Billionaire businessman and “Shark Tank” TV show celebrity Mark Cuban landed in Columbus Monday night, extolling the virtues of leading by doing, and warning of a future when nothing is private.
His appearance before about 1,000 gathered at the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum was a bit tame compared to his maverick reputation, one in which he is famed for firing back comments and debating those who might disagree with him, both in business and in sports.
“Do you know what it takes to wage battle and face adversity,” Cuban, 56, owner of the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks said when asked what he tells participants pitching products on “Shark Tank,” an ABC series in which investors such as himself decide if they want to help a startup business for a slice of the profits.
“Everybody has their own style of leadership,” said Cuban, who explained true leaders must be able to communicate with those around them and jump in and get dirty, when necessary, leading by example. “Legends in their own minds are not great leaders.”
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Other important qualities, he said, are having a vision where your company needs to go, and putting people you hire in a position to succeed.
“Scary,” is how the Pittsburgh native described how most people feel when they are considering taking a leap of faith and launching a new business product or service.
“It’s so hard to actually make that commitment and dive in,” he said. “There is no safety net ... But if you’re prepared, it’s not really a risk. I’m scared to fail. I’m so competitive that the prospect of failing motivates me to no end.”
Dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, Cuban touched on his Mavericks and explained the raw talent required in the NBA — quickness, heighth and a good shooting touch — make it much less predictable for an entrepreneur such as himself. But there are similarities, he said.
“Business is the ultimate sport ... A 12-year-old can kick your butt. You’re competing 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, forever,” he said. “Someone’s always ready to take it away from you.”
Cuban, who founded CompuServe in the 1990s and co-founded what ended up being Broadcast.com — eventually sold to Yahoo! — acknowledged the legal issues he has faced. Those include a technology-based lawsuit by what he calls a “patent troll,” and a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission trial in which he was acquitted last fall of insider trading charges related to the sale of a Canadian Internet firm nearly a decade ago.
Cuban explained the SEC’s lawyers tried to use every quote he had ever made publicly and via emails and social media to nail him. That’s one reason he launched Cyber Dust, a digital messaging app that allows you to go back to Twitter and manage messages by setting an expiration date, perhaps one year, to have them deleted automatically.
“We’ve got to protect ourselves,” the entrepreneur said of the steadily encroaching invasion of privacy on all fronts. “Privacy is going to become more and more important to everyone. This allows us to take greater control of our privacy.”
Cuban also touched on “sensors” that will be developed, making a positive impact on medical care, treatment and consumers in general.
“We are in such a barbaric time now in medicine,” he said. “We will be able to process things quicker and quicker with evolving technology ... Sensors will impact everything we do.”
Throughout his rise to the top of the business world, Cuban has never been one to hold back on his opinion, and his views are often widely reported by news outlets because of his off-the-cuff speaking approach.
He most recently tossed barbs at Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, calling him a “dictator” who has kept the league from growing due to lack of marketing and allowing games to become too long. Selig will step down as commissioner next year.
“The days of dictator commissioners are over,” Cuban told USA Today. “And those with that type of commissioner have fallen way behind and will fall further behind. If baseball hires someone that runs the league like Bud has, they are in trouble with franchises worth so much.”
He has even had a few choice words about the ALS ice bucket challenge that has been sweeping the nation of late amid social media. Dallasnews.com reported comments from a radio program in which Cuban said ALS is a terrible disease, but the fund-raising effort has gotten out of hand.
“We’ve gotten to the point now where it’s not so much about ALS or raising money,” he said. “It’s really a social media phenomenon and I’m starting to feel bad for a lot of the other charities who are going to have a far more difficult time raising money. A lot of people are going to try to copy what ALS has done and it’s going to be impossible.”
Cuban also has reportedly gotten into disputes with rappers, voiced opinions on general managers of rival NBA teams, spoken out against firms that dodge taxes by incorporating out of the U.S., and knocking the International Olympic Committee.
The self-made billionaire — worth about $2.6 billion — also freely offers advice and thoughts on how to succeed in a dog-eat-dog business world. Tips he recently gave as a contributor to Entrepreneur.com were — know how to sell; put yourselves in the shoes of your customer; know as much as you can about technology; always ask how you would design a solution if no current solution existed; is it the path of least resistance to something better; and be nice.
“People hate dealing with people who are jerks. It’s always easier to be nice than to be a jerk. Don’t be a jerk,” he told Entrepreneur.
Before Cuban’s appearance Monday, the Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business was presented to Atlanta real-estate developer Thomas G. Cousins.
Cousins, who was not present to receive the award, built CNN Center, the (former) Omni Coliseum, 191 Peachtree Tower and the first phase of the Georgia World Congress Center.
A philanthropist, he also founded the East Lake Foundation in Atlanta in 1995, a redevelopment project that spurred construction in an area of the city that traditionally had been racked by crime. The project led to a major reduction in violent crime in the area and has been a model for other cities.
Cousins also brought the Hawks NBA basketball team to Atlanta from St. Louis and once owned the Atlanta Flames professional hockey team.
Blanchard called Cousins a generous man who helped “those who had no one to stand up for them.”
Said Blanchard: “He’s an incredible businessman with a record unsurpassed in our state and capital city.”
The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum resumes Tuesday with an all-day session that includes Spanx shape-wear founder Sara Blakely, 43, and Sheryl Sandberg, 44, chief operating officer of the online site Facebook, who closes the forum.
The forum was launched in 2006 by retired Synovus Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jim Blanchard, with the assistance of Columbus State University and its staff. Blanchard will address the audience just before Blakely takes the stage prior to lunch Tuesday.
Other forum participants include:
Retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral John R. Ryan, president and CEO of the Center for Creative Leadership
Author Marcus Buckingham, a top expert on employee productivity
Geoffrey Canada, author and founder of Harlem Children’s Zone
Ronald A. Heifetz, senior lecturer and co-founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government
The forum wraps up around 5 p.m. with the unveiling of the 2015 lineup. Organizers say the headliners next year are expected to be major names considering it will be the 10th anniversary of the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum.