Mark Tercek is the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental organization. He is a former Managing Director and Partner at Goldman Sachs and is the author of the bestselling book Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • We all have an inner environmentalist inside of us.
  • His executive coach taught him some valuable lessons early on including how to listen better and how to not sweat out the details.
  • In the nonprofit world, he had to learn how to understand employees’ psychic income and use that as motivation to drive behavior.
  • Saving nature isn’t just the morally right thing to do, it’s also the smartest investment we can make.
  • Learn how he pivoted his 4,000 employee organization from pure land conservation toward embracing climate change as a top priority.
  • “Excellence is matching ambition with a good dose of reality.”
  • We all have a tendency to overestimate risks in our lives. The returns are greater than perceived and the risks less that perceived.  More of us should just go for it.

Bill Browder is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital, which was the largest investor in Russia for a number of years.  More recently he has been spearheading a campaign to expose Russia’s corruption and human rights abuses. His efforts led to the passing of the Magnitsky Act in 2012.  He is the author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn how he became the largest investor in Russia and one of the top performing investment funds in the world.
  • If you follow your passion before there’s any real business opportunity, the profits will eventually follow.
  • He had an epiphany one day that if his grandfather was once the biggest communist in America, Bill would become the biggest capitalist in Eastern Europe.
  • Hear about the trade of the century that would help propel his fund from $100 million to over $4 billion.
  • Learn how the Russian police stole his corporation and then committed the biggest tax refund fraud in the history of Russia.
  • Learn how he sought justice for his friend Segey Magnitsky, who was tortured and murdered by the Russians, through the passage of the Magnitsky Act.
  • “Excellence is about rolling up your sleeves, putting in the time and constantly working at getting better in yourself at every step of the way.”

Dave Perkins is the Founder and former CEO of High West Distillery, a craft whiskey producer.  He sold the company in 2016 after 12 years to Constellation Brands for $160 million.  He had a successful career in biotech marketing prior to that.  He lives in Park City, Utah.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

 

  • Learn how his biotech background prepared him for building a whiskey business from scratch.
  • He moved to Utah to start the company despite the state’s tight liquor laws.
  • He chose to become a distiller, not just a blender, despite the much larger investment and longer waiting period.
  • Learn how good contingency planning can help mitigate risk in a startup.
  • In addition to hard work, good planning and a distinctive product, serendipity played a key role in his success.
  • Excellence is taking pride in your work and giving it your best.

Steve has been CEO of the Atlanta Hawks since 2014. After just his first year with the team, the Hawks led the league in annual attendance gains and set single-season franchise records for retail sales, sellouts and season ticket memberships.  Prior to joining the Hawks, Steve was the President of Turner Entertainment Networks where he oversaw the programming, marketing and strategy for TBS, TNT and several other prominent networks. Prior to Turner, he was at Coke where he served in several capacities, most recently as the Vice President of Sports and Entertainment marketing.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • If you’re selling a beverage for more per gallon than gasoline, you better infuse some magic.
  • Hear the pitch that allowed Turner to land Conan O’Brien.
  • He built TBS and TNT into mega brands in a world where brands were far and few between.
  • How he quickly turned around a drying franchise with the Hawks.
  • Two target markets – millennials and multiculturals – which were largely ignored by other sports teams became his most valuable audience.
  • Learn how to evolve a brand from awareness to likeability and “cravability”.
  • Creative ideas are his currency in the corporate world.

 

Some marketers have tons of great ideas but no ability to see the bigger picture. Other marketers are brilliant strategists but just can’t generate any novel ideas.  It is a rare marketing genius that can not only think way outside the box with an entrepreneurial  mindset but also tie those back to corporate strategy in a way that allows a company to achieve monumental leaps in brand recognition and corporate success.  That in a nutshell is the brilliance of Steve Koonin.

At Coca-Cola, he learned pretty quickly that if you’re going to offer a product with nothing more than syrup, sugar and water at a higher price than gasoline, you better infuse some magic in your marketing.  And did he ever.  Remember those dancing polar bears?  That’s Steve’s work.  Remember the Always Coca-Cola campaign?  Steve again.  Those are just two of many award winning campaigns he orchestrated that pushed the boundaries of Coke’s brand both within the U.S. and around the world.

