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“There is a before,” says Dany Garcia, “and there is an after.”
Here is before. It was around 1998, and at the time, Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a thriving wrestler in WWE. Garcia is midway through a career with Merrill Lynch. They are newly married, have dinner in a restaurant and discuss Johnson’s way. “I spent a little difficult time turning the page in terms of notoriety,” recalls Johnson, “because I am, by default, more reclusive and silent. And I can’t hide either. “
Let’s be clear: he cannot hide because he is huge. His biceps, yesterday and today, are the size of other men’s heads. People recognized him through airports and created a crowd scene. So, of course, he had fame, but it seemed chaotic and uncontrolled, and didn’t advance his ultimate goal. He didn’t just want to be famous. He wanted to be … bigger than that. More meaningful than that. But how?
Johnson and Garcia were discussing this at their table when another couple approached. People were shaking nervously. “Excuse me,” they said, “but can we have your autograph?”
Johnson was not in the mood. He looked at them slowly, coldly. “Of course,” he said, in the tone of a man who prefers to say no.
The fans regretted. “I’m really sorry,” they said.
“No no No; it’s okay,” said Johnson.
He signed his name on something and handed it over. They went to hide.
Johnson turned to Garcia, and the horror of his action continued. “We immediately identified him immediately,” he says. “I had the opportunity to make this person feel so good, and instead they walked away apologizing and feeling bad, when the reality is, I’m a son of lucky whore that someone cares enough to come and ask for my autograph. “
Johnson and Garcia are analytical people. They like to break things down – see how A leads to B. So they decided to do an exercise. “And the exercise was this: let’s think about what happens when suddenly they eat and look up, and here I am,” he said. “What is their conversation? The husband says,” Oh my God; there is the Rock. I have to go. “” No, don’t go. “” No, I have to do it. “And they start at work, and they come. And it has been very helpful to us. “
There is a before and an after, says Garcia. It was before. And it was after: at this dinner, where Johnson and Garcia were wondering how to build their career, they were suddenly answered. “We have the opportunity to do good for people,” says Johnson. “And it’s a powerful thing to have.”
It’s a powerful thing for anyone – and everyone has it. Each brand has it. Johnson and Garcia knew this intuitively. He once lived what he calls a “circus life,” traveling the country to play wrestling matches at flea markets and used car dealers. The goal was to give people a great show; to make them feel good. Garcia, meanwhile, was the child of Cuban immigrants, with a father who had worked in an auto body shop since the age of 16, and who was still grateful for his new homeland. Together, Johnson and Garcia understood the power of happiness – but in the haze of fame and the anxiety of career building, they had lost sight of it.
Not anymore. They’ve seen it now. And they saw that Johnson was able to do it on a large scale. Because an emotion like this is bigger than any person, no matter how big their biceps are. This is what people want, more than they want a good wrestling show, or a good movie, or something good. They want someone who can offer an experience. They want to be happy.
But there was something that Johnson and Garcia couldn’t have seen in 1998. At that time, they weren’t really equipped to take full advantage of the opportunity. Not yet. To do this, they should completely redefine their partnership. Because no business changes without the leaders also changing.
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Here is an exercise that is worth doing. Ask yourself, What am I deep inside?
We are salespeople, or accountants, or writers, or investors, or plumbers, or actors, or CEOs – but none of this is our core. This is exactly what we are doing. If you define yourself by what you do, you are too easily confused. You could identify yourself as CEO, but your job could go. So you’re not the CEO, which means you’re nothing.
So dig deeper. What motivates you? Why do you yearn for the things you yearn for? What is the passion that, deep down, could fuel a dozen different jobs? I’m going to give you an example. Before, I considered myself a journalist, then a magazine editor, then a magazine editor … and then I realized that, no, these things are fleeting. They come and go. So what is my heart? That’s it: I tell stories in my own voice. I can do it here, in this story, or as the editor of this magazine, but also in a conference or a podcast or anything else where I control the story. It’s my heart; I communicate. Maybe at the base, you build. Or solve problems. Or impact your community.
