Sam Haskell is an Emmy nominated Hollywood producer and author of the inspirational memoir, Promises I Made My Mother. Today Sam shares insights into his approach to entrepreneurship and how early lessons in starting a business can translate into building a successful one later in life.
First jobs can be menial, disheartening, and tough. Everyone has to start somewhere though, and we’ve all had those strange and sometimes dreadful 9 to 5’s. I firmly believe however that those early experiences can also be formative in yielding rewards far greater than any meager wages earned scooping ice cream or mowing lawns. What I’m referring to is how a first job can build character and moreover teach the lessons of starting a business more practically than any fancy education ever could.
I grew up in the small town of Amory, Mississippi (population 6,871). My family was by no means wealthy and it was expected that I spend most of my free time outside of school, working. Yes, I shelved books at the public library but during summer vacations, I had a fabulous job teaching swimming lessons. At the Amory municipal pool, I was a lifeguard and swimming instructor as my mother had been close with the parks and recreation director. I taught swimming lessons to all of the families and their children in my neighborhood, building my clientele through word of mouth and persistently knocking on doors. I was a hustler or in today’s vocabulary, an entrepreneur. I built my swimming business to the point where I could earn $5,000 in the months of June, July, and August. More importantly, I used that money to help my mother with our mortgage and put myself through college at the University of Mississippi. The point here is that it’s never too early to start your own business and to use those gains to further invest in yourself. Those dividends are immeasurable.
Building Your Career Through Entrepreneurship
Show business is perhaps one of the most entrepreneurial industries out there. To even break into the world of entertainment takes a certain level of creativity and industriousness. I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1978 after graduating from Ole Miss to go to law school. I thought it might be a way to get into film and television. To help my plan, I tried to get in touch with Ruth Englehart, head of business affairs at William Morris. She was an alumnus of Southwestern Law School where I had also been accepted. After many weeks of calling, I finally got through to her and she met me that day. We spoke for 3 hours which concluded in her telling me I’d need to start in the mailroom, and that she would set me up for a final interview with William Morris COO, Walter Zifkin.
In my meeting with Walt, he hired me on the spot and on October 23, 1978 I started in the William Morris mailroom earning just $125 a week. The lesson is that persistence and tenacity are the bedrock of entrepreneurship. Not only did it get me through the door, but it continued to serve me during my long and successful tenure as a talent agent and executive, where I represented so many incredible artists. To get anything done in Hollywood takes a steadfast entrepreneurial spirit.
Taking The Big Leap
There comes a watershed moment for every entrepreneur where they truly strike out on their own. While I spent 30+ years at the William Morris Agency, building my client roster and generating my own business, it wasn’t until 2012 that I started my very own company, Magnolia Hill Productions. The idea for Magnolia Hill came because after I had left William Morris, my dear friend Peter Roth from Warner Bros. called to ask what I was doing? He invited me to join him and the Warner Bros. family and told me to build a sandbox and invite my friends in to play. This was an important chapter in my entrepreneurial career; I’d have to start a new business from the ground up. The first person I thought of was my dear friend and former client, Dolly Parton. We have since produced 11 beautiful films together.
Working as a producer is an incredible job and has every hallmark of entrepreneurship. No project is the same, no day is the same, and new challenges arrive daily, requiring me to think on my feet at all times. With each new show we continue to grow the company and I still get that same exciting feeling that I had as a young boy, working at the Amory community pool. I’m building something for myself.
Learn more about Sam Haskell here.