It was that consumer packaged goods experience he gained at one of the world’s greatest marketers that allowed him to also flourish at Turner.  Back when he first joined, the cable networks which had any brand identity were mostly niche players (think Comedy Central, Animal Planet, Travel Channel).  The large networks were a mishmash of programming that had no rhyme or reason other than trying to generate large audiences.  Steve knew that the only chance to not just survive but to thrive in that industry was to take a risk and focus TNT and TBS exclusively on one genre (drama and comedy respectively).  That repositioning along with creating and acquiring exceptional content led to astronomical growth.  By the time he was done, TNT and TBS was generating more profits than all the major networks combined.

The remarkable turnaround he led at Turner might only be surpassed by the even more spectacular one he’s achieved at the Hawks.  The Hawks were a dying franchise when he signed on as the new CEO.  There was no excitement, no energy, no magic.   I wouldn’t merely say the Hawks were a weak brand.  It would be more accurate to describe the team as not having any brand.  But all that changed with Steve marketing magic.

So how does one turn around a dying franchise in record speed?  You start with knowing who your audience is.  The Hawks, along with most other professional NBA sports franchises, had mostly catered to upper middle class whites since that’s who held the disposable income.  But Steve and his team saw that there were two important demographics who love sports had been largely ignored in the past– millennials and muti-culturals.  So those became the two primary audiences to which most of the marketing would be directed going forward.

Millennials are more wired than any other generation so social media because the primary channel through which to reach them.  The engagement they’ve created with their social media campaigns has been astounding.  The Hawks are now consistently on Google’s list of the 10 most searched sports teams (the only NBA teams higher were Golden State and Cleveland) and the number 1 NBA team to follow on Twitter.   But it’s not just about reaching them.  You have to create “cravability” as Steve puts it.  That means coming up with fun, innovative, digitally-oriented programming that speaks to them in their own unique voice.  “Swipe Right Night” (an obvious play on Tinder) and “I’m having a secret love affair with the Hawks” (ala Ashley Madison) are just two of many standout examples.

Steve is full on sage advice.  The key to leadership?  Build the right environment and then get out of the way.  The key to hiring?  Focus on chemistry.  Skills can always be taught.  But what was likely the wisest and most heartfelt advice of all?  The advice he’d give to himself if he could go back in time.  Enjoy the moments more. You just never know when it’s all going to end.  My advice for Steve: heed your own advice and enjoy the moments more.  After a brilliant career spread across decades, you’ve more than earned the right.

 

Michael Coles is a successful entrepreneur, investor, advisor and community leader.  He co-founded The Great American Cookie Company and grew it into the largest franchisor of cookie stores with 350 locations and sales of over $100 million when he sold the company.  He was also the CEO of Caribou Coffee which became a publicly traded company.  He is a big supporter of Kennesaw State University, whose business program is fittingly named the Michael J Coles College of Business.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • How he turned $8,000 into a $100 million cookie empire.
  • One minor detail almost derailed his entire business on opening day.
  • How a near fatal motorcycle accident inspired him to set a transcontinental bicycle record.
  • “If it ain’t broke, you haven’t looked hard enough.”
  • It’s not about being the biggest but being the best.
  • “The biggest handicaps we face are the limitations we place on our vision and our imagination.”
  • Real learning comes from understanding our personal responsibility with setbacks instead of blaming others

 

There are two levels of entrepreneurialism for kids.  The one that 99% of kids fall into which is the “go hustle and make a buck” kind.  Delivering papers on a route, raking leaves, etc.  Then there’s the 1% who have the vision and hustle to go to the next level of securing all the contracts with the homes in the neighborhood and then hiring all the other kids to service those homes.  That’s Michael Coles for you. His entrepreneurial brilliance shone through at a very young age.  Michael realized the real money wasn’t in raking leaves or shoveling snow.  It was managing the leave rakers and snow shovelers.  It wasn’t hard to see how the future career of Michael Coles would unfold.

He never set out to build a cookie empire.  His goal when he opened his first cookie store was a modest one – simply to bring in some extra income while trying to figure out his next career move.   But there was one little problem.  Michael was way too savvy of an entrepreneur and the industry was way too stagnant for him to settle for just a little extra income.  While most the cookie store owners operated as bakers, Michael saw this opportunity through the lens of a retailer.  He expanded the merchandise offerings, added promotions, introduced cross-selling and upselling and started sampling.  These days such commonplace retailing strategies are straight out of the merchandising 101 playbook but not back in the 70’s and 80’s and not in the cookie business.  Michael reinvented the way bakery products were marketed and sold.

