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Finding 'Satisfaction' As an Entrepreneur Even Though 'You Can't Always Get What You Want'

A Commentary By Cliff Ennico

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's sum ... sum ... summertime. Time to throw away the business books and do some brainless "beach reading."

Except when you write a small-business column, you see entrepreneurial advice in just about any book you pick up. It goes with the territory. Truth is you can get business lessons from just about anyone in any field.

So just yesterday, I finished reading the autobiography of one of the great entertainment-industry entrepreneurs of the last century -- the co-founder of a successful organization that will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year after having earned billions worldwide.

His name is Keith Richards. Yep, him. The lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, the world's most successful (and longest-lived) rock band. Most people don't think of Richards as an entrepreneur, but he deserves the title even though (let's face it) he's had a lot more fun building his empire than most entrepreneurs do.

While a very entertaining read (Richards is surprisingly articulate and remembers a lot more about "what actually happened" than you might think), Richards' life story contains some powerful lessons for entrepreneurs. For example:

You start out where the market is, then build on that. Richards says the Stones didn't set out initially to be the world's greatest rock band. Their objective was much more modest: "to be the best R&B band in London." Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s was crazy about American blues, and virtually all of the "British Invasion" bands started as blues bands. Most never evolved beyond that, but, hey, you have to start somewhere, so you go where the demand is. Then you figure out how to do it better.

It's all about being a team player. According to Richards, the only time the Stones franchise ever suffered was when one of its members thought himself "bigger than the group" and tried to put himself out front at the expense of the others. First, the late Brian Jones in the 1960s. Then, Mick Jagger in the 1980s (more about that later).

Although he was the driving force behind most of the Stones' greatest hits, Richards throughout the book acknowledges Jagger's talent, especially in coming up with lyrics, and steadfastly refuses to take credit for other band members' contributions.

You push yourself to do whatever it takes. The Stones' first manager insisted the band would have no future if it merely "covered" American R&B and rockabilly tunes. It needed original hits, but nobody in the band had written a song before. So the manager threw Richards and Jagger into a kitchen and told them not to come out until they had written a song. The result was "As Tears Go By" and the realization that Richards actually could write songs. When putting together the "Exile on Main Street" album, Richards stayed up nine consecutive days and nights without sleep in order to get several of the tracks mixed perfectly.

Enjoy your success in moderation. "Keith Richards" and "moderation" in the same sentence? It's not as surprising as you might think. Richards is brutally candid about his decades of drug abuse and dependency, but spends a lot of time in "Life" demonstrating how he put limits on his habits and scrupulously avoided the excesses and mistakes that led many of his contemporaries (including Janis Joplin, John Belushi and Richards' close friend Gram Parsons of the Byrds) to death by overdose.

Never burn your "Bridges to Babylon." In Richards' entire book, there is hardly a single negative word about Jagger, his other band mates or indeed anyone else. Even a Stones manager who ripped the band off shamelessly and whom the band sued repeatedly for unpaid royalties gets off easily as "the guy who did more than anyone else to make the Stones what they became, despite the price we had to pay for dealing with him."

In the early 1980s, Jagger signed a three-record solo contract with Columbia Records without telling the other Stones about his plans -- an act that Richards (and virtually everyone else) viewed as an act of betrayal to the band. In fact, the Stones did not record or tour from 1985 to 1989 while Jagger struggled to develop a distinctive sound without them.

When Jagger's solo career ran out of steam, Richards and Jagger set aside their differences, put the Stones back together and starting touring and recording again. The two men were not as close as they were before, but there were no recriminations, no apologies on either side, no dwelling on the past.

Why? Because both realized they were worth more together than separate, and that the Stones franchise was simply too successful for either of them to abandon permanently. The business -- or the music -- comes first.

As anyone in the music industry can tell you, "what goes around, comes around," and you can't afford to make permanent enemies because you keep bumping into the same people over and over again. There will always be another "reunion tour" down the road, and you never know ... that band mate who stole your old lady on the last tour may be the only person alive who can explain that secret compartment in your guitar case to the customs authorities in Lower Slobbovia.

Cliff Ennico (crennico@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state.

COPYRIGHT 2011 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO.

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