Interview with Peter Horan, Founder, Horan MediaTech Advisors
How does a guy who was kicked out of high school for his parents bad behavior become CEO and independent director, President and COO of Answers Corp, CEO of IAC Media and Advertising, CEO of about.com, CEO of allbusiness.com and more? Listen in and find out.
Learn more about Peter Horan at HoranMediaTech.com.
Julie: 00:00 Today I have the pleasure of being here in the studio with Peter Haran. Peter is an investor, operator, and advisor with a history of building successful media and internet businesses. He's played a role in six major revolutions in media and technology, including home video games, personal computers, cell phones, Windows computing, internet, and mobile computing. Clearly I'm reading this, but what's amazing is-
Peter Haran: 00:29 What's amazing is that I can be that old and still walk.
Julie: 00:32 No! That you look so young and it's like, a time span-
Peter Haran: 00:35 That's why this is a podcast and not a video.
Julie: 00:36 Oh my gosh, no. As CEO and independent director, he's been part of nine, that's amazing, profitable exits in the last 15 years alone, totaling approximately two billion dollars in value, and three billion dollars in public market value creation. He's got a background, it's nothing short of extraordinary. President and COO of Answers Corp, CEO of IAC Media and Advertising, CEO of about.com, CEO of allbusiness.com. It's a litany. CEO of Good Mail Systems, and CEO of DevX. He's currently on the board of directors of Lending Tree, business.com, Spirited Media, Topics, Adzerk, and Outdoor Project. I'm tired just re... I can't imagine. And he went fly fishing today, and he's still is successful doing all these other boards. He's an active outdoorsman and environmentalist, and is active in the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Glen Canyon Institute. Welcome, what a pleasure to have you here.
Peter Haran: 01:35 Great to be here, Julie, thank you.
Julie: 01:39 Thank you. As we talked a bit about earlier... We could have hours and hours of podcast about your trajectory, what you've seen, and trends in digital. I was more curious about the story of you, and some of those moments in your life that maybe drew you to the path that you took. Then how things maybe shifted from where you thought you'd be? The first thing of course is, I like to start with the childhood, and I know I'm setting the deck a little bit, because I was able to learn about the story of the thumbs. Will you share the story of the thumbs, and a bit of your childhood, and your dad?
Peter Haran: 02:23 Sure. When I was maybe ten years old, my dad decided he wanted to start businesses. Go from being a successful sales guy, to a serially unsuccessful entrepreneur. There was always some harebrained scheme of something he was going to do which was going to make us rich, never did. One of the qualities of entrepreneurs is a lot of them become entrepreneurs because they can't work for anybody else. I think that's probably what motivated my dad more than anything, is he just didn't take direction well. We started doing everything from Las Vegas dice games, frames for the Declaration of Independence...
Julie: 03:01 Frames for the Declaration of Independence?
Peter Haran: 03:03 Yes, yes. He got this idea we could... Anything that involved sawing and nailing wood together. Telephones in wooden boxes. Like I said, Las Vegas dice games, framed copies of the Declaration of Independence. What this meant, though, is when my brother and I were maybe 15, 16, we're basically driving across the border to Tijuana and picking up parts. We're driving around all night. Tijuana was a better place all those years ago.
Julie: 03:34 Where were you living, though?
Peter Haran: 03:34 In L.A.
Julie: 03:36 You were in L.A.?
Peter Haran: 03:37 Yeah.
Julie: 03:37 Okay.
Peter Haran: 03:37 We'd get in the car. So we had all of these sketchy jobs, but the backward bending thumbs, yes. Julie is staring at my thumbs that bend backwards at 90 degree angles. Because a lot of this, we were the cheap, manual child labor. We were sanding, steel wooling, snapping hundreds of thousands of cheap plastic snaps on [inaudible 00:04:02] extraction kits. Yes, now my thumbs bend at natural angles because of all of the manual labor I was doing when I was 12, 13, 14 years old.
Julie: 04:10 Oh my gosh. Did you end up with a bunch of calluses or something?
Peter Haran: 04:14 Yeah, yeah, from pressing down repeatedly hundreds of thousands of times.
Julie: 04:17 That's crazy.
Peter Haran: 04:18 Eventually your thumbs adapt and bend backwards.
