Call Me Ted is a great autobiography about the life of Media Mogul Ted Turner, the founder of the Cable News Network (CNN), the first 24-hour cable news channel. The book is a no-holds-barred and vulnerable story of his life, his upbringing, lessons learned from his dad, Sister’s Death, Parent’s Divorce, and Father’s Suicide, his turbulent marriage life (3 Divorces), his business philosophy, becoming a billionaire, his boisterousness, his love for sailing, buying the Atlanta Braves among other inspiring stories.

“Son, you be sure to set your goals so high that you can’t possibly accomplish them in one lifetime. That way you’ll always have something ahead of you. I made the mistake of setting my goals too low and now I’m having a hard time coming up with new ones.”

Ted became one of the richest men in the world, the largest land owner in the United States, revolutionized the television business with the creation of TBS and CNN, became a champion sailor and winner of the America’s Cup, and took home a World Series championship trophy in 1995 as owner of the Atlanta Braves.

An innovative entrepreneur, outspoken nonconformist, and groundbreaking philanthropist, Ted Turner is truly a living legend, and now, for the first time, he reveals his personal story. From his difficult childhood to the successful launch of his media empire to the catastrophic AOL/Time Warner deal, Turner spares no details or feelings and takes the reader along on a wild and sometimes bumpy ride.

Here are my favourite take aways from reading, Call Me Ted by Ted Turner.

Voracious Reader

Ted Turner was a various reader, at a very young age:

“At my reading pace of fifty pages an hour, I could read 250-page books in just over two days so I finished about two books per week. Between academic years we had to read three or four books for school and my father made me read another book a week on top of that. So for the summer I figured I read a book a week and during the school year it was more like two and a half on top of my regular study load.”

“When it came to books, I couldn’t get enough. In addition to military literature, I read a lot of the great classics—many for school but several just for fun. From Dante’s Inferno to War and Peace and Les Misérables; you name it, I read it. I also got into memorizing sections of poetry, and I wrote and memorized some of my own poetry as well.”

Great Debater

At McCallie (A Christian-based College Prep School.), Ted was a member of the debating team, and the skills he learned about debating helped him later in his business career:

“My training in debate would later provide a great foundation for my career, and looking back on the way we reinterpreted that resolution, I can now see the roots of the way I tackled many of my business challenges. Confronted with a problem I’ve always looked for an unconventional angle and approach. Nothing sneaky, nothing illegal or unethical, just turning the issue on its head and shifting the advantage to our side.”

“My time at McCallie was key to my development as a person and a leader. I gave them hell in those early years, and they gave me some back. Still, they never lost faith in me and when I finally decided to become a model cadet, the positive reinforcement they provided spurred me on to want to keep striving for more achievement. My turnaround there also gave me the credentials to apply to highly competitive colleges, something my father openly encouraged. To this day I’ve continued to stay involved with McCallie and several years ago pledged them a major gift.”

“Confronted with a problem I’ve always looked for an unconventional angle and approach. Nothing sneaky, nothing illegal or unethical, just turning the issue on its head and shifting the advantage to our side.”

Working at his dad’s billboard business

“By the time I was twelve, during my summers my father had me working forty-two-and-a-half-hour weeks at his billboard company. Being the boss’s son didn’t get me special treatment—in fact, I did a lot of the toughest jobs. I spent a lot of the time with the construction crew, the bill posters, and the sign painters—the guys who had to go out in the Georgia summer sun to build the billboards and post the signs.”

“My dad had hired good people and as long as everyone did their job, we got along great. In later years I spent more time with the salespeople and traveled around town with a briefcase full of presentations. But in those earlier summers I got a sense for how the tough, physical side of the business got done.”

