Always ask: What am I missing? And listen to the answer

STRAUSS ZELNICK founded Zelnick Media Group (ZMC) in 2001, which specializes in private equity investments in the media and communications industries. He serves as CEO and chairman of the board of Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc., ZMC’s largest asset and the video game developer of blockbuster hits including Max Payne, the Grand Theft Auto series, and WWE 2K. Strauss is also a director of Education Networks of America, Inc., and sits on the board of Alloy, LLC. Prior to forming ZMC, he was president and CEO of BMG Entertainment, at that time one of the world’s largest music and entertainment companies with more than 200 record labels and operations in 54 countries. Strauss holds a BA from Wesleyan University, as well as an MBA from Harvard Business School and a JD from Harvard Law School.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, the founder of the business self-help movement. Archaic references and overweening title to the side, it’s actually a great guide to leadership and salesmanship.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say?

“Always ask: What am I missing? And listen to the answer.”

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Exercising seven to 12 times weekly, in a diverse and disciplined way, often with a group of like-minded people. Our team is called #TheProgram. It’s changed my approach to fitness and vastly enhanced my life.

I’m a big believer in starting slowly. Magazines that promise washboard abs in three weeks are just selling magazines. If you’re not in great shape, that didn’t happen overnight; don’t expect to reverse it overnight either. One good and gentle way to begin an exercise program is by doing about ten minutes of calisthenics three days a week: push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, air squats, and the like. Then take a brisk walk for half an hour. After a few weeks of that, go to a gym and try an easy exercise class, or hire a trainer, or pick any number of online programs. Don’t work out more than two or three times a week until your body feels ready for more. If you start slowly and develop the habit of doing exercise for about three months, it’s very likely to stick.

And remember, you can’t out-exercise your overeating. There are no magic exercises. I like Marc Perry’s BuiltLean program a lot. It’s very approachable for everyone and highly effective, especially when paired with his dietary recommendations.

How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I make loads of mistakes daily. But mistakes can be identified and corrected (or at least addressed) in the moment. A failure is a collection of small mistakes that haven’t been identified or corrected along the way. My “favorite” failure was when I unwittingly had an ethical lapse in business—and my personal approach and our corporate brand relies first and foremost on integrity. Specifically, my company owned a business with a partner, and our agreement precluded us from owning another business that was competitive. Despite that, we looked seriously at a different deal that, while not identical, operated in a similar space. I convinced myself—mostly because I wanted to build my business and not deal with a potentially difficult situation—that the new deal really didn’t represent a conflict. Ultimately, as were getting close to buying the company in question, I went to my partner and told them what were about to do. Basically their heads exploded. So, what did I do? I took personal, public responsibility. I apologized profusely and repeatedly. I did the best I could to make things right. And most

important, I relearned a lesson I thought I already knew: Never compromise your integrity. It’s all you have. For what it’s worth, the deal to buy the new company never happened in the end.

While it can feel embarrassing and uncomfortable to apologize, it’s a sign of maturity and good character. Unfortunately there is no particular magic to saying “I’m sorry.” Just do it.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Education. I spent four years in college and four more in graduate school. It seemed like an eternity at the time, but it was well worth it.

What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”?
Figure out what success means to you. Don’t accept others’ views or conventional wisdom. Write down what your successful personal and professional life looks like in 20 years. Then roll the clock back to today. Make sure your choices are in service of those goals.

When I was in my early 20s, I created a sort of watercolor picture of what life would look like decades later. For me, professional success meant having a significant equity stake in a large diversified media and entertainment company that I control. Personal success meant having a wife and kids I love, and living comfortably in the New York area. And that’s what my life looks like today. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone, but I did get much of what I set out to get. Today I’m pretty content most of the time.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

I try to take a break and not be too hard on myself. Get some (more) exercise. Having done that, I’ll ask: Am I on the right track and just frustrated at today’s lack of progress, or do I need to reconsider my approach? If that doesn’t yield anything helpful, I’ll pose those questions to close friends I trust and my wife. And if none of that helps, I’ll try to put the thoughts aside for 24 hours. A day later, the smoke usually clears and things make more sense.

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