Julie: 04:20 That's crazy. Interesting. When you look back on your childhood... We talked a little bit about, what are those holy shit moments in life that happen, that maybe changed the trajectory of your career, but maybe even more importantly your life, and your chosen family? We talked a little bit about your dad and some of what you learned from him, and I think you told me about your "Irish twin" and how the two of you saw-
Peter Haran: 04:49 For people who don't understand Irish twins, I have a brother Tom who was literally born in the same year. I'm born in February, he's born in December in the same year.
Julie: 04:55 Right, it's something about an Irish twin is within 12 months of each other, right?
Peter Haran: 04:58 Yes, yeah, yeah. And these higher art form Irish twin is literally within the same calendar year. So we're both born in 1955.
Julie: 05:06 Wow! What months?
Peter Haran: 05:09 I was born in February, he was born in December.
Julie: 05:11 Wow. So it's really tight. The two of you-
Peter Haran: 05:15 Don't dwell on this, this is an unhappy-
Julie: 05:17 No, no, no, but the two of you were about to see your dad going through life in these entrepreneurial endeavors, if you will, without any success. How did that change your trajectory, or your thinking about-
Peter Haran: 05:32 There's another story, which I don't think we talked about before, which was, I'm the only person I know who was thrown out of high school for parental bad behavior.
Julie: 05:40 Oh my god, you were thrown out of high school?
Peter Haran: 05:43 Yes. Actually, my parents were thrown out of high school, I was just the collateral damage. Because it was always economically sketchy, my parents would say, "Look, if you want to go to a good college, you got to go to a good high school, to go to a good high school, you got to get a scholarship." This one high school they had targeted, I couldn't just win one scholarship, which was a history scholarship. I had to win the history and the general excellence, because we didn't get the results of the one test. What I did, I won a four year scholarship to this good prep school in L.A. They were such a pain in the butt, that after two years, the school threw us out.
Julie: 06:14 Oh my gosh! Were they the ultimate helicopter parents before that was a thing?
Peter Haran: 06:19 No, it wasn't even helicopter, it wasn't like they were butting into my education. They just wanted to butt into the administration of the school and everything else.
Julie: 06:26 Help them-
Peter Haran: 06:27 Yes.
Julie: 06:28 Administratively helicoperting.
Peter Haran: 06:29 This is way off topic, I think, but, sophomore year I'm playing junior varsity basketball, and my father and his friend start heckling our coach. Normally you heckle the other team's coach, but my father and his friend were so loud, they basically chased our coach out of the gym. [inaudible 00:06:51] says "What, you think you could do a better job?" They said, "Yeah, get the hell out of here!" He storms off, they don't miss a beat. They walk down, and start coaching the basketball game. These are not the things that endear you to school administrations.
Julie: 07:06 Nor probably give you, as a student, the best warm, fuzzy feeling about... I can imagine my son being like, "Oh my god, mom, please, stop." Was it-
Peter Haran: 07:16 Put a towel over your head and go, "I just want to melt into the seat."
Julie: 07:21 It is a little bit on topic-
Peter Haran: 07:23 It is, it is.
Julie: 07:23 Appropriate for what we're saying, because you had a lot of these life experiences with your family, your dad especially. That sort of-
Peter Haran: 07:29 Dad and Mom both. It was one of those things where, I want to say somewhere in our early teens, my brother and I self-emancipated. We realized our parents were flaky and unreliable, and any advice they gave us was probably going to be bad. We said, "Okay, we got to basically raise ourselves and make our decisions." Which is what we ultimately did.
Julie: 07:51 You did that and actually, more than making your own decisions, was this commitment. Your story has a thread to me of this commitment to industry and topic. Without redoing your resume, you have some really fascinating stories that you've told me about. Pong, and-
Peter Haran: 08:12 The connection, rather than just complaining about my misspent childhood, is that, a lot of people, they have a happy childhood, and they sort of hold on to it. "Oh, my childhood ought to be like this. Happy family, happy house, happy country club," yadda yadda. Being raised in a chaotic environment, you sort of have nothing to go back to. There's nothing to be nostalgic about, nothing to go, "Oh boy, those halcyon days when I was a child." No.
In a sense, you wake you every day, and you say, "I have to invent myself, invent my future. And I've got to do it from scratch." To really fast forward to the "so what?" What's interesting is if you look at all the companies that have been blindsided by innovation in the last 30 years, it's usually that. They had a happy corporate childhood, they had a nice business, they want that to continue. Somebody comes in and steals their lunch money. Then it's like, "Oh wait, no, no, no, we don't like it this way. It's so much easier if we can just do what we've always done."