Today my heart took me to a movie studio in Atlanta, where I tell all of this to Johnson and Garcia. He doesn’t need a lot to say, but: they’re not sitting in restaurants puzzled about Johnson’s career these days. Garcia is his manager and they are business partners who oversee a complex and sprawling set of interests. There are Seven Bucks Companies, a company that produces film, television, marketing and branding projects, which generated $ 1.9 billion in box office revenue in 2019. (As we speak, we are sitting in the production offices of one of these projects, a Netflix Film titled Red Notice, in which Johnson is playing.) There is The Garcia Companies, a holding company that initiates or manages investments in a wide range of brands. (Garcia also manages actor Henry Cavill.) And of course, as the stories about Johnson often point out, he earned the highest-paid actor status in Hollywood.
But I want to go below all that. So the core. I tell them about my own experience as a great elaborate way of asking for theirs. What are you at your heart? The question is difficult enough for one person to answer, but a successful business relationship requires two right answers – two people who are aware enough to know what motivates them and how their main missions are complementary.
They think for a moment. Garcia goes first.
“Concentrate,” she says. “I have an incredible level of intense concentration. And the ability to participate in the full experience that takes place. “She doesn’t just want to tell a story, she says. She wants to tell” the story of history “- to understand the bigger picture. So here’s her heart: she digs deep, while floating above .
Then it’s Johnson’s turn. To respond, he returns to another pivotal moment in his career, when he finally identified his core. In the early 2000s, he went from wrestling to cinema, and the road was bumpy. “The business we were doing was OK,” he says. “But there was more. There was something more, and I had not yet identified what this power foundation was. And then finally I felt, to identify myself, that I realized that it was important not to be narrow. I wanted to be a 10 lane highway approaching the world. “
It’s a good metaphor, so let’s go. Most people aspire to one path. They want to own this path – go fast on this path. But not Johnson. He was driving in one lane, but realized that there were actually nine other lanes that he could not see. He was stuck in a lane. His heart was this: to have all the ways.
How did he plan to do this?
“I felt like I had to do a clean scan,” he says. It was time for a new regime – new publicists, a new director, new everyone, and it had to be led by someone who shared the immensity of his ambition. So in 2008, he chose Garcia.
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It was an interesting choice, as 2008 was also the year of Johnson and Garcia’s divorce. But they were friends from college, stayed friends despite the divorce, and she had always been involved in her career, even though she had risen through the ranks to become vice-president of Merrill Lynch, then founded her own wealth management firming up. . “Dany’s keen sense was great,” says Johnson. “It was a very easy decision at the time.”
Remember the basics: a person is not just the job they do, or even the type of relationship they have. They are defined by something deeper. Johnson knew it. He needed another 10 lane highway thinker.
“We knew we had to get the job done,” says Garcia. “It’s not like that, it won’t work. It’s like, it should work – just do the job.”
Image credit: Nigel Parry
With Garcia on board, it was time to get everyone involved in Hollywood too. It was going to be a little more convincing. So they started with a few meetings.
“We would sit in a conference room,” says Johnson, “and we would have all these high-level studio and agency executives in there, and I would say,” We would like to build the biggest movie star business in the planet. But then we would also like to look at this situation where there are not only a limited number of spokes on the steering wheel. “
By this, Johnson meant that he did not want to limit his brand. It’s a critical mindset. Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author and podcaster, once said to me, “Self-conceptions are powerfully limiting.” If you think of yourself as one thing, you only have access to one set of experiences and one set of potential accomplishments. Johnson wanted endless potential achievements.
“Okay, great,” he remembers the leaders. “How are you going to do that?”
“I’m not sure how we’re going to do it,” he would have said, “but we have faith and we have the capacity to work hard.”
