Dwayne Johnson and Dany Garcia's Business Strategy: Rethink Everything!
This story appears in the April 网盟彩票 issue of
“There is a before,” says Dany Garcia, “and there is an after.”
Here is before. It’s around 1998, and at the time, is a burgeoning wrestler in the . Garcia is about halfway through a career at . They are newly married, eating dinner at a restaurant, and discussing Johnson’s path. “I was having a little bit of a challenging time turning the corner in terms of my fame,” recalls Johnson, “because I just, by default, am more reclusive and quiet. And I also can’t hide.”
Let’s be clear: He can’t hide because he’s enormous. His biceps, then and now, are the size of other men’s heads. People were recognizing him from across airports and creating a mob scene. So, sure, he had fame, but it seemed chaotic and uncontrolled, and not advancing his ultimate goal. He didn’t just want to be famous. He wanted to be...bigger than that. More meaningful than that. But how?
Johnson and Garcia were talking this over at their table when another couple approached. The people were shaking nervously. “Excuse me,” they said, “but can we have your autograph?”
Johnson wasn’t in the mood. He slowly, coldly, looked up at them. “Sure,” he said, in the tone of a man who’d rather say no.
The fans grew regretful. “I’m so sorry,” they said.
“No, no, no; it’s OK,” Johnson said.
He signed his name to something and handed it over. They went skulking off.
Johnson turned back to Garcia, and the horribleness of his action sunk in. “We immediately, immediately identified it,” he says. “I had an opportunity to make that person feel so good, and instead they walked away apologetic and feeling awful, when the reality is, I’m a lucky son of a bitch that somebody would care enough to come up and ask for my autograph.”
Johnson and Garcia are analytical people. They like to break things down — to see how A leads to B. So they decided to run an exercise. “And the exercise was: Let’s think about what happens when all of a sudden they’re eating, and they look up, and there I am,” he says. “What’s the conversation they have? The husband goes, ‘Oh my God; there’s the Rock. I’ve got to go over.’ ‘No, don’t go over.’ ‘No, I have to.’ And they work themselves up, and they come over. And that was very helpful for us.”
There is a before and there is an after, Garcia says. That was the before. And this is after: At that dinner, where Johnson and Garcia were puzzling over how to build his career, they’d suddenly been given an answer. “We have the opportunity to make people feel good,” Johnson says. “And that’s a powerful thing to have.”
It’s a powerful thing for anyone to have — and everyone does have it. Every or anything else where I control the narrative. That’s my core; I communicate. Maybe at your core, you build. Or solve problems. Or impact your community.
Today my core has taken me to a film studio in Atlanta, where I’m telling this whole crazy thing to Johnson and Garcia. It doesn’t need a lot of saying, but: They aren’t sitting at restaurants puzzling over Johnson’s career these days. Garcia is his manager, and they are business partners overseeing a sprawling, complicated bundle of interests. There is , an enterprise that produces film, TV, movie called , which Johnson stars in.) There is , a holding enterprise that launches or manages investments in a wide range of brands. (Garcia also manages the actor .) And of course, as stories about Johnson often stress, he achieved the status of highest-paid actor in Hollywood.
But I want to get underneath all that. So, the core. I’m telling them my own experience as a big, elaborate way of asking for theirs. What are you at your core? The question is hard enough for one person to answer, but a successful business relationship requires two good answers — two people who are self-aware enough to know what drives them, and how their core missions are complementary.
They ponder it for a moment. Garcia goes first.
“Focus,” she says. “I have an incredible level of intense focus. And the ability to engage in the complete experience that’s going on.” She doesn’t just want to tell a story, she says. She wants to tell “the story of the story” — to understand the biggest of the pictures. So this is her core: She digs deep, while simultaneously floating above.
Then it’s Johnson’s turn. To answer, he rewinds to another pivotal moment in his career, when he finally identified his core. In the early 2000s, he was transitioning from wrestling into movies, and the road was bumpy. “The business we were doing was OK,” he says. “But there was more. There was something more, and I hadn’t identified yet what that power foundation was. And then finally I felt like, to identify myself, I realized that it was important not to be narrow. I wanted to be a 10-lane highway approaching the world.”
This is a good metaphor, so let’s roll with it. Most people aspire to one lane. They want to own that lane — to go fast in that lane. But not Johnson. He was driving in one lane but realized there were actually nine other lanes he couldn’t see. He was stuck in one lane. His core was this: Own all the lanes.