I've always been on the side of the disruptor, always the barbarian at the gate from the outside. One of my rules for myself has been, bet on the future. Run away... When I was in the publishing business, which was a long... Most of the 90s, I said, I don't want to be the last fight, last stand of the tree killers. I want to get out of here, I'll go to the internet. From the earliest days, you mentioned Pong. I wrote the owner's manual for Pong in 1975.
Julie: 09:52 Oi, that's crazy.
Peter Haran: 09:52 It was crazy.
Julie: 09:55 How do you write an owner's manual? I've thought about that since you told me about that.
Peter Haran: 09:59 It sounds like, "What do you need it for?" We were doing the home version. They had great success for a few years in bars in pizza parlors with the coin op version of Pong, and now it's like, "Here's how you hook it up to your TV. Turn the dial to the right, hit the ball. Turn the dial to the left, hit the ball. Hit the ball, pass your opponent, you win." It was not very complicated.
Julie: 10:24 Super techy, okay, right, okay.
Peter Haran: 10:26 Around that same time, that was '75. '77 I went to the second West Coast Computer Faire, I was helping a client of mine sell kit computers in plastic bags. In the early '80s we were-
Julie: 10:41 At the Faire, weren't you across the hall from Steve-
Peter Haran: 10:44 Down the aisle from the two Steves, so the Apples. One of the other observations I would make is, and this is really something I'm stealing from Ray Kurzweil, everybody wants to believe that innovation happens in a linear fashion. The future creeps up on you a little bit, 10% more each year, and you see it coming, "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, the future's here." In fact, it's logarithmic. You spend a long time... Or the Gibson quote, "The future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed."
There was a long time in the computer business before anybody noticed. There were companies like IMSAI, Altair, Vector Graphic, going public, Cromemco. Nobody noticed. Then IBM came in and said, "Ah, now it's a business." Microsoft is almost 50 years old as a company. These people toiling in the vineyards when somebody said, "Wake me up when it's a bottle of wine."
I think an industry that's happening right now is potentially cannabis, because it's like, "Oh look, we're good, we're being public." What I really think will happen, is that you're going to see the Nature Made vitamins, and the Conagra'ss, and the Philip Morris's, or whatever they call themselves now, just coming in and bigfooting the whole business. When it's legal, they're going to say, "Thank you all so much for getting this legal and getting it adopted, we'll take it from here."
Julie: 12:20 Doing the hard work, right. Corporatizing it.
Peter Haran: 12:23 That's one of the things, is when people think about innovation and think about technology, we stru... it's the 10th annual year of mobile. When's mobile going to be a big deal? [inaudible 00:12:35] wait, where'd mobile come from, it's huge! It went from nothing, to huge, with very little in the middle.
Julie: 12:43 Going back to your story about how you wanted to bet on the future, right? Betting on the future and then sticking with it, you shared some pretty amazing stories and I'll headline them so you can share them. When you were at Chiat/Day and with those guys-
Peter Haran: 13:01 That was '82, and it's one of the rare moments in Jay Chiat and Guy Day were in Chiat/Day. They had just bought the advertising business from Regis McKenna, who was one of the early leading lights in Silicon Valley. Regis said, "I'm just going to focus on PR," and that included Apple, Intel, Shugart, Calma, bunch of other stuff. They were trying to recruit me to be management supervisor, and run everything except Apple. They said, "Look, we're losing money, get it profitable, and then we'll get you off of this and get you some real business."
Julie: 13:36 Like Peaches?
Peter Haran: 13:36 Yes.
Julie: 13:37 This should be your new book, From Peaches to Apple.
Peter Haran: 13:40 Yeah.
Julie: 13:41 Anyway, been thinking about that for you.
Peter Haran: 13:44 Note taken. In his mind, even as somebody who had done technology advertising, had just gone out of his way to buy Apple, Intel and stuff, as accounts, he thought it would be a promotion to go off of Intel and onto Christian Brothers Brandy and California Peaches. Because it wasn't a real business.
Julie: 13:44 And yet you, but you didn't? You wanted to be?
Peter Haran: 14:03 Right. I said, "Hey, thanks."
Julie: 14:10 I'm going to stand.
Peter Haran: 14:11 I'ma stand.