As Johnson remembers that moment today, Garcia steps in. “It’s such a Dwayne Johnson line -” I don’t know how we’re going to get there, but I know we’re going to get there. “”
“You must believe,” said Johnson. “So we’re going to participate in these meetings and I will say,” Here’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be amazing, and we’re going to lead the way. It has never been done before. We are going to work hard. I need everyone to join. “And everyone, of course, thinks” OK, I’m buying it. Even if I don’t see it, we will get there. And I say, “OK, great. I’m going to leave the room. Dany will take over. »»
It’s like literally putting someone between a rock and a hard place. The Rock leaves, and now Garcia has the hard work of execution.
Garcia has a growth philosophy: don’t be the wrong type of disruptor. It is good to challenge the way business is done, but it is not good to make abrupt, unearned changes. Richard Branson doesn’t suddenly appear on Broadway, and McDonald’s doesn’t release an aged steak at $ 75. If a person or a company wishes to develop in a new direction, Garcia thinks that it must do it deliberately, step by step, to accompany its customers and partners.
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This meant that Johnson could not go from one to ten lanes of a highway at a time. They had to trace a route, route by route. And the most logical first step was to take more control over the movies he was in. “So the idea of a production company was very natural,” she says. But rather than just launching a production company and insisting on control, Garcia stayed true to his philosophy. “We always did the work first to validate the credit that reached us,” she says.
In Hollywood terms, this is what it means. When a star signs for a movie, she usually sends out a few pages of notes focused only on herself – the lines she would like to improve, the scenes she would like to change, the ways she could be more beautiful and cool. . But Garcia decided to think bigger. She assembled a team and, with Johnson, built a production company called Seven Bucks (named a moment early in Johnson’s life, before the fight, when he was kicked out of the Canadian Football League and had that seven dollars in my pocket). Then, even if Seven Bucks didn’t actually produce any of Johnson’s movies, the company just started acting the way it did.
That meant carefully combing the entire film, looking for opportunities to enhance the role of each actor – not just that of Johnson. “So how can we improve the other characters?” says Hiram Garcia, Dany Garcia’s brother and an old friend of Johnson, who is production president of the television and movie channel for Seven Bucks. “What can we do thematically to make the whole film better?” Their first big attempt on this was on Journey 2, where they focused a lot on helping Johnson’s partner Josh Hutcherson. Then they joined the studio’s marketing meetings, which the team of an actor rarely does.
“We were comfortable knowing that right now we’re going to work,” said Johnson. “You may not be giving us credit now, but we will eventually become powerful producers in this sector.”
Over time, the studios have given them credit. And started paying them. And Seven Bucks would continue to produce all of Johnson’s work, from Jumanji at the HBO show Ballers, as well as many projects in which he does not play at all.
So it was another way. “And then,” said Garcia, “social media has arrived.”
Image credit: Nigel Parry
Social media is a business based on irony. It is driven by authenticity – when an Instagram or Twitter feed looks like the product of a person’s hands and eyes. But as any social media influencer will tell you, “authenticity” doesn’t happen by accident. It is the product of strategy. The messages are fabricated and examined. The data are reviewed; the learnings are extracted. Authenticity is what happens when the will meets persistence.
Johnson moved on, developing an Instagram account of 173 million people. His colleagues always describe this in personal terms. “Dwayne sees it as a personal relationship that he has every day,” says Garcia. “He always gives his fans a special place in his everyday life,” said Maya Lasry, director of marketing at Seven Bucks Companies.
But entrepreneurs need to know: effective social media requires more than that. And if you look closely at @therock on Instagram, you can see signs of it. The “front row seat of his everyday life” is beautifully photographed and often videotaped; it is a financial commitment to a traveling team whose cameras are trained on it. (During the entrepreneur’s photo shoot and interview with Johnson and Garcia, for example, their team videotaped the whole process for later use on his social feed. Most of the cover stories don’t. ) He regularly posts his extravagant “cheat meal” – awesome indulgent food that breaks with his strict sports regime – and that’s what social media managers might call a franchise, or a repeatable concept built around what gets a great response from the audience. Everyone with a personal brand should develop their own franchises.
