavors. He was totally absorbed with these features for the four years of the war. Competition increased a lot after the war as the other major studios started expanding and focusing on animation – Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes
  46. Bambi was finally released to mixed reviews. The seriousness of the movie was a little too much for many people in a time which had already seen such devastation. This was a difficult time for the studio as Bambi wasn’t a hit and they were spending most of their time now on war and educational films
  47. Disney was so focused on pushing the boundaries creatively and in other ways that he refused to do sequels even though they were likely to be commercial successes
  48. Disney had a strong aversion to organization and bureaucracy even as the studio grew. If he did decide to manage, he would micromanage everything and everyone. He would never delegate creative decisions
  49. Disney’s do epitome advantages came from the sheer talent of its animators, their dedication, Walt’s vision and fire, their focus on quality and customer experience over profit and always looking to push boundaries
  50. The author does not believe Disney was racist or anti-Semitic but like most white Americans of his generation, he was insensitive
  51. Disney pioneers the nature documentary as we know it today through Seal Island
  52. Disney was apolitical except for his strong aversion to Communism
  53. Disney didn’t spend much time with his family as he was so busy but he spoiled his daughters. They described him as sympathetic but firm
  54. Disney seemed to focus less on his studio and more on miniature cities and trains. These hobbies influenced him greatly in building an amusement park where the whole family could have fun together. Disneyland was Walt’s dream – he was able to exert absolute control and make his vision real. He was able to transport people to a different, better time. The pro was a combination of experience, amusement and Disney’s own values
  55. Disney was one of the few to recognize the power of the television. It was not the enemy of the motion picture but it’s ally. They could recycle old movies, make TV shows out of movies, get new customers and fans, and would launch its own channel using past Disney shorts. He also recognized that this was an incredible tool to promote awareness and interest in Disneyland. Disney partnered with ABC who needed awareness with the growing young family population and Disney needed money to make Disneyland happen. Television made Disney more famous than ever before. It was his animation and movies which were popular before but now it was the man, the man who embodied wholesomeness and decency. He often felt imprisoned by this new persona
    1. “In retrospect, Disney’s greatest creation was Walt Disney.”
    2. Davy Crockett became an immediate, nationwide sensation. He embodied American ideals at a time when tensions with the Soviet Union were growing. Crockett was never profitable for Disney but it did accomplish its goal – publicize Disneyland. The Mickey Mouse Club was another phenomenon which also bolstered Disneyland’s image and its awareness
    3. Imagineers were tasked with designing the parks and every single detail – subliminally making guests feel powerful, calm and have the best experience possible
    4. Disney had a constant focus on creating eternal products
    5. He constantly said that Disneyland would never be finished – there is always someway to improve and expand
  56. Another major milestone in Disney’s history was the formation of its own distribution arm – it now controlled the process end to end
  57. Walt didn’t want anybody with amusement park experience working on Disneyland because he wanted fresh eyes and no preconceived notions or biases. Established Disney university to train all employees in order to give a great, consistent experience. Dress, facial hair, and more were all strictly dictated. Cleanliness was an obsession with Walt and his parks were always meticulous – one of the small ways Disney conceived of to make his parks an escape from reality
  58. Several years later Walt secretly scouted out locations on the East coast and decided to build Disney World in Orlando, Florida. His vision was to build not only a world class amusement park, but a Utopian city – EPCOT
  59. Disney never felt he could rest – he was always working to “stay 25 years ahead of the competition” and was worried he’d die before he’d have time to accomplish everything
  60. Walt went to the hospital for what he thought was a minor surgery when they found lung cancer, he was 64. He was clearly very weak but defiant until his last breath. His focus went almost solely to Disney World and EPCOT at this point. He died about a year later in 1966
  61. One of Disney’s main contributions was a living example of how one could successfully impose their will on the world. Above being a master of fun, animation, reverence or anything else, he was a master of order
  62. First hour and last 10 minutes a very good summary
What I got out of it
  1. Endless enthusiasm, optimism and confidence, the highest standards of quality in the business, fanatical about his work and in pushing the limits to give customers the best experience possible, sole focus on customer experience and not money.