Julie: 14:11 I'm going to stick with this. And you know, I'm-
Peter Haran: 14:13 I don't want to work for a guy who doesn't think it's real business.
Julie: 14:15 Right, and so you moved off of that. Where did you go after that?
Peter Haran: 14:20 I stayed put for a while. I was actually a shareholder at one of the first ad agencies in Silicon Valley focused on technology.
Julie: 14:27 Really? Which was that?
Peter Haran: 14:28 It was called [Tyser Fults Bellock 00:14:30]. I joined them in 1977. We sold it in '88 to BBDO and Omnicon. Then I went over to Ogilvy & Mather for a few years. I ran the Microsoft ad business worldwide. That's where I got the up close look at Windows.
Julie: 14:46 Your third, or your second, and your sixth, right?
Peter Haran: 14:49 Yes, so we're in the middle.
Julie: 14:50 Yeah, of your middle. And then you moved from there over to the ad base?
Peter Haran: 14:57 I went there to publishing.
Julie: 14:58 Publishing, right, okay.
Peter Haran: 14:59 All that became multiple chapters. I spent 10 years with International Data Group, which is still one of the great role models for entrepreneurial businesses. We were a legitimately global business, we're in 77 countries, and I ran the global account relationships. Top 30 technology companies on a worldwide basis, it was like negotiating arms control treaties. We negotiated a, I say a treaty, a contract with IBM. It was on five continents and 34, 40 countries. We were negotiating all around the world, rolling up to New York.
Julie: 15:36 What's interesting about, when you think about your sixth, and sort of how you progressed, you stuck with these notions, sort of this notion of completion. More impressive than just sticking with it and being like, "No, no, I've got commitment and conviction," you stuck with it at the time where everybody else was leaving it. You were right in the middle of the bubble. Tell me what was happening in the '99, 2000s.
Peter Haran: 16:01 Impeccable tim... Don't make it sound like I'm that smart.
Julie: 16:05 Well, you've done something right, Peter.
Peter Haran: 16:07 I left a good job in early 2000 to start a venture funded web media startup just in time for the nuclear winter and the massive crash. I will say, we survived, I got a profitable... I sold it, I walked out there to my own pride... own power. In most of these technology booms, if you get any get out early, you can get a lot of money. It's like I said, if you put money in with Bernie Madoff early and took it out, you made a lot of money. It's the folks that stayed around for the last dance that lost everything.
Same thing is true. The guys that went Lycos and other stuff, Netscape early in the '90s, they made money, and walked away. The folks that were still holding the bag in 2000... 2000 was actually the worst year. The NASDAQ crashed in April 2000, then there was this phony war for a year. Nobody knew what was happening. Venture money was tight. Then, we were sort of treading water, and then 9/11 happened in 2001. Then it was like, we're treading water, they threw us a boat anchor.
From 2001 through all of 2002 into 2003, that was the nuclear winter. That was desperate times. That's when a lot of people said, "Okay, I'm just going to walk about. I'm going to teach English in Italy, I'm going to go sell real estate." At the same time what happened was, a lot of the venture cap... Big media said, "Good! We told you! It's all a fraud, we're glad it's gone." Venture capitalists came in and said, to their LPs, they said, "Scouts honor, we promise we'll never invest in another B to C web media business, ad supported, we want nothing to do with it."
For those of us that stayed around, there was a class of... After I sold DevX, I went to work for one of my friends at PriMedia, to turn around about.com. That was 2003 into 2004. It was just the least little bit of a thaw, and we decided there we were going all in. That's another one where we bet on the future. What we bet was that search and basically Google would change the way people consumed information. People accused us of being Google bitch, we said, "Yes, we're going to be a really, really good Google bitch," and we totally... We played SCO as a blood sport. Everybody else grudgingly said, "We'll put a couple of keywords on there." And we said, "No, no, no, no, we're going to look at what people are searching for, we're going to write headlines that'll score well."
We made a lot of money on AdSense. On the 10th anniversary of Video for AdSense that Google put out... Because I was one of their first customers, and 10 years later I still work on AdSense. What was interesting about it was, initially people started to game it, big time. It was a good consumer experience. "Hey, how do I install a ceiling fan?" We would write an article, and it would say, "Here's how you do it, don't have it fall out of the ceiling, don't burn down the house." Google could run AdSense against that. We were doing in 2004, probably 25 million dollars a year in AdSense revenue, which was really good living. Then I had to go run the gauntlet when we sold it to the New York Times in 2005. Had to go meet with their editorial team and defend my edit, which was an interesting experience.