While his vision and tenacity allowed him to persevere in the end and build a thriving business, like with any good story, he had his fair share of setbacks along the way.  The biggest one was a near-fatal motorcycle accident just a few weeks into starting the company.  He was lucky to be alive but was told that we would never walk again unaided.  For most people, such a fire prognosis often becomes a self-fulfilling one and they’ll be content to lead the rest of their lives as a cripple.  But not Michael.  He was so driven to prove the doctors wrong that he not only fully recovered but actually increased his exercise regimen from before the accident.  He picked up a bicycle, which he hadn’t done since he was a kid, and started riding.  And riding.  And riding.  He rode across the state of Georgia and didn’t stop peddling until he reached San Diego.  He ended up setting a new transcontinental bike record which would be broken just a few years later… by Michael once again.

As many endurance athletes can attest to, the benefits of exercise usually spill over into other parts of one’s life. Such was the case with Michael.  He came back from record-setting rides refreshed and hungrier than ever.  He was suddenly able to see the business in an entirely new light.  Sure, the business was doing fine.  It was profitable and growing.  But fine wasn’t good enough.  The market was evolving, the competition was increasing but The Great American Cookie Company more or less stayed the same.  So he reengineered the business from the ground up – new recipes, a modernized store design and better training just to name a few areas.  It wasn’t about being the biggest but the best.  These changes allowed him to scale the business to over $100 million in revenue and the rest, as they say, is cookie history.

While Hollywood couldn’t write a better script than Michael’s wild success in the cookie business, not every story in his life would have such a Hollywood ending.  He took over the helm of Caribou Coffee but while he doubled the size of the business and took the company public, the stock took a tumble.  Running a public company with the constant pressure of meeting quarterly expectations was not a great experience.  And his bids for the U.S. House and Senate would not prove successful.  But he’s the first to tell you that we learn more from our setbacks than we do from our successes.  Real learning comes from understanding our personal responsibility with such setbacks as opposed to blaming others.

Michael is one of a kind.  He’s more than earned the right to pack it in and enjoy the good life.  But he’s still very active sitting on Boards, mentoring first time entrepreneurs and overseeing multiple philanthropic efforts.  He’s as passionate today about giving back as he was about business success over the course of his illustrious career.  He’s made his mark in many areas but he’ll forever be known as the Cookie King.

Raj Raghunathan is a Professor of Marketing at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas.  He has also become an expert in the field of happiness.  He is the author of the book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy.  He teaches an MBA course on happiness as well as a class on the online learning platform Coursera entitled: A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment.  Over 170,000 students have taken the course and it’s consistently ranked as one of the top ten courses (amongst thousands of others).

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?
  • Why do we devalue happiness even though we know how important it is?
  • How fear of failure often prevents us from trying things we know would make us happier.
  • How having wealth and status and success can make us happy, yet the pursuit of those things can make us miserable.
  • Once you stop comparing yourself to others and just focus on immersing yourself in your work (or activity), you’ll actually increase your likelihood of success.
  • How we can rewire ourselves to increase our level of happiness.

 

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?  This counterintuitive philosophical question is the aptly named title of Raj’s quintessential book on happiness.  Generally speaking, smart and successful people are pretty good at setting goals and achieving them.  So one would think that if they are able to set goals around wealth and success, they could just as easily set goals around happiness.  But more often than not, they don’t.

So why exactly do we devalue happiness?  Why is it that despite knowing intuitively how important happiness is, we rarely prioritize it?  One reason is what Raj refers to as “Medium Maximization”.  That is, we focus on the means to the end (i.e. money, status) and not the end itself (happiness).  Since we think the money and success will naturally lead to happiness, we end up concentrating all our efforts on the money and success while forgetting about the very reason we were wanting it to begin with.  While the money and success may boost happiness levels initially, those feelings quickly subside in which case we need even greater levels of wealth and power to maintain those levels.  It’s a vicious cycle that repeats itself over and over.

We also have a difficult time articulating what happiness means to us.  And if we can’t visualize the goal in concrete terms, we don’t prioritize it.  So we end up prioritizing those things which are easier to measure (and easier to control) such as money and accomplishments.