There is something else you will see on his social networks: items for sale. Everything Johnson and Garcia have built or invested – from movies to brand partnerships to a tequila called Teremana they just launched and also brought to the Entrepreneur photo shoot – makes careful appearances. Here, Lasry, the CMO, will offer take-out food to other entrepreneurs: “One of the biggest lessons we have found is that the more the audience sees how involved they really are [Johnson] is – from production throughout the marketing campaign – they’re so much more interested. “This information helps inform these publications. It is not enough to just show a product and say it is on sale. No – you take the audience there and make them feel part of the process. Johnson tastes tequila . He refines tequila. He thinks of tequila. He works on tequila. And then, in the end, he doesn’t really need to sell it. The public has already signed up. (Ditto for the story you read on: Johnson posted a picture of our interview a month before it hit the newsstands – for ContractorIt is a great surprise and a great pleasure.)
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This is a valuable formula because the end result – the sales – has helped them to continue expanding into other lanes of their highway. And that’s what they started to do once they established their property in Hollywood.
“We have a conversation:” Take a look at our story. It’s the amount of goods people have traded with Dwayne, ”says Garcia. “Translate that to” This is why we should be partnering with Apple “or” This is why Project Rock is great “. You know, you can start giving examples and case studies. People want to do a act of faith, but we help them make an act of faith. ”
Some of these projects seemed obvious – like, for example, associating Johnson with well-being or entertainment brands. There is, for example, Project Rock; it’s a brand partnership with Under Armor. In October, they launch Athleticon, a two-day fitness event in Atlanta. They also invested in the water distribution company Voss and in the social media ticketing platform Atom Tickets. And there are more. But you don’t build a 10-lane highway just by doing what you expect. These are just starting points – the places from which Garcia can execute his philosophy of deliberate disruption, step by step, bringing the audience with you.
This is how they ended up investing and advising a quirky ice cream company based in Portland, Oregon, called Salt & Straw.
“I wasn’t looking for that at all,” said Kim Malek, co-founder and CEO of Salt & Straw. “It was completely coincidental.”
Malek’s friend had worked with Garcia and offered to connect them. Malek hoped that Garcia could become a Salt & Straw advisor, and possibly even a member of the board. Some emails turned into a meeting in Los Angeles, which was supposed to last 45 minutes, but lasted so long that Malek missed his flight. The two companies have found common ground. They both see themselves as storytellers – Seven Bucks with its myriad of entertainment and marketing projects, and Salt & Straw in the way it develops flavors. For example, he recently had a symphonic piece in his kitchen and performed ice music. And to highlight the amount of food waste that occurs in America, he already made a menu out of ingredients that were going to be thrown away.
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“I think they were delighted with the opportunity to move into other areas that may not have been as obvious, outside of the entertainment industry,” said Malek. Soon they thought about all kinds of projects, which ultimately led to Johnson and Garcia investing in the company, and Salt & Straw released a Johnson-themed “Dwanta Claus” flavor series with some of the proceeds going to the Make-A -Wish Foundation.
The ice cream sold in two days and took advantage of the salt and straw in ways that Malek could not have anticipated. While she searches for locations for new stores, for example, the owners return her calls more quickly. Although Dwanta Claus has let some people scratch their heads: Johnson, the very image of fitness, promoting ice cream? But Malek understood this.
“I just think of the power of their appeal to everyone – they are a unifying force in the world,” she said of Johnson and Garcia. “We need it. And if you think about it, ice cream is also that. “
It sounds exactly like what Johnson and Garcia had years ago – that their big opportunity was not just to make movies or sell products. It was to make people feel good. And Salt & Straw confirmed it.