Julie: 19:35 What was that?
Peter Haran: 19:44 Basically what I had to say was, "Look, you guys are both coasts, blue states, world peace, cure cancer, all sorts of important stuff." I said, "I am middle class, middle brow, middle America. I write for the America you fly over." I said, "I got 1200 crock pot recipes." And I said, "You guys don't get my world, and that's okay." I said, "But don't try to fix it."
They were like, "Yeah, but you got these independent contractors writing this stuff, and they publish it first. Why don't you have editors?" I said, "The model doesn't work that way." I didn't quite say it, but I finessed them into mentioning that they had just had the whole Jayson Blair scandal. How does that get by three levels of editors?
Julie: 20:35 Maybe there's a flaw in there.
Peter Haran: 20:37 To their credit, The Times ran it well, left it alone, and just let him... I would argue the About acquisition is what kept The Times from going bankrupt. The Time, they did the Carlos Slim deal in the new building, the cash flow from About was one of the things that kept them solvent.
Julie: 20:58 Going through, thinking through, you've seen so much through your career in terms of, not only the companies you've run and the trends, of course; but I was thinking about the CEOs, because we had spoken, and I had read about something else you had talked about recently, about... You were talking about your personal brand, you were saying things like, "When people think that people love you, or like you, because of your corporate title, it's a harsh reality when you leave that corporate title, and you no longer carry that media budget or weight." We've all been in those positions.
What are you seeing today? Going from your history as running a lot of these companies and sticking with these trends, and continuing to look to the future, and you're investing in companies, you're betting on people, or you're betting on the dog as much as you are the track. The difference of the individuals and their expectations, are you seeing a difference in today's CEOs versus when you started off as a CEO?
Peter Haran: 22:03 Sure, sure. Some of the biggest diff... I'll start with analogy from the media business, and bring it back to this. Before Google, before social media, authority media flowed from the organization to the individual. From the organization, to the editor in chief, to the reporter, to the story. "Oh, well this story ran on the New York Times, it must be a good story." Now, because of the atomization of information, people discover stories on Twitter, on Facebook, via search. More and more, the authority goes from the story to the reporter, and then back to the media brand. To some extent, the same thing is happening more broadly. Whereas before, you've sort of referenced it, people had ex officio authority.
We were talking about Ash Karbasfrooshan from WatchMojo, and we were talking about what's one of the biggest myths about management, and I said, "The myth is they work for you." You really work for your employees. You work for your customers, you work for your employees, you work for everybody. That is actually more true than ever. Way back when, people were like, "Oh, I have to worry about my job, I have to worry about keeping my boss happy, I want a career." Now it's very much the gig economy. Everyone's a free agent. Nobody plans to stand around very long, so they're building their personal brand, and they view that as being highly transportable.
It's like the NBA. The players recruit players, the players, "Nah I don't want to do this, I'm going to go over there. Trade me now." Now, as opposed to a directive boss, now you are a recruiter, a motivator, a coach. You're trying to recruit great talent, especially with 3% unemployment, and a highly fluid workforce. The hardest thing is recruiting talent, recruiting, keeping talent. A guy I used to work with, he called it the universal realization, WIIFM, "What's in it for me?" Your employees are going, "Hey, what's in it for me? What do I care?" And it's like, "You know what, if I'm not happy, I'm leaving."
Julie: 24:39 You were talking about, and I've been with a company too, it's all about the people. Can you bring in a team of people, because you can hit the ground running? I find that there's so many young CEOs today because everyone's got an idea. And you're right, about the 3% unemployment. Do you find it harder to discern between the person, and I'm looking at you in terms of your history. You can look at yourself back in the '70s, and your commitment, and your hunger, and your willingness to go all in, if you will. Do you see that today, or is it harder to find, because everyone's in the game? You're having to sift through more, I guess is where I'm trying to go.
Peter Haran: 25:27 There's a lot of different things wrapped up in that one question. One of my good friends runs a incubator, global incubator. We were talking to their MDs around the world. We have a closed door, no mercy, no malice session.
Julie: 25:43 No mercy, no malice.