Sister’s Health and Death

Sister

“Mary Jean was just twelve years old when she developed lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease. While turning a body’s defenses against itself, the disease makes you vulnerable to other potential problems. In Mary Jean’s case, we knew from the beginning that it was serious. Her condition deteriorated quickly. Shortly after the initial diagnosis, she then developed encephalitis, a swelling of her brain that put her in a coma. She didn’t emerge for two months, and by the time she did she had experienced significant brain damage. My parents were also told that their precious twelve-year-old daughter might have as few as five years to live.”

“Ultimately, it was my sister’s worsening illness that took the greatest toll. Having emerged from that initial coma with significant brain damage, she could barely communicate and meaningful interaction with her became difficult. Along with her mental challenges, the increasing severity of her underlying lupus symptoms made matters worse. As often happens to people stricken with a severe case, Mary Jean’s body literally started fighting itself. This caused extremely painful inflammation in her joints, and as her pain increased she would sometimes bang her head against the wall. The most difficult times for us were when she’d scream, “Please God, let me die!” As hard as it was for me seeing Mary Jean during the holidays and summer, for my parents, her illness was an everyday ordeal.”

“That December, between our engagement and wedding, my sister, Mary Jean, died. She was just seventeen years old and it was a sad ending to a long ordeal for everyone involved. My mother had done all she could to keep Mary Jean stabilized and healthy but for many years it had been a question of when, not if, she would succumb to her illnesses.”

Parent’s Divorce

“That first summer, however, was difficult as my parents’ marriage ended in divorce. Their relationship was never easy. My parents were an unlikely pair to begin with, and my father’s drinking and philandering were hard for my mother to tolerate. His harsh treatment of me was also a bone of contention. Still, my mom fully believed in “for better or for worse” and she did her best to stick it out and maintain some level of harmony.”

Sailing

“Sailing also gave me some opportunities to spend some time with my dad and to have some pretty amazing adventures for a little kid”

Lesson Learned from Dad

“I learned a great deal during those summers. My dad had some unusual ideas but he was a very clever businessman. He was also as ethical and honest as the day is long. (Before he got into billboards he owned a little car business and he called it “Honest Ed’s Used Cars.”) There were many days when he’d drive me to and from work and the entire ride he’d only talk to me about business. We’d cover everything from detailed accounting principles like depreciation to broader concepts like motivation techniques and the importance of hiring and motivating good people. “

As a boy I saw firsthand the value of hard work and customer relations. It was almost as though he gave me the business degree I didn’t get in college. Oftentimes he’d punctuate his lessons with funny stories or memorable expressions. Once, to drive home a point about the difficulties of attracting good, loyal employees, he told me, “Heck, Jesus only had to pick twelve disciples and even one of those didn’t turn out well.” One of his favorite mottos was one I’ve used myself ever since:

“Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise!”

Father’s Battle with Alcohol

“It was difficult for me to see my father struggle with this but it taught me a great lesson about not only the importance of making friends but the negative impact of making enemies and what damage drinking could do.”

Lesson Learned from Father

Despite my father’s obvious ambition, it’s clear to me now that reaching new heights in business and material wealth actually could have undermined his mental state. He told me a memorable story on the subject. He was preparing to enter Duke University just as the Depression hit. His parents lost nearly everything and they struggled to tell him they could no longer afford his tuition.

 At that young age he consoled his mother, saying, “Don’t worry, Mom. When I grow up, I’m going to work really hard and I’m going to be a success. I’m going to be a millionaire and I’m going to own a plantation and a yacht.

 “You can’t always be right, son, but you can always be on time”

 Given their circumstances at the time these were very lofty goals, but by the time he shared this story with me he had achieved all three. He said that having now checked off each of these goals, he was having a really tough time reevaluating things and coming up with a plan for the rest of his life.

“He then told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said,

“Son, you be sure to set your goals so high that you can’t possibly accomplish them in one lifetime. That way you’ll always have something ahead of you. I made the mistake of setting my goals too low and now I’m having a hard time coming up with new ones.”

Dad’s Suicide

It was in the middle of the week and I was in Atlanta working. My phone rang, and it was my father calling from South Carolina. He’d gone there to spend the week with his wife, Jane. I had hoped he was relaxing there but I soon realized he wasn’t. He said he was calling to tell me that he was selling a large chunk of the company—all the recent acquisitions and major market operations—to Bob Naegele.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I was stunned and I tried to talk him out of it. I told him we were finally in the big time, that the company was doing well and there was no doubt in my mind that we could make our debt payments and then some. When it was clear I wasn’t getting anywhere my shock gave way to anger and I said, “Dad, all my life you’ve taught me to work hard and not be a quitter and now you’re the one who’s quitting! What’s happened to you? How could you do this?” Dad remained surprisingly calm and unmoved. I hung up the phone dazed and disappointed.

Just a few days later I got another call from South Carolina, but this time it was my stepmother, Jane. Dad was dead. After Jimmy Brown had served him and Jane a relaxed breakfast, my father walked up to his bathroom, climbed into the tub, and shot himself.

As worried as I’d been about him, I never thought it would come to this. I felt I had lost my best friend.”

Divorce at 25

“While divorce is never easy, it was particularly hard for me to be separated from my two young children. With everything I was trying to do at the company and with racing taking up so much of my time, I knew I wouldn’t see them very much.”

Parenting

“I read a lot of books on parenting and tried to do my best as a father. Jimmy helped out with just about everything and as a team, he, Janie, and I did our best to raise children with good manners and the proper respect for their elders and each other. We taught them the importance of honesty, integrity, and hard work. I was so busy with work and sailing that I wasn’t around as much as I would have liked, but my children always knew I loved them.”

Sailing and Life

 From my early misadventures I realized that when conditions were good, you couldn’t tell how strong your crew was. Heading out and singing chanteys everyone looked great, but once the going got tough, the weaker guys would fold.”

“Early on, I figured out that in both business and sailing, it’s important to assemble a strong team with talents that are complementary. In many ways, a good sailing crew is like a good football team. In football you need some guys with brawn, some who are agile and quick, and you have to have a good quarterback calling the shots. In sailing, the quarterback is the skipper or helmsman. He has to be able to look out ahead and make the right calls and strategic decisions.

You need the stronger, quicker crew members to grind winches and pull in the sails. You also need an experienced navigator. Today, technology has made navigation much easier but back then you had to rely on a sextant and dead reckoning and the job required a lot of skill.

Resting on your Laurels

After winning the SORC Sailing championship, Ted learnt a very vital lesson about resting on your Laurels:

“ It was the biggest series I’d ever won and I let the success go to my head a little. (Privately, I used to tell people I wanted to become the world’s greatest sailor, businessman, and lover all at the same time.) In public, for the first time in my life I had reporters interviewing me. The sailing culture was very conservative in those days and when I was quoted saying things like, “Man, we blew those other boats away,” I rubbed some people the wrong way. My crew and I were green, brash, and from the South; and that combination didn’t always go over well in places like the New York Yacht Club. But we loved to win and challenging the establishment was all part of the fun.”

“I learned a lot of lessons the hard way, but no matter how skilled a sailor anyone becomes if you spend enough time at sea, you’re going to run into trouble.

Television

“Once I was out of school I was too busy to watch much TV—maybe a football game or a movie here or there. I bought a couple of books about the industry and subscribed to the TV trade journals. I also talked to a lot of people, including general managers of other stations and anyone else I could think of who had some knowledge to share. Even my local competitors were pretty forthcoming. I was kind of like Jimmy Brown getting information from those skippers; they didn’t see me as much of a threat and they didn’t mind telling me what they knew.”

AOL/Time Warner Merger

“It was a really rough time. Psychiatrists will tell you that the two most traumatic things that can happen to a man are going through a divorce and losing his job, and these two things were happening to me at the same time. And I couldn’t sell my stock as the company’s value plummeted. I was like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, watching all that gold dust slipping through his fingers.”

