7 Life Lessons from the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series feat. Ted Leonsis

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by: Mandar Kashikar MBA ’19

As I scrambled to find an open seat in a jam-packed auditorium, I knew that this was going to be amazing start to the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker series. We had, on campus, two of the most influential businessmen known locally as well as nationally. Soon enough, Elana Fine, Executive Director of the Dingman Center, took the stage to elegantly inaugurate the event, describing the objective of the event to enable student learning by bringing business leaders and entrepreneurs to campus. Dean Alex Triantis further took the stage to introduce Bob Hisaoka, the man behind the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker series. As a student, I couldn’t imagine a better opportunity to learn about business and entrepreneurship. It was an entrepreneurial journey of 40 years packed into 2 hours. Crash course—Entrepreneurship!

As Bob Hisaoka went on to introduce Ted Leonsis, it seemed like the list of achievements would never end. Ted is an Internet industry pioneer and serial entrepreneur. He helped build AOL into the global business it is today. Under his leadership, AOL increased its membership from under 800,000 members to over 8 million, and their annual revenue increased from $100 million to $1.5 billion. He is the owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the NHL’s Washington Capitals and other sports properties. Additionally, he serves on the board of directors at Groupon as well as American Express. But his accomplishments don’t stop there. Ted is an award-winning producer of documentaries, and the founder and chairman of SnagFilms. His philanthropic efforts are many and his impact on society continues to grow to this day.

Life Lesson 1: Little things if done well go a long way!

Bob started the discussion with a question about Ted’s early entrepreneurial experiences. Ted recalled that during his youth, he mowed lawns. “If I were going to mow lawns, I’d be the best at it” he said. So, he went straight to the library and picked up a book on mowing.  “Well that’s what you do in a world without computers!” he quipped. Equipped with his new library book, he remembers how he went from door to door asking, “Which lawn cut would you want?” while displaying the different cuts in the book. He adds that it’s essential to think from a customer’s perspective and provide something additional (a unique selling proposition). In this case, it was the specialized cut he offered.

Life Lesson 2: Make the university experience count; participate in as much as you can and seize every moment.

One of his customers, Jim Shannon, was the reason he went to Georgetown University. At the time, he had no idea what a university looked like. Going to school changed his life forever—he now had access to an infinite pool of resources and it was upon to him to make the best of these. So, he did and indeed, he succeeded.

Life Lesson 3: Be open to new ideas and embrace change

Ted remembers one isolated incident that deeply impacted his life. For his school thesis, Ted started reading all of Hemingway’s work and realized how “Old Man and the Sea”—which was written in the ’50s—closely resembled the author’s journalistic work back in the ’30s. Ted’s advisor suggested he use a computer to verify his hypothesis. Ted wrote an algorithm and sure enough the computer confirmed that the book was indeed written in 1935 and not 1950. This incidence introduced Ted to computers, and we know what happened next.

Life Lesson 4: Frame goals, write them down and let them stare at you!

Ted recollects that even after selling his first company for USD 27 Million at the age of 27, his life seemed more like a ‘false chase’. He had a moment of reckoning when he was seated on an airplane which was about to crash-land. In that moment, he started praying. He prayed to strike a deal with Almighty— “Let me out of this and I will leave more than I take. I’d live a life without regrets! Let me have a second shot at life.” Safe on the ground, he made a list of 101 things he wanted to do. One was to buy a sports team and win championships. Consequently, when the opportunity to purchase the Washington Wizards team arrived, he grabbed it. This list continued to guide his adventures, for example, he travelled to Hawaii only to see an active volcano. Ted’s current score: 83/101.

Life Lesson 5: Do good by doing good

When discussing sports, Ted commented that owning a sports team is also a social responsibility. The Capital One Center he owns and operates has provided jobs and also spurred growth for surrounding businesses. He spoke passionately about his plans to revitalize Washington D.C.’s Ward 8 by building practice facilities for his sports teams there.

Life Lesson 6: Easy to make money, difficult to make an impact

In his early philanthropic days, Ted contributed to more than 400 charities but did not see much impact being generated. Now he chooses to focus on a select few initiatives that have a greater impact on society. He took the opportunity to talk about a 15-million-dollar fund that he initiated to encourage the college-going culture. He believes that once the first generation going to college, the second generation is bound to follow.

Life Lesson 7: There is no lucky shot. It’s all hard work.

When asked about his advice to student entrepreneurs, Ted said there are no right answers. He urged students to believe in themselves. He said no one really knows anything, it’s how you envision the future that matters. Don’t let someone else deter you from achieving that vision! Finally, Ted emphasized that hard work, curiosity, grit, and determination are what differentiates you from others. During his time at Georgetown, he went to school with many students who appeared to have quite an advantage over him. He soon realized however that through hard work and dedication, he could outperform his classmates. All throughout his studies, he worked hard. Ted worked on the Hill, at a shoe store, and on campus to make ends meet. He attended every lecture, he did not slack, and he came out ahead of the others. Like most NBA games, the talk came to a thrilling end. Ted, to narrate a story, got up from his seat and enacted a recent NBA buzzer beater he had witnessed lately. The one where Lebron James steals the ball, side steps and launches a high flying 3 pointer and makes it. He said, that’s no lucky shot—it’s the shot that Lebron practices 10,000 times every week!


IMG_9302 - Copy.JPGMandar Kashikar is a first-year MBA student at Robert H Smith School of Business pursuing a career in Marketing and Data Analytics. His entrepreneurial journey started when he joined a startup back in 2016. Ever since, he has been drawn towards the lively and dynamic culture that startups cultivate.

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