Peter Haran: 25:46 That's why I've got to be very circumspect. One of the things we talked about was, well there's two things that are relevant. One was, you paint a picture of, it's all happy, happy. We're hiring cool people, we're going to start great technologies, we're all going to get rich, it's all going to be great. It's unicorns and rainbows. No, you get in there and everything is messy and screwed up. That's what early stage stuff is like, it's all messy, it's all crazy, and it always changes, and nothing goes the way it's supposed to. Oops, forgot to tell you.
The other thing is that, there's a flavor in Silicon Valley, is lionizing 23, 25 year old engineers as founders. Call them a CEO. What we actually realized, when you really look at it hard, there's very few Bill Gateses and Michael Dells and Steve Jobs. Very few people go from concept to megacorporation. To some extent they're actually doing these fellas a... It's almost all guys, much as we'd all love to have more diversity.
Julie: 26:54 Diversity.
Peter Haran: 26:55 Most of who are getting it is 25 year old, male, computer scientists. They think, "I'm 25, I'm a CEO, and I'm going to be Bill Gates." To some extent, though, they drive them off a cliff. If they're unsuccessful, that's easy, you just failed. But if you're successful, then it's like, "Oh, now we got to have HR, now we got to have sales, now we got to have manufacturing, now we got to have..." There was nothing in his dorm room that prepared him to run a company.
Julie: 27:32 Right, to be CEO.
Peter Haran: 27:33 Right. To some extent, we've sort of discounted the value of experience, general management experience, and said, "If you're a bright young guy with a lot of tech chops, you can do anything." I will say, I've known a number of those CEOs. I didn't know Jobs at all, but I knew Gates up close and personal pretty well, I knew Michael Dell pretty well. In all those stories, there's guys that don't get talked about. In the case of Microsoft, Jon Shirley was the hidden figure. He was in there as president with Gates and Ballmer. He came from RadioShack, of all places, which 30 years ago, was a big deal.
Jon had big company, general management experience. Michael Dell, he came out of the dorm room at UT, he hired Mort Topfer from Motorola. Mort was a little flamboyant, long flowing gray hair, he looked like symphony conductor. Mort said, "This is how you run big time businesses." Michael's on stage with his Dell computer, and he deserves it, he's brilliant. They always backfilled with senior folks. They say, "Do this, don't do that." A company like Uber, if they had a little more of that, and a little less of the bro culture, they might have had fewer problems.
Julie: 29:01 More profitable, or profitable at all.
Peter Haran: 29:03 I don't even know if that's possible. I'm not sure. Our mutual friend Brad Barens does a great job of analyzing the economics of Uber.
Julie: 29:11 Yes, he does. Check out Brad Barens, he does a great write-up.
Peter Haran: 29:15 Center for the Digital Future at USC. I'm not sure that they could be profitable, but they could have avoided some of the embarrassing scandals, some of the fights with cities, some of the...
Julie: 29:27 PR disasters.
Peter Haran: 29:30 Grayball, or whatever it was. There's a lot of that stuff that they did that they probably didn't need to do. It's the frat boys turned loose, unchained.
Julie: 29:46 You're sage, your years of having seen this, why is that happening? Why is that coming to fruition? Again, it is a frat boy, all the things you're saying are true. But it seems like you hear about it more now in companies, and they're successful-ish despite themselves. How is that allowed to happen?
Peter Haran: 30:05 I think it's always been prevalent in different businesses at different times. Everybody in Hollywood is horrified by the #MeToo movement, but the casting couch has been a meme for a hundred years. It's like, "So wait, who didn't know this was happening?"
Julie: 30:20 Why are you horrified just now?
Peter Haran: 30:21 Right, right, right, right. Obviously it was in politics. There's always been bad behavior, it's not like we suddenly invented bad behavior, but I think that what's happened is that... I think it is inbreeding at Silicon Valley. Everybody sort of comes from the same places, and it's the Ayn Rand gone wild. It's the selfish, don't respect the rules, do whatever you got to do, as long as you succeed. There's no confidence that you can be successful, or at least as successful, by adhering to any sorts of rules and principles. It's like, "Hey, not our problem. Just don't get caught."
Julie: 31:11 We've created a culture of that now. And your point, there's just more recognition or awareness because of the social media, the information proliferation.
Peter Haran: 31:21 It comes out much more easily. It's harder to... Once upon a time, at the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American people didn't know Franklin Roosevelt had polio, and was in a wheelchair. For 12 years of presidency, they kept that out of the news.
