Beyond Baba Booey: 5 Business Lessons CEOs Can Learn From Howard Stern
“You have to be willing to let somebody else shine and you have to be willing to give them the spotlight.” – Howard Stern
Howard Stern has been one of the most controversial entertainers since he hosted his first radio show over 40 years ago. Love him or hate him, he has enjoyed a successful career thus far – building his brand into an empire worth over $600 million as well as transforming the landscape of terrestrial and satellite radio. Stern’s success can teach us a lot about business. The following are five lessons that CEOs can learn from Howard Stern.
- Be Authentic
After graduating from Boston University, Stern was offered his first professional gig as a radio broadcaster. Stern turned it down. It’s not that the radio station wasn’t good enough. Stern recalls, “I freaked out. I got real nervous that I wasn’t good enough.” Stern’s crippling self-doubt held him back. When Stern finally got up the courage to take an on-air job, he decided to bring his insecurities on air with him. Stern decided to let it all hang out, speaking on air about his most intimate deficiencies. This worked for Stern – he didn’t have to pretend to be a slick disc jockey, and he got to open up a bit to his new audience. Stern was able to be authentic.
In business, we are constantly focused on our brand. We want it to be different, better, and cooler than our competitors. But what’s most important is that your brand is in line with your company’s core mission and values. Once you have determined what your authentic brand is, you will make better decisions, build trust with your customers, and make sure your team members are all on the same page.
In 2010, then-struggling Domino’s Pizza ran a campaign they called “Oh Yes We Did.” The gist of the campaign was that Domino’s admitted their pizza was sub-par and announced that they developed a newer and tastier pizza recipe. They even shared Domino’s employee reviews which included “worst pizza I’ve ever had” and “crust tastes like cardboard.” By being authentic about their “new and improved” campaign and not mincing words, Domino’s was able to demonstrate a humbling authenticity rarely seen in large companies. And it paid off: Sales of the new pizza took off the next year and now Domino’s is the market share leader of quick-service pizza.
- Build a Strong, Diverse Team
Howard Stern is not a one-man show. “I’m at my best when I have a bunch of people around me, when I can call on them and collaborate,” he explains. Stern’s core nucleus of co-host Robin Quivers, sound effects wizard Fred Norris, and producer Gary Dell’Abate has been working with him since 1984. Quivers plays the straight woman, Norris rarely speaks, and Dell’Abate runs things behind the scenes. They all differ from Stern in every way, but work together to make a great team. Three different people with different strengths and weaknesses, doing different jobs.
As you build your team, focus on hiring people who are not like you, but make sure they are people that you like. Diverse work and personal experience, philosophies, and talents are essential to building your company.
In fact, studies have found that a work environment that is more diverse causes a decrease in turnover and an increase in productivity. Just remember, you will have to work with these folks, so make sure you can get along with them so that they remain on the team for the long haul.
- Balance Work & Life
In the past, Stern devoted all his time and energy on one thing: having the number one radio show in the country. That’s all he cared about. Stern looks back with regret on the 80’s and 90’s and wishes he had spent more time with his wife and family and less time with his own ego. But Stern has evolved. He now spends his days with his wife Beth as well as his three adult daughters. In addition, Stern enjoys several hobbies. Stern’s favorite activities include oil painting, photography, and rescuing kittens. Stern has learned how to turn it off when he isn’t working.
Although we may feel that we should be working all the time, it is important for business leaders to have a comfortable work-life balance. Taking time for yourself is essential for your health as well as the health of your company. Many entrepreneurs feel compelled to work as many hours as possible, but overworking often has detrimental results.
The next time you’re away from work, try to really be away from your work. If you’re finding it hard to shut your mind off, try taking up a new hobby or reengaging in an old one.
- Pivot Naturally
In 2005, Stern moved from terrestrial radio to Sirius satellite radio. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a big adjustment. But a lot changed: no more ratings, commercial breaks, or censorship. Plus, Stern now had to program 24 hours of entertainment on his two channels.
Without ratings, Stern didn’t have to push the envelope as much in order to keep listeners tuned in, so he mellowed out. With no commercial breaks, Stern didn’t have to deal with time constraints and was able to take his time on tough, emotional interviews. And with no censorship, Stern no longer had his nemesis – the FCC – to complain about.
Stern learned what his listeners wanted most and developed “The Howard Stern Wrap-Up Show,” where Stern team members recount and debate that morning’s episode of “The Howard Stern Show.” The Wrap-Up Show has become a staple for many Stern fans, some of whom even prefer it to the main show.
As business leaders, there are times when our companies will need to pivot in order to continue to grow. Pivoting can cause a major shake-up, at times changing the company’s industry entirely. When considering how to pivot, focus on the strengths of your company in its current form.
In 2012, a multiplayer game company called Glitch was failing. CEO Stewart Butterfield realized Glitch was going through a major glitch, but he knew that the users did enjoy their chat feature. Butterfield thought other companies might benefit from the same ease of communication. He pivoted the company to create the now multi-billion-dollar communication company Slack.
- Always be Curious
Stern knows the value of interviewing big celebrities on his radio show, but many A-Listers used to balk at talking to him on air. He was known for his intrusive questions and constant sexual comments. Stern displayed his curiosity only in a superficial way, always looking for the most salacious stories.
Through years of therapy, Stern has developed a deeper curiosity about people. “I experienced what it was like to have someone genuinely interested in me,” he reveals in his latest memoir, Howard Stern Comes Again. “It led me to think, ‘You know, somebody else might actually have something to say…Let someone else shine and have a moment.’”
Stern transformed into an active listener. By focusing on what the interviewee is saying as opposed to coming up with his next one-liner, Stern has managed to conduct serious, in-depth interviews. So much so, that he is now regarded by many as a “master interviewer.” Stern now attracts A-List talent, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Gwyneth Paltrow, and allows them to open up about their personal struggles.
As CEOs, we need to always be curious about all segments of our business: customers, employees, competitors, investors, lapsed customers, and prospects. Through a dialogue with these folks, we will be able to develop Customer Diplomacy – the careful, balanced partnership that a business creates with its customers to develop information that helps both the business and its customers.
Observing successful business leaders like Howard Stern enables us to learn from their trials and tribulations. This doesn’t replace life experience, but it can often provide some key elements in order to build your roadmap to success.
This article was written by Avenue Group Contributing Writer, Ben Greenberg.