How did he plan to do that?
“I felt like I had to do a clean sweep,” he says. It was time for a new regime — new publicists, new manager, new everybody, and it needed to be led by someone who shared the vastness of his ambition. So in 2008, he chose Garcia.
Related: . Then they joined the studio’s marketing meetings, which is something an actor’s team rarely does.
“We were comfortable with knowing, right now, we’re going to put in the work,” says Johnson. “You may not give us a credit now, but eventually we’re going to become powerful producers in this business.”
In time, studios did give them credit. And did start paying them. And Seven Bucks would go on to produce all of Johnson’s work, from to the HBO show , as well as many projects he’s not starring in at all.
So that was another lane. “And then,” Garcia says, “ on Instagram, you can see signs of it. The “front-row seat to his everyday life” is photographed beautifully and often packaged into video; that’s a financial commitment to an on-the-go team whose cameras are trained on him. (During Entrepreneur’s photo shoot and interview with Johnson and Garcia, for example, their team filmed the entire process for later use on his social feed. Most cover subjects don’t do that.) He regularly posts his extravagant “cheat meals” — awesomely indulgent food that breaks from his strict athletic diet — and that’s what social media managers might call a franchise, or a repeatable concept built around what gets a great audience response. Everyone with a personal brand should develop their own franchises.
There’s something else you’ll see throughout his social channels: things for sale. Everything that Johnson and Garcia have built or invested in — from movies to brand that they just launched and also conveniently brought to the Entrepreneur photo shoot — makes careful appearances. Here, Lasry, the CMO, will offer a takeaway for other entrepreneurs: “One of the biggest learnings we found is that the more the audience sees just how truly involved [Johnson] is — from the production all through the marketing campaign — they are so much more interested.” That insight helps inform these posts. It’s not enough to just show a product and say it’s for sale. No — you lead the audience into it and make them feel a part of the process. Johnson tastes the tequila. He refines the tequila. He thinks about the tequila. He works on the tequila. And then, at the end, he doesn’t really need to sell it. The audience has already bought in. (Ditto for the story you’re reading right now: Johnson of our interview a full month before it hit newsstands — to Entrepreneur’s great surprise, and delight.)
Related: is fantastic.’ You know, you can begin to give examples and case studies. People want to take a leap of faith, but we help them to take a leap of faith.”
Some of these projects felt obvious — like, say, pairing Johnson with wellness or entertainment brands. There is, for example, Project Rock; that’s a brand partnership with Under Armour. In October, they’re debuting , a two-day fitness event in Atlanta. They also invested in, and serve as advisers to, the water company and social media ticketing platform . And there’s more. But you don’t build a 10-lane highway just by doing the expected. Those are simply the starting points — the places from which Garcia can execute her philosophy of deliberate, step-by-step, bring-the-audience-along-with-you disruption.
That’s how they ended up also investing in and advising a quirky, Portland, Ore.–based .
“I was not looking for this at all,” says Salt & Straw’s cofounder and CEO, Kim Malek. “It was completely serendipitous.”
Malek’s friend had been doing some work with Garcia and offered to connect the two. Malek was hoping Garcia might become a Salt & Straw adviser, and maybe even a board member. Some emails turned into a meeting in Los Angeles, which was supposed to be 45 minutes but went on so long that Malek missed her flight. The two companies found a lot of common ground. They both think of themselves as storytellers — Seven Bucks with its myriad of entertainment and marketing projects, and Salt & Straw in the way it develops flavors. For example, it recently had a symphony play in its kitchen and interpreted the music into ice cream. And to highlight the amount of food waste that happens in America, it once made a menu out of ingredients that were going to be thrown away.
The ice cream sold out in two days and has benefited Salt & Straw in ways Malek couldn’t have anticipated. As she scouts locations for new stores, for example, landlords return her calls faster now. Though Dwanta Claus did leave some people scratching their heads: Johnson, the very picture of fitness, promoting ice cream? But Malek got it.
“I just think of the power of their appeal to everybody — they’re a unifying force in the world,” she says of Johnson and Garcia. “We need that. And if you think about it, ice cream is that, too.”
It sounds exactly like the insight Johnson and Garcia had years ago — that their big opportunity wasn’t just to make movies or sell products. It was to make people feel good. And Salt & Straw confirmed it.
What’s the