Julie: 31:43 Radio, thankfully.
Peter Haran: 31:44 Radio, but they posed him carefully. More than that, everybody said, "I guess we don't need to know this." There's a whole bunch of stuff that's not news worthy.
Julie: 31:54 Relevant.
Peter Haran: 31:55 Now everything's going to come out. And the more sensational, the better. God love it if we got a video. Give me a cell phone video, that's all I could lay out for.
Julie: 32:04 Sound bite, yes, right, to use.
Peter Haran: 32:07 I think that's actually been one of the changes, now it's impossible to keep secrets, A. And B. I think all of us are much less tolerant. It used to be that's boys being boys, that just sort of happens. Now it's like, "No, no, no, no," it's not necessary. It's funny, because I gave a talk on corporate culture to the BYU Management Society, and I said, "You don't run your company, your culture does." I was saying that one very positive example, Pat McGovern was one of the great entrepreneurial CEOs. Started business from scratch, ran it for 50 years, global business, made enough money that he could donate 350 million dollars to MIT for brain research. The whole time was run with 10 corporate values on the wall of every office.
Let's try it attitude, respect for the individual, focus on building the best products. The thing was, everybody knew that we actually meant it. Unlike Wells Fargo or Uber, where that's what they're saying, but they don't really mean that. I was literally in meetings with McGovern when I was running corporate sales, with Charles Wang, Computer Associates, or Bob Herbal, who was Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft. Bob, who is an absolute gentleman, said, "Hey, you know, your editor has wrote some very unfavorable things about Windows 95. And I've got some hot headed young product managers who want to cancel all of our advertising." Pat was like, "Well, I really wouldn't like that to happy, I'm really, really sorry, but do what you got to do."
Julie: 33:48 Good for him!
Peter Haran: 33:49 Yeah. He says, "The reason you find our publications valuable, is that our readers trust them. If we don't tell our readers the truth, they won't trust us anymore." He says, "We'll all have to live it out."
Julie: 34:03 And trust is at the core.
Peter Haran: 34:04 Yeah. You had people that stayed there 10 years, 20 years. What was interesting was, he was able to recruit great entrepreneurs to run businesses. He gave them insane amounts of latitude. My favorite stories, [Bank Marnfeld 00:34:23] was running Sweden. He lived three weeks of the month in south of France. I say like, "Why are you living in the south of France?" He goes, "The weather's better." I said, "Isn't that a problem?" He goes, "Hey, I've made my plan for 13 years in a row. When I don't make my plan, I'll move back to Stockholm."
Julie: 34:40 Then it's a problem. That's great.
Peter Haran: 34:42 Within the IG culture... By the way, IG was the first company that I knew that did 360 degree reviews.
Julie: 34:50 Really?
Peter Haran: 34:51 Yeah, yeah. As a CEO, your review was in part what your employees thought of you, what your peers thought of you.
Julie: 34:58 Interesting. [crosstalk 00:34:59]
Peter Haran: 34:58 There's no just managing up. The company is still in existence. Pat passed away 4, 5 years ago. But it was very successful for five decades, by doing the right thing. It wasn't like, "Oh you got to sell out." The other example I used, I did this during the NCAA Basketball Tournament, is I did John Wooden's rules.
Julie: 35:22 Oh, really?
Peter Haran: 35:23 Yeah. They sound like Girl Scouts or something.
Julie: 35:30 Old fashioned, right?
Peter Haran: 35:30 Yeah, very old fashioned, very square. But through the '60s and the '70s when the social style changed, he won 10 national championships by having these really square values. Guys like Bill Walton, who's the ultimate Dead Head, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who everyone thought was a radical, swear he's the greatest influence in their lives. You don't have to cheat, you don't have to be a bad person.
Julie: 35:55 You don't have to bend the rules. There's something I think really nice about that story, combined with your story. I go back to this arm chair psychology situation, that I put myself in periodically, where you created this value for yourself. You saw your father's hard work, but you saw his lack of execution and follow through, and maybe planning and commitment. You took that, and followed those all the way through, even when it wasn't looking like it was the smart or wise thing to do. You chose to do it anyway, and you still are able to find those examples, and basically use some of that filter to discern what's successful, and what isn't.
