Whether you’re the CEO of an S&P 500 or not, leadership requires strategy regardless of your organization’s size. When leaders develop strategy, they’ve typically spent lots of time, money, and resources thinking about success. The challenge comes, however, when enabling people to follow this strategy. Because once formed, it must be disseminated and adhered to throughout a workforce entirety.
Traditionalists hold a belief that changing strategic direction frequently is counter-intuitive: strategy should be planned and deliberate. However, the modern economy increasingly requires leaders to demonstrate entrepreneurial characteristics by pivoting their strategy regularly: often dubbed the emergent style.
Alan Mrukva is no stranger emergent strategy. Having co-founded E! Entertainment, he is personally responsible for creating America’s obsession with celebrities. Now valued at over $12 billion E! Entertainment has surpassed success. However, 31 years ago, many doubted Mrukva’s vision of a 24 hour a day celebrity news culture. British broadcast journalist Will Godley and I spoke with the entrepreneur about his strategy for success.
“I knew E! was a great idea, people called me a genius, but I don’t think I am, I just had a good idea. Everyone has great ideas though, but they don’t work on them.” Mrukva knew he had to work hard to get E! Entertainment off the ground, quoting billionaire Ross Perot, “the recipe for success is a teaspoon of idea and an ocean of execution.”
The execution, however, came with many challenges. “When I went about raising funds to start E!, I figure I must have been rejected over 400 times.” It wasn’t until Alan got an initial offer of $2.5 million to start the network that E! started to take off. However, “you can’t even make a movie for $2.5million, let alone a 24 hour a day cable network” Alan is quick to add, “but we managed it!”
Trained in architecture, Mrukva is now pursuing another venture, self-storage company StorageBlue, proving a pivotal leadership style doesn’t phase him. “I’ve always pursued new ventures. When I came up with the idea for E! Entertainment I was developing brownstone apartments in New Jersey. I had just signed a contract to develop a 50,000 square foot apartment complex, but when I got the funding to start E! I dropped everything.”
As a self-taught entrepreneur and alumnus of both the University of Miami and New York’s Pratt Institute, he thanks the people who said “no” for his pivotal leadership style. I credit these guys for my success; they gave me the fuel to keep going. I needed to show them I meant business”.
“When I started E! my mentor told me you wouldn’t be successful until you get angry. At the time, I didn’t understand, but there’s a truth to it; rejection is part of life, so you have to have a rage in you to get something going. I’ve probably had more failures than successes, but that’s how you fuel success.”
However, Mrukva’s style is somewhat different from other entrepreneurs. Most leaders will pivot and adjust their strategy when facing setbacks and failures, but for Mrukva, it was the opposite. He decided to leave E! Entertainment as it was on the rise. “That’s the best time to sell your business, at the peak, you get the best offer.” Now the CEO of StorageBlue, he anticipates many more changes to his strategy as he hopes to turn this self-storage brand into a lifestyle and entertainment brand. “Entertainment is in my blood, now I have to use it to market StorageBlue, but on a local level. The difference is that now marketing is a high tech industry, optimizing google searches and the whole website experience for the user”.
However, it may seem difficult for us to draw parallels between entertainment and storage; for Mrukva it’s the combination of his interests, the obsessive celebrity world of E! Entertainment, and the real estate world of StorageBlue. “I joke that I’ve gone from the most glamorous business to the least glamorous, but it’s still a great business.
It’s about following my passions, I love entertainment, and I love real estate.” During our Zoom call with Mrukva, he revealed that being flexible and open to a strategy shift has been a big part of his success. “Even setbacks you have to view as an opportunity. If you’re fired from your job, you now have an opportunity to regroup and decide on your next move”. This is where the pivoting happens. Being a pivotal entrepreneur is more than just being flexible to change. You also have to know the right time to have a shift in strategy. Mrukva looks out for. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you always have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. You do this by reading: I can open up a newspaper and develop five different ideas. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be proactive, but 99 percent of people are reactive.”
Naturally, then, we had to ask the entrepreneur how he would know the time’s come to move onto his next venture. “I’m always looking for new opportunities, I have some I’m working on at the moment, but these take time. I like to create a logo to visualize my ideas; that helps me a lot! It’s exciting. I have the opportunity to do these different things in life.”