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier

  1. Michael Barrier gives a detailed account of Walt Disney’s background, personality, accomplishments, flaws and impact on the world
Key Takeaways
  1. Sound animation and later Snow White was what truly set Disney Studio apart
  2. Walt started in animation as a businessman and ended as an artist
  3. Healthy bonuses kept employees happy but a deeply held cherished and shared mission was the true driver and uniter
    1. People from other studios took large pay cuts to join as they came to learn and be part of something great
    2. Semiannual bonuses based on profits and on a rating determined by five factors, including importance to the organization and production department ratings as to footage and quality of work
    3. Disney was the first to relax the grim grind on animators and as a result got more work out of them because they worked out of love for what they were doing and also because they thought they were doing something they thought would be imperishable
    4. Instituted a “trial without pay” for first time animators
    5. Like any large company, Disney placed some people in jobs they were not capable of filling (Peter Principle)
    6. “You always knew you had a little raise ahead – about $2 more per week every 2-3 months (Goal Gradient Effect)
  4. Walt had blind faith that quality, tempered with good judgment and showmanship will win against all odds
  5. Was extremely jealous and controlling with all artistic decisions – wanted complete control
    Disney had changed America’s perception of leisure and entertainment
  6. Elias, Walt’s father, was a very hard working, tough father
    1. Walt would always remember the struggle with delivering newspapers as a boy, having to weather freezing cold and sleeping through class
    2. Freeing self of father’s rigid, debilitating beliefs was central to Walt’s success
  7. Never was a great businessman as focus was never on money
  8. Walt’s first successful business venture was Laugh-O-Graham but it would eventually go out of business
  9. Walt was always determined to be his own boss and be the sole man in charge
  10. Tended to recall memories with rose-colored glasses and always exaggerated things
  11. Important to deal with hard failure when young
  12. Walt would never have survived without Roy’s organizational and financial skills
  13. Walt had always worried, always enthusiastic, no inhibitions, a talker
  14. First to add a coherent story into the cartoons and if the cartoons acted as if they were real, the audience would buy it too
    1. Syncing sound a breakthrough too and was first exhibited in Steamboat Willie
  15. Life in Marcilene, Missouri imprinted a nostalgia of small town, farm life on Walt that would be with him forever and would later be idealized in Disneyland
  16. Was a tough, demanding boss and early on many decided to leave to try to start their own studios
  17. Formed Disney Studios on October 16, 1923
    1. The Alice Cartoons were his first success followed by Mickey Mouse in 1927
  18. Focus was never money – “we can lick them all with quality”
  19. Early on, Disney’s vision and ambition was rather modest – “he was not some visionary leader…he was notoriously inarticulate…difficult for him to translate his ideas into guidance for his animators.”
    1. Disney himself did not introduce stunning advances but he recognized, accepted and often encouraged the improvements that his people were coming up with on their own
  20. Wrote with a lot of “…” in order to promote free association
  21. Early cartoons were a little risqué – all animators were young, untrained men with no college educations
  22. After Ub Iwerks and Stalling left, Disney would have no other partners besides Roy, Roy’s wife and his wife Lilian until the company went public
  23. Disney focused intently on laughs and personality – Chaplin was part of the inspiration for Mickey’s character
  24. Licensing began in 1930 but wouldn’t have a massive impact on the company’s profitability until later
  25. Only tolerated those who were all in – once fired a man for looking for another job
  26. Three Little Pigs became an instant national sensation – quality, music, timing, personality in characters, “real” feeling
  27. As Disney’s processes advanced and improved, they started closing doors to outside artists and instead promoted from within and encouraged their animators to take art classes
  28. “Once a formula has been established, it exerts a powerful gravitational pull on artists who have used it. Resisting it, and observing life directly with the idea of reproducing it more accurately, is hard work, as the Disney animators found.”
  29. Did not revisit even recent mistakes – “best we can do is to profit fro mistakes by improving future pictures”
  30. Vacation to Europe inspired his movies and eventually Disneyland
  31. Best cartoons appeal to masses as well as those with specialized tastes
    1. Animators had to know idea and feeling behind a cartoon before pitching an idea – had to study psychology and deeply embody their characters
      1. “Our most important aim is to develop definite personalities in our cartoon characters.”
    2. When Walt had an idea, he visualized it 100% and often acted it out, totally embodying the different characters – the legend behind Snow White is that Walt called in the main animators and acted out the entire movie, every character
    3. Very detailed to make sure characters were consistent and conformed to image
  32. Snow White was a massive hit – had to overcome technical limits, cartoons at that time only funny, nobody knew if people would have patience for a full-length cartoon
    1. “I made it for adults. For the child that exists in all adults.”
    2. Most important aim is to create definitely personalities in the cartoon characters
    3. Plowed money from Snow White into new movies, a new studio and bonuses – total reinvestment
  33. Walt saw Disney Studios as an extension of himself – he was terrible at delegating and demanded his approval on every major decision
  34. More important to draw what people expect rather than be 100% accurate
  35. Pinocchio was a flop and forced Disney to issue shares in 1940 – Walt maintained a huge controlling stake and this element of control was central to his personality and vision
  36. Every animator who entered Disney was expected to make animation his life work – “animation to us was a religion. That’s all we talked…talent was taken for granted, no one thought much about it one way or the other.”
    1. “Every day was an excitement .Whatever we were doing had never been done before. It was such a great thrill to go in there. There was excitement and competition; everyone was young and everyone was doing something…”
  37. Disney was often very encouraging and always stressed quality, personality and feeling but was also often irascible, impatient and demanding
  38. Had a very rural sense of humor which allowed him to sense what the average person would like
  39. Built studio for animator’s – relaxed, air conditioning, best equipment but the size and complexity took some of the familial, start-up feel away from the Studio which eventually lead to some union issues in the 1940s
    1. “I feel that people must earn it. You can’t give people anything.”
