by Norman Horowitz
I grew up in the entertainment industry at a time that the studios were more or less “one-trick ponies,” in that they were in the business of making and distributing motion picture and television content.
Rarely were any of these organizations managed by someone experienced in either or both of these activities. They were all accountants, MBAs, or lawyers.
I’ve been responsible for running a variety of operating divisions of Corporations, but I was never considered as a candidate to be the CEO of an entire entertainment company. Hence the “sour grapes” title.
From 1960 to 1968, I worked at Screen Gems (Columbia Pictures). We had, in my opinion, the best studio distribution organization. It wasn’t because our people were any “better” than theirs, but we had many more sales people operating outside of the United States than they did. As a result, we did much more business than anyone else. The “corporate” people left us alone because they held television in disdain and considered that television would one day just go away.
I departed Screen Gems in 1968 for CBS because my boss knew only one way of managing people: to yell at them all the time and to diminish them regularly.
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I loved every moment of my three years at CBS. My division was everything from a “class and style” point of view that Screen Gems was not. When I went on a sales call, I was proud and pleased to present my CBS business card that just reeked of importance because of “who we were.” I loved it when CBS Television President Robert D. Wood spoke fondly of reviving the CBS image as “the Tiffany network.”
I was at CBS for a couple of months when I was called out of a screening because my boss Ralph Baruch wanted to see me. I walked into his office and he asked me to close the door and sit down. I expected at that moment to be handed a pistol and be told to do the right thing by committing suicide, having committed some large transgression.
It became worse when Ralph said these dreaded words: “Norman, we need to discuss your expenses.” At Screen Gems, they would kill you if you ordered desert at lunch with a client, and all of the expense accounts I had ever submitted everywhere passed before my eyes.
Ralph said, “Norman, you’re not spending enough money with your clients. You need to go to more expensive places and order better wines. You’re making the rest of us look bad because of the cheap places you frequent.” I about died and promised that I would change my ways in the future. It was quite an adjustment to go from the “cheapskates” at Screen Gems to the “class guys” at CBS.
I used to ask the management, if they were to have cardio-vascular surgery, would they ask the doctors why they were doing the surgery the way that they were doing it? No, yet they felt comfortable asking their own sales managements the same line of questioning.
My Screen Gems/Columbia corporate group did feel that it was required from time to time to “manage” our operation. One time, a very senior management executive returned from lunch with his counterpart from another studio and asked me why our Canadian overhead was so much larger than the other studios’ overhead. He almost died when I asked him how much business the other studio did, and of course he didn’t have a clue.
At another time, a different executive asked why we needed sales offices overseas when we could (in his view) conduct all of our business over the phone.
I was asked to meet with the Chairman, President, and COO of Columbia while in New York. When I arrived at the meeting, the three of them sat in a row with their arms folded. The Chairman announced that they wanted me to immediately extend my contract, which still had almost a year to go. He also asked why I appeared to be annoyed. I replied: “It would be refreshing if any of you once said something nice about what we were doing instead of incessantly harping on our expenses.” The three of them looked at me as though I had arrived from Mars. They had no clue how to motivate our sales staff.
When the COO was harassing our domestic people about minor traveling expenses, I spoke to the President about it. His solution was: “Norman, GET NEW SALESMEN!”