Lessons From The Top

Three of 11 Titans of the B.E. 100s share their trials and triumphs on the climb up

of Ebony that contained a four-page article on the explorer. In response, not only did McDonald place Zenith ads in Ebony, he proceeded to call the chairmen of such companies as the Armour Food Co., Swift Packing Co. and Elgin Watch Co.-while Johnson sat in the room-and advised them to do the same.

After two years of being on life support, Ebony and JPC were out of intensive care. In 1948, the magazine became profitable as it gained such major advertisers as PepsiCo, Colgate, Beechnut and Seagram. While JPC strengthened its revenue base, Johnson increased his knowledge of the magazine publishing business. He even persuaded executives of Time Inc., the largest magazine publisher in
the country, to teach him and his staff more about the advertising and circulation process.

Time Inc. sharing proprietary secrets? Sure, because they didn’t consider Ebony or this black upstart to be competition. If they had only known….

Russell Simmons
Rush Communications
Russell Simmons is a perpetual B-Boy. At 41, he still wears baseball caps and sneakers to business meetings. The bald, baggy-jeans-wearing CEO of Rush Communications has taken hip-hop’s music and style, and crafted a diversified media conglomerate that includes a record company, four music publishing subsidiaries, a motion picture production company, a fashion house, a television division and an advertising agency. Simmons stitched
together these entities-mostly through joint ventures-to create “dynamic and urban-based entertainment that captures the energy of the American youth culture.” Methodically, he has catapulted his company ahead by consistently following three main strategies: finding mentors in new industries, developing a strong network of contacts and the best talent possible, and establishing partnerships to expand his business.

In the 1980s, Simmons found his first mentor at one of his concerts: Roger Ford, a record producer who scouted for talent. Simmons peppered him with questions about the industry. Ford shared the basic principles of artist management. Among them, find a distinctive trait to make artists marketable, and when booking an act, hire an entertainment attorney to review the contracts.
“He taught me that I should have a full understanding of any business before I pursue it. Every time I go into a new venture, I find a rabbi who has the business acumen to help me understand the mechanics of that industry, the costs involved in developing a product and what you need to do in order to make a profit.”

In 1984, Simmons was in the process of developing his own music label when he got the brainstorm of teaming with Rick Rubin, a rich white college student from Long Island and a huge fan of rap music. Rubin had started his own record label, Def Jam (which, in street parlance, means “cool music”), and operated it out of his dorm room at New York University. The two clicked. Russell had the acts and Rubin had a company that was already up and running. They became partners, investing $2,500 apiece. Simmons’ mentor, Ford, helped them produce the records.

Selling more than 50,000 records, Kurtis Blow’s single (“Christmas Rap”) was a hit. It

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