  40. “Time clocks place a premium on deception and it is no bar to dishonesty”
  41. Goodwill tour of South America lead to a couple cartoons and exhibited Disney’s flawless worldwide persona as he was cheered everywhere he went
  42. Role in studio – “I am the bee that carries the pollen” to spread ideas
  43. Shackles of success – “the public demands repetition, not change”
  44. Incredible understanding of psychology and human nature / emotion were deeply embedded into his cartoons
  45. Helped WWII efforts through his “Why We Fight” Series – financial struggles led to layoffs, fraying loyalty which led to many employees seeing Disney as a job and not a calling like it used to be
  46. He didn’t ever want anything to look like a repeat of what he had done before
  47. “Dad thought we ought to have our own church. He didn’t want anything to influence us.” – Diane Disney on Walt letting his kids form their own opinions
  48. His husbanding of authority was an expensive bottleneck but was the only way Walt would have it – he was the critical path
    1. Created much jealousy, frustration and politicking within the studio
  49. Didn’t have very many friends – he didn’t have time and “had to have a clear mind for work the next day”
  50. Invented the nature documentary category through “Seal Island”
  51. Developed an obsession with trains and miniatures which would persist throughout his life and play a prominent role in Disneyland and Disney World
  52. Ford’s Greenfield Village in Detroit inspired Walt to brainstorm a “Mickey Mouse Park”
  53. Tremendous memory and capacity for learning – often impatient with others – “He understood the mechanics of everything. Everything was a new toy.”
  54. Disney was not so much hostile to TV as unsure of how to best make use of the median but by 1950 had a TV show to promote the studio and recognized TV’s importance to get new audience and further engage them
  55. For his cartoons and eventually theme parks, Walt had a very vivid mental image of it all
  56. Roy was skeptical of Disneyland so Walt formed a separate private company – Walt Disney Enterprises, later renamed as WED Enterprises
  57. No rigid decision process – things just seemed to happen recalled on employee
    1. Later on learned that he needed a solid footing of some kind before he made a speculative leap
  58. Walt’s major investment in Disneyland would be committed to creating a storytelling environment, rides would be subordinate to story and setting
  59. Struck a massive TV programming deal with ABC for 1 hour weekly episodes intended in part to promote Disneyland. This deal provided the necessary funds to move forward with constructing Disneyland
  60. Disneyland was extremely rushed and massively over budget and opening day was a disaster – brutally hot, many rides broke down
  61. Took inspiration from Denmark’s Tivoli
  62. Disney succeeded in making Disneyland fun for all – families would stay 3x longer and spend nearly 3x as much
  63. Outside contractors failed miserably and soon Disney replaced them with Disney employees who had been trained to be customer-friendly. No matter how good the park looked, surly employees could spoil the Utopian effect
    1. “It is easier to maintain control over customers if they think they are doing what they want to do, as opposed to what someone else wants them to do. To preserve that illusion of autonomy, Disney was more than willing to make countless small adjustments, like paving a shortcut that visitors were taking through a flower bed, rather than putting up a fence to keep them out.”
    2. Designers had to study customers up close, wait in line with them, go on rides with them, eat with them in order to get an idea of what was going on in their minds
  64. Disney is a model entrepreneur, acutely sensitive to how customers respond to his business
  65. Reduced role of animation with rise of TV, live-action films and theme parks
  66. “It truly was a one-man studio. Everything had Walt’s touch”
  67. “I am not a literary person. As far as realism is concerned, you can find dirt any place you look for it. I’m one of those optimists. There’s always a rainbow. The great masses like happy endings. If you can pull a tear out of them, they’ll remember your picture.”
  68. “Styles may change on the surface, but at bottom the big audience taste doesn’t change” They like sympathetic characters and life-like action. And that’s what I like, too, whether it’s cartoons, live action or all those creatures at Disneyland.”
  69. Had a persona as a simple, rural man but many who knew him well considered him one of the most widely read, most widely traveled, most artistic men in Hollywood
  70. Finger tapping typically a warning sign, as was his loud cough
  71. “I don’t care about critics. It’s the public I’m making pictures for.”
  72. Criteria for a good movie was impact on the public and Snow White was the gold standard
  73. Essentially subsidized Chouinard music school to create a “multi-disciplined” school of the arts (later became CalArts)
  74. Disney often dressed down in order to not intimidate people – he knew he scared the daylights out of people and didn’t want to let that get in the way of being able to work with him. Otherwise all he’d have is a bunch of people agreeing with him and their expertise wouldn’t show
  75. Disney’s death led to some paralysis within the company and movies went downhill though Disney World was a smash. Disney struggled for some time and replaced Ron Miller, Disney’s son-in-law, with Michael Eisner in 1984. Eisner did some great things for the studio – helping oversee a string of hits and acquiring ABC but was eventually replaced by Bob Iger in 2005
  76. “It was this combination, his powerful entrepreneurial drive combined with his new artist’s sensibility, that made Disney so inspiring a figure to many of the people who worked for him. Somehow, Walt always made it seem to that the most important thing in the world was to help him make a picture look the way he wanted it to look. It was a lot of fun to feel I was doing the most important thing in the world, every day.”
What I got out of it
  1. A really good read with some fascinating details about Walt’s life, personality, vision, quirks, etc.