Michael Jackson: Icon & Entrepreneur To Be Remembered

Michael Jackson – Icon
Beginning with his recent death at age 50, there has been enough Michael Jackson news out there to satisfy even the hardest core fan.  Without question he enjoyed an iconic presence in the world of popular music, stretching back to at least the 1980s.  More than one music expert has declared him to be Michael Jackson, King of Pop.  The album, “Thriller,” has sold more copies than nearly any other recording, and there can be no argument that the concept of the music video – ushering in what became MTV culture – was the perfect medium to show off all of Jackson’s talents.  But few people realize that he was as much an entrepreneur as he was an entertainer.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit
What do Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Steve Jobs have in common – other than incredible wealth, that is?  Each of these men created something out of nothing, imagining a product or service that no one had ever devised, and then dominating their respective industries for decades with the results of their work and talent.  If you think about Michael Jackson in this sense, he belongs among them as well.  He took his musical skills – honed over many years as a solo act, and before that as the youngest member of the Jackson Five – and applied them in areas no one else had previously exploited.  The cable station MTV would hardly exist today, were it not for the music videos he created – a process that spawned thousands of imitators.  His album sales earned him millions upon millions of dollars, which he then used to plow back into his “brand” and acquire 50 percent of perhaps one of the most valuable pop music assets of all time, the Lennon-McCartney (Beatles) catalogue.  Royalties from that acquisition alone added millions more to his bottom line.  He also had the foresight to buy two Australian-based music publishers, whose eventual merger with Sony earned him close to $100 million.

Three Entrepreneurial Characteristics
To know anything at all about Michael Jackson is to realize that he espoused the entrepreneurial spirit in nearly everything he did.  He may not have thought of it in quite that way, but here are three basic characteristics he shared with any top-notch business visionary:

  1. Always seek improvement
    Michael Jackson spent hours everyday in rehearsal, not only from a vocal standpoint but also to practice the dance moves that electrified his audiences.
  2. Be an innovator
    Think about the images that Michael Jackson evokes – the sparkly white glove, the Moonwalk, the “Beat It” video, and the fusion of soul, funk and rock into a unique sound all his own – and you understand how innovation can make you an industry leader.
  3. Create customer loyalty
    Despite his latter-day sideshow antics, Michael Jackson’s fans were intensely devoted to his music.  The 50 nights of concerts he had planned for London – he was rehearsing for this project in Los Angeles when he died suddenly – were so anxiously awaited that nearly $1 million in advance ticket sales PER CONCERT had already been booked.  Now that’s brand loyalty!


Learning From Michael Jackson’s Errors
No entrepreneur is perfect, and any valid Michael Jackson biography would report the mistakes as well as the triumphs.  Owners of small businesses can learn a few worthwhile things from the King of Pop.  Here are a few examples:

  • Think before you speak – The media can be a valuable business tool, but saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, or in front of the wrong crowd, can result in long-lasting damage to a brand you have successfully built up over the years.
  • Choose worthwhile values and stick with them – Michael Jackson went through a significant transformation over the years, and much of it proved damaging to his image as Michael Jackson Icon.  No matter what short-term opportunities you uncover that might tempt you to alter your core values, in the long run these changes can prove fatal to your business.
  • Surround yourself with honest people – Michael Jackson’s history of aligning himself with advisors who put their own interests above his are well documented.  With business success comes wealth, but it also attracts a certain element that you may be better off without, no matter how often they may tell you, “You’re great.”
  • Be financially savvy – Save more than you spend, think twice about any purchase, watch your cash flow like a hawk, and pay attention to every item on your balance sheet.  If you hire a trusted advisor to handle your money, make sure you’re involved in every aspect of the process.  Don’t be just a check-signer.

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