Image credit: Nigel Parry
What is the difference between an ambitious company and a company that has achieved many of its ambitions? There is obviously scale: more money, more work, more people. There is also risk tolerance. You might think that a larger organization has more to lose, but Garcia sees it differently. “We were actually very reluctant to take risks” at the start, says Garcia. “We didn’t have this audience understanding. But as you get more mature, it’s different. You can actually take bigger risks, because everyone has an idea of who that person is, and therefore the extensions make more sense. “
By “individual” she means Johnson, but the same can be said of any organization. Once customers understand and love a brand, they follow it too.
It may seem like common sense. But what Garcia says goes against the natural gravity of most businesses. Maxwell Wessel, director of innovation for SAP, once wrote in Harvard Business Review: “Big companies are really bad at innovation because they are designed to be bad at innovation.” Once a business succeeds, he explains, it learns to do this thing as effectively as possible. He stops discovering new things and becomes an expert in himself. That’s when he stops taking risks … that’s when a smaller, more agile competitor can come and destroy him. Blockbuster against Netflix. Sears versus Walmart (against Amazon!). It’s an old story.
It can also happen with a leader. A leader can be amazing at overseeing a phase of a business – the start-up phase, the clean-up phase, the first phase of growth. They are shaping themselves as the good leader at the moment, and they serve him perfectly. But when society enters a new phase and needs it to be a new type of leader, it cannot adapt. Therefore, great sustainable leaders can change with their business. They are a new type of leader at every stage.
So what does it look like for Johnson and Garcia, when Seven Bucks and The Garcia Companies have increasingly used this 10-lane highway? How did they become different leaders from the way they started?
“Oh, that’s good,” said Johnson, when I ask the question. Then he turns to Garcia.
“Do you want to take this?” They laugh.
But Garcia has a ready answer. “What we did this year, we didn’t do last year,” she says. “We are not attached to the process. We are only attached to the result. “
Garcia’s process has changed a lot over the years. She was involved in every conversation and all the logistics, she says. But this is not what their businesses need now. “So I became a different type of producer,” she says. “Now it’s” How do all these companies work together? How do they relate to what’s going on in the global economy? How does this relate to the global audience it now represents? Who is he today after each film? And how does it relate? »»
Johnson has a similar perspective. Leadership, for him, involves asking lots of questions – and constantly forcing yourself to see things fresh. “I felt my ability and my leadership qualities grow,” he said, “but they couldn’t have grown up without the ability to go, ‘OK, still think it’s my first day of school , my first day at work and I don’t know shit. “
Garcia describes Johnson as “the deliverable” – he is both a product creator and a product himself. This places him in a unique leadership position. And Johnson agrees: he has to live up to everyone’s expectations. He must be the hardest worker.
“For me, what really helped was just to lead by example – really to lead by example and always work,” he says. “And if we fail, that’s OK; we fail. But I’m still going to do the job. These guys will tell you – you know, we’re going to fly to China, we’ll land in Beijing at 4 a.m., we We’ll go straight to the hotel, then we’ll go to the gym, and then we’ll be going to start our day. And it’s a long day, right? But I’m here with you. Yes, we’re going to do it together. “
These answers should seem familiar to you.
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At the beginning of my conversation with Johnson and Garcia, we talked about our nuclei: what is the thing that feeds us? The thing we know how to do best? Garcia said you had to “engage in the full experience” – to dig deep and see the big picture. Johnson said it was “a 10 lane highway approaching the world”. They understood these things years ago, when Johnson was just a guy puzzled by his fame. Now their place in the world is very different. Their lives are defined by billion dollar transactions. But when I asked how they evolved as leaders, they reformulated a version of their cores: Garcia digs deep and rises above. Johnson sees huge opportunities and is fully committed to having them.
This is what happens when you have a well-defined nucleus and you understand exactly how it intertwines with that of your partner. Many things will change after years of experience and billions of dollars, but the core will not change. It can’t.
“Because the process is just a cycle,” says Johnson.
“We have to refine; he has to improve, ”says Garcia.
“Refinement is so critical,” says Johnson.
But the starting point is everything.