Raj also points out that as humans, it’s in our DNA to seek superiority.  In fact, studies show that higher status does indeed enhance the quality of our lives and our happiness levels.  Yet, paradoxically, the actual pursuit of that higher status can backfire and cause us misery.  Tethering your happiness on being superior to others is ill advised.  Instead, if you focus solely on immersing yourself in your work (or hobby or activity), you’re much more likely to enjoy yourself and actually end up being more successful as well.  This “immersion” is what’s commonly known in positive psychology circles as “flow”.

So while we may have a better understanding intellectually why happiness is so elusive, how do we reverse course and become happier people?  Raj offers a few action items:

  • Do the things on a day to day basis that are meaningful and enjoyable. It doesn’t have to be work-related (although that’s ideal).  It can be tennis or guitar or gardening.  Anything that brings you joy.
  • Spend more time on personal relationships. Don’t take your friends and family for granted.  Your interactions with the people you care about in your life are as important as anything else.
  • Build habits that give an internal sense of wellness (i.e. exercise, meditation). Being physically and mentally healthy are essential ingredients to happiness.

As Raj reminds us of the cliché we all know too well, days and weeks will become months and years and next thing you know, you’ll be 70 and regretting your life.  So don’t wait another year or even another day.  Start today.  Take baby steps if you need to.  But take action.  Do something.  Anything.  After all, this is your life.  You deserve to be happy.

Andrew Skurka is an accomplished adventure athlete, known for his solo ultra-long-distance backpacking trips.  In total he has traveled by foot, ski and raft over 30,000 miles.  He has been named “Adventurer of the year” by Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure and “Person of the year” by Backpacker magazine.  And he’s also an ultra-runner with top 3 finishes in a couple of the big 100 mile races.

 

Some interesting insights from this episode:

  • Learn about his Alaska/Yukon hike which covered over 4,700 miles in the frigid temps of the Alaskan backcountry without using any trails or guidebooks.
  • How he learned to follow his heart and pursue happiness despite all the pressure from family and friends.
  • “Fun” is when you’re pushing yourself to the limit, both physically and mentally.
  • It’s not just about the destination but the journey that matters.
  • The key to accomplishing something incredibly challenging is to simply start small and figure things out one step at a time.
  • How he feels so strongly about his expeditions that he’s willing to risk his life.
  • The steps he took to turn his passion into a full time career.

 

You’ve likely heard of the Appalachian Trail (commonly called the A.T.), a 2,200 mile trail stretching from Georgia to Maine.  It’s considered the granddaddy of long distance trails and quite an impressive feat if you can hike the entire thing.  Andrew knocked that one off just for fun one summer during college.  And he loved it.  It was at that moment that he knew he was hooked.

But always seeking a greater challenge to push the envelope, he later hiked a 7,800 mile Sea to Sea trail connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the northern United States.  That’s the equivalent of doing the entire A.T. three times over and then throwing on another 1,200 miles for good measure.  What’s even more amazing is that this incredible accomplishment wasn’t the culmination of a long hiking career, but rather, just the beginning of it.

Never wanting to stay too long in his comfort zone, he would continue to discover and conquer even bigger challenges. When marked trails became too boring, he bushwhacked his way in the untouched backcountry.  When the weather became too comfortable, he moved his expeditions to regions with sub-zero temperatures.  And when hiking wasn’t enough, he added skiing and rafting to the mix.

You might be wondering how in the world someone can balance these multi-month expeditions with a career.  The answer is simple.  These adventures are his career.  He’s figured out how to monetize his passion and feels anyone can do the same if you’re entrepreneurial and resourceful enough.

It was in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains over the summer during college when he was first exposed to people who were living life much more spontaneously and pursuing happiness above everything else.  Life was about climbing mountains and running rapids, not about pursuing careers and accumulating wealth.  That was when he had his first aha moment.  That’s when the tired cliché “life is short” came into sharp focus.

So instead of caving into the peer pressure and following the herd, he decided to follow his heart.  And he’s been following it ever since.  Have you ever felt such joy and pleasure about something that you’d be willing to risk your life for it?  Very few of us have.  Andrew Skurka has.

Many moons ago I spent the summer working in Porto, Portugal.  At the time, the country was far less developed than the rest of Western Europe.  Portugal was lightyears behind the economies and hustle and…