Peter Haran: 36:39 The other thing is, and it's a bit of a cliché but doesn't mean it's not true. It's all about people. Emma Mcllroy, who I introduced you to, when I was making investment in Wild Fang, I said, "I'm willing to be wrong about you." I do believe in her. I believe in her at the time, I believe in her now. I think she's a great person, great CEO. We'll live it out. I think this is going to be successful. If it is, if it isn't, it's okay.
Julie: 37:12 It's not the end of the world, and it doesn't change your opinion of her. It's still people-based.
Peter Haran: 37:16 Right. I'm still friends with people I worked with 40 years ago. We keep crossing paths, which is...
Julie: 37:25 The old school values, they're what keep people connected. It goes back to your point about people who live in that corporate world, and the corporate title, and you find out who your friends are when you step out of that.
Peter Haran: 37:34 Step out of that, yeah.
Julie: 37:36 Now that you've stepped out of at least that big part of the corporate side, and are doing other things here, what does success look like for you, moving forward? What is your new definition? How has it changed?
Peter Haran: 37:49 It's always changing. I have become progressively more serious about my photography for the last 15 years. I'm transitioning from being an amateur to a semi-professional. I'll sell 30 pictures a year, something.
Julie: 37:49 Oh, you sell them? Oh, good for you! Really, truly. This isn't a hobby, okay.
Peter Haran: 38:06 Oh yeah, no, no, I've sort of crossed over... It's a hobby, but I've got, I've had like three shows in the last 18 months. Like I said, I sold 20 to 30 pictures a year. It's like, "Where do I want to spend more time going forward?" It's the same deal. Fall forward, making a mistake going forward.
Julie: 38:33 Fail fast forward?
Peter Haran: 38:37 Yeah. One of the things I'm most interested in right now. I'm the Chairman of the Nominating Governors Committee on Lending Tree. We've had, talking about public market value creation, we've gone from under hundred million market cap [inaudible 00:38:51] in 2008, to about four billion dollars right now. One of the things I've got to think about is, "What is the role of the board in a business that's growing that fast?" What does the board need to look like for the next ten years? What's the best practices in governance? Should we have terms, should we have term limits? What types of folks will we need as the business... We're always talking about, don't become complacent, don't fall in love with where you used to be. To a certain extent, if you look at the failures of boards of directors, like a Theranos, or even a Kodak. Theranos was criminal failure, but Kodak was, excuse me, I know this film business is nice, but digital?
Julie: 39:39 Negligent, right?
Peter Haran: 39:41 Like I said, it was that trying to fall back on the happy childhood. We've done really well for a hundred years being a film company. The problem is companies always worry about the wrong stuff. Kodak worried about Fuji, they didn't worry about digital. As a member of the board of directors, one of the things that's interesting is going, A. How do we institutionalize challenging ourselves? Where we don't just say, "Oh that's nice, congratulations on a good quarter," but go, "Are we in the right business, are we doing things the right way, how should we think about this thing? What types of folks do we need?" By the way, we got from the hundred million market cap to the four billion. We did a radical reinvention of the business where we actually had to do a heart transplant on ourselves while running a public company. We did it successfully. We got to be willing to do that again.
Julie: 40:34 It's a big risk, but you're forcing them to look forward, and not be complacent in the small returns.
Peter Haran: 40:40 Not just optimize for the present, but really say, "Okay, what's going to come in from the corner of the frame, and disrupt our business?" That's really interesting to me, is that. That and I'm always looking for the next new technology. I've sat out Bitcoin to date.
Julie: 40:59 Okay, interesting.
Peter Haran: 41:03 I've always said, this hasn't happened yet. I think the intersection of voice, artificial intelligence, and big data is going to just transform retail.
Julie: 41:11 Okay, so this is it. Anybody listening, if they've got something like that, reach out to you?
Peter Haran: 41:16 Yeah. I think that's another example, this is also supposed to have happened already. Why hasn't retail been transformed yet? It's Thursday, we should be done by now. Things don't change that fast. Much as we want them to, they don't change that fast.
Julie: 41:32 Especially things with that infrastructure, right?
Peter Haran: 41:33 Yep, yep.
Julie: 41:35 Peter, this has been fabulous.
Peter Haran: 41:37 So much fun.
Julie: 41:37 Thank you for coming and spending so much time and talking about you, and your thinking. I think it's been really inspirational, and I know I am inspired, so thank you.
Peter Haran: 41:47 That's very nice. Thanks so much.
Julie: 41:48 Okay, take care.