Psychiatrists will tell you that the two most traumatic things that can happen to a man are going through a divorce and losing his job,

Dealing with Challenges: Losing a grandchild, Divorce and Getting Fired

“For me, it brought back sad memories of my sister, Mary Jean, another innocent child who was taken from us. It was a terrible time for our family and with the other problems that I faced, it was almost too much. I developed anxiety that was worse than anything I’d experienced before. When I lost my sister and my father I was able to channel my energies into work and my sailing career. But I was now retired from competitive sports and my hands were tied behind my back as the company I built went in a nosedive.”

“Nearly all of my life I’ve slept like a log, but now I was tossing and turning almost every night. Eventually, I came up with a technique that helped. After spending my days dealing with all  the things that were going wrong, at night I’d put my head on the pillow and try to think about the things I was thankful for, especially my family. In my mind, almost like a slide show, I’d picture my children and their families and think of each of their names. I’d start with the oldest, Laura, and picture her, then her husband, then their kids. Then I’d go to Teddy, the next oldest, and do the same with him and his family. Once I’d worked through Rhett, Beau, Jennie and their children, I’d go back in the reverse direction. Picturing my family helped calm me and cleared my head of worries as I slowly drifted off to sleep.”

After spending my days dealing with all  the things that were going wrong, at night I’d put my head on the pillow and try to think about the things I was thankful for, especially my family.

Lessons Learned as an Entrepreneur

“Looking back, one of the lessons I learned from all of this is that when you start out on a new entrepreneurial venture, you might think you know what the roadblocks will be but you don’t really have any idea until after you get started. As an entrepreneur, you’re like a running back in a football game. He knows what hole he’s trying to run through, but once he’s through he’s in the open field and now he has to improvise.”

When I suffer a setback, I don’t think of myself as losing, I’m simply learning how to win

Worldview

“My first exposure to people from other countries was through sailing, and it occurred to me that elite athletes have more opportunities to associate with their peers from around the globe than just about anyone. When they do, despite the competition they usually get along. It’s easy to hate people you don’t know, but it’s hard to hate people once you get to know them and recognize how much you have in common”

“It’s easy to hate people you don’t know, but it’s hard to hate people once you get to know them and recognize how much you have in common”

Set eyes on the future – Disappointment

“I also keep my sights set on the future and don’t spend much time dwelling on the past. I’ve had some tough experiences as a child and have had my share of business and personal setbacks, but sitting around thinking about them isn’t going to change anything. Someone once said that I was a good winner but a better loser. When I have a setback, I put it behind me as fast as I can and keep moving.”

 I don’t play golf but I compare the way I respond to disappointments to the way a golfer does after he hits his drive into the water. He doesn’t walk down to the pond, dive in, dig out his ball, examine the ball, and ponder what happened. Instead, he takes another ball out of his bag, tees it up, and keeps on playing. After a disappointment I always try to bounce back and I’ve no doubt that this has helped me tremendously.

Strong Work Ethic

“I also have a strong work ethic. From my earliest days pulling weeds in the yard to working for my dad out at the billboard company, nothing was handed to me; I always had to work for it.”

Time Efficiency

“There probably are some ways that I work and live that might be a little different from other people you come across. For one thing, I go to great lengths to be efficient with my time and try to make the most of every minute of every day. When I run meetings, they start on time. A lot of that came from my father and punctuality was stressed at McCallie and the Coast Guard. For much of my career, I didn’t even waste time getting to and from work. ”

“There were long stretches when I spent most of my weeknights sleeping in my office, and later, when I could afford to, I built an apartment on the top floor of CNN. So when millions of Atlanta drivers were wasting their time sitting in traffic, my commute was nothing more than walking up a flight of stairs, and I had that much more productive time to work every day.”

“My desire to use time wisely has even extended to what I wear on my feet. For most of my adult life, I’ve never worn lace-up shoes. Most of my shoes are slip-ons, so instead of spending time stooping over tying my shoes, I do something else that’s productive.”

All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

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