Strauss Zelnick is the CEO of Take Two Interactive, a publicly held video game publisher which makes Grand Theft Auto amongst many other hit titles.  He is also the Founder and Managing Partner at ZMC, a several hundred million dollar private equity fund focused on media and communications.  He has also served as CEO of BMG Entertainment, one of the world’s largest music publishers at the time, and President of 20th Century Fox, one of the biggest movie studios.

 

Some interesting insights in this episode:

  • How Strauss successfully climbed the corporate ladder to become the President of 20th Century Fox by the time he was just 32.
  • His approach to turning around one of the largest interactive entertainment companies in the world.
  • Knowing what you want out of life and setting goals to achieve them is a big part of success.
  • To achieve great things, it’s sometime necessary to take calculated risks.
  • Being smart and ambitious is nice but being in the right place at the right time also helps.
  • Learn to put your ego aside, surround yourself with super ambitious and talented people and then step out of their way.
  • Motivation should be driven by the joy and fulfillment it brings, not by money or ego or power.
  • Leadership is about being your authentic self. It’s best to present yourself all the time as you truly are, not as you wish to be seen.
  • A consistent and strenuous physical fitness routine can have positive spillover effects in your working life.

 

Strauss Zelnick has had a remarkable career.  His ambition and passion for entertainment can be traced all the way back to his childhood when he declared that he would one day run a movie studio.  He graduated with double MBA/JD degrees from Harvard and less than a decade later at the young age of 32, he achieved his childhood dream by becoming the President of 20th Century Fox.  It was this amazing achievement that rightfully earned him the moniker wunderkind.

When he acquired Take Two Interactive, the company was a mess.  They had just lost over $200 million and the CEO had been fired for fraud. Less than a decade later, he’s still running the company which he completely turned around while creating billions of dollars of value in the process.

It helps when you can figure out where your passion and talents intersect.  He loves the entertainment business and is most effective and happy as a turnaround executive.  He’s also self-aware, knowing where his true strengths and weaknesses lie.  He has learned that being your authentic self and not hiding behind a façade is one of the keys to being an effective leader.

Recently Strauss has become as passionate about fitness as he is about buying and turning around companies.  He founded a daily fitness meetup group called The Program where he does rigorous high-intensity interval training alongside people less than half his age including professional athletes.  He not only appreciates the way it makes him look and feel but also the nice byproduct of enhanced productivity and happiness in the workplace.

Strauss is confident in his abilities but humble in his accomplishments.  He doesn’t downplay the fact that ambition, goal setting and risk taking are among the key ingredients to success but also acknowledges that serendipity has a vital role to play as well.  If you congratulate him on all his success, he’ll quickly point out how there are others a lot more successful.   I guess it’s a testament to how life is relative.

While early on his career moves might have been on autopilot, now in his late 50’s, he has become more reflective as a leader, as an individual.  He’s now at a point in his life where he knows what’s truly important to him.  And ultimately that’s about discovering happiness.  And from my brief hour-long conversation with him, I can see that he’s definitely found it.

 

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