If I Were 22: Remember, Relationships Trump Transactions

This post is part of a series in which Influencers share lessons from their youth.Read all the stories here.

The most high impact, life-changing lessons are often the most painful. Over my career I have experienced more than my share of agony.

In my early 20’s, I had a laser sharp focus of achieving enormous success in the entertainment industry. At age 28, I was head of Columbia Pictures Studios in Hollywood. I figured goal accomplished.


What I failed to glean was that the process of my getting there was to be more important to my future career longevity, success, and joy than the result of actually getting there.

What I failed to glean was that the process of my getting there was to be more important to my future career longevity, success, and joy than the result of actually getting there. The epiphany that relationships trump transactions was excruciatingly experienced in 1983 when I conceptualized and led the charge to create a new approach to music for the 1984 Olympic Games.

There was no shortage of musical artists who wanted into the album, the ceremonies, and the television broadcast where the music would be performed and heralded. But there were stakeholders who became hurdles in achieving the execution – namely agents, producers, musicians and composers who had to be wrangled into position to produce the music and make the official album of the Olympics.

I insensitively leveraged my position and knowledge that the artists wanted to participate in this unique enterprise to avoid having to persuade and deal with the agents. In the process, while the music was a huge success, the collateral damage from not understanding and honoring those relationships meant I created unnecessary adversaries. I failed to appreciate that a win-win strategy built long- term value. I didn’t respect the relationships that those agents had with the artists or their place in the circle. Focusing on just their wallet rather than their heart, feet, and tongue, was a critically short-sighted tactic. Many of those relationships remained adversarial and were difficult to repair.

The good news is that I learned from the mistakes of my victories. I shaped my future strategic view that being a congruent, authentic person, and recognizing other stakeholders in the decision-making food chain was necessary for long-term success.

Many years later the symmetry of relationships trumping transactions as a powerful long-term business strategy was personally struck home to me. I was developing and funding a film called Gorillas In The Mist for my company with Warner Bros. It was a very trying project about a woman named Dian Fossey who sacrificed her life to save the great mountain gorillas in Africa. At the critical moment when Warners was about to give the green light, the chairman, Terry Semel, called to alert me that the founder of the famed Pace Art Gallery in New York, Arne Glimcher, was simultaneously developing this film for Universal Pictures.

Transactions are momentary. Relationships endure for a lifetime.

Arne was personally close with Terry, who was also a big collector, and pressured Terry to support his version of the story and not go forward with ours. Warner Bros. didn’t own the project. We did. But, Terry convinced me because of his relationship with Arne as well as with me, that we should at least talk, even though we had the legal rights and had cornered the situation.

Experience had leveled my hubris.

This time I brought an empathetic ear to Arne and learned and admired his passion and dilemma. Despite the fact that it would have been far more financially favorable for me to go it alone, I suggested that we partner together to develop and make the best project possible. Semel, surprised, welcomed and admired the solution. The film went on to be better for the joint involvement, earning five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.

The coda to this story is that a number of years later, unbeknownst to me, Glimcher was having lunch with one of his best friends who was considering me for an opportunity that I was extremely interested in achieving. At this lunch, Glimcher told him the story of his experience, the respect he had for me, and the successful outcome of our collaboration. That was the difference-maker. I was offered the opportunity.

Transactions are momentary. Relationships endure for a lifetime.

Photo: © FotolEdhar / fotolia

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