Build Your Business By Your Own Code
Imagine opening your door and Trapper John from the long-running television series M*A*S*H — also known as actor and business investor Wayne Rogers — is standing there, looking just a bit older than you remember him from the show. Rogers says he'd like to ask you a question: If you could build the house of your dreams, what would it look like?
This may sound like a fanciful scenario, but it happens often, as Rogers explains in his book Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success. Rogers is still passionate about acting, but he is equally passionate about entrepreneurship — and this is what brings him to the doorsteps of surprised homeowners. Rogers believes that businesspeople have to listen to customers. He is true to his word. Every time Rogers and his business partners are going to build a new housing development — one of the many investment activities in which Rogers is involved — he starts knocking on doors in the neighborhood where he is going to build to learn what houses people would really want to buy. (Rogers notes that women make most of the decisions about the houses that families buy, so they are the ones to consult). After the startled look and the occasional question ("Aren't you that actor?"), the homeowners help him discover exactly what appeals to homebuyers.
Who Needs a Hit TV Show?
Make Your Own Rules is aptly titled. Opinionated and strong-willed, Rogers has clearly lived by his own rules. While filming M*A*S*H at 20th Century Fox, Rogers met Lew Wolff, who had been hired to run Fox's real estate arm. Even though M*A*S*H was in its third year, Rogers still did not have a signed contract. He decided to leave the series, and joined the equally unhappy Wolff in a real estate development partnership. Rogers' second career as an investor was launched. He would go on to become involved in banks, a convenience store chain, a vineyard, Broadway plays, and even the country's largest bridal retailer, among many other investments.
Dealing with Regulations and Egos
Rogers' passion for the deal — and for free market enterprise — is palpable throughout the book, which presents a litany of business deals in which Rogers has been involved. Every deal clearly illustrates a lesson. Some of the general lessons, in addition to asking the customer, include choosing partners carefully, doing your homework, and casting off conventions — not being afraid to do something differently from what’s been done in the past. Rogers also has chapters on the "magic" of creative financing and how to make the most of the banking system (a founding shareholder in six banks, Rogers has appeared several times before the House Banking Committee). A chapter titled "Creativity Fuels Success" shows how the best businesspeople are creative at heart.
Within these bigger themes are scores of more specific business lessons — for example, how to use bankrupt shell companies to significantly cut the costs of going public. Most of the lessons, large or small, reflect Rogers' iconoclastic yet practical philosophy of business and life: The "system" — whether it's government regulations that undermine entrepreneurship or Hollywood egos — is not your friend, according to Rogers, but you have to make the most of it. Washington politicians are a repeated target of Rogers' disdain, although Hollywood decision-makers aren't held in much better regard. Rogers recalls asking Warner Brothers to finance on Broadway a Neil Simon play called Brighton Beach Memoirs that Rogers was producing. The decision-maker at Warner Brothers agreed to invest in the play if Simon would make some changes. Rogers describes how he reacted: "I laughed and asked this woman, 'You are going to tell Neil Simon what is funny?' Her response was, 'Well, yes.' I could not help myself. Very politely, I asked, 'Are you sure you are the right person to tell Neil Simon what is and what is not funny?'" Warner Brothers never invested in the play, which, of course, was a big hit.
Make Your Own Rules is filled with stories, opinions and advice that will sometimes make you want to laugh, nod your head fervently in agreement, or, most often, take some notes for the next time you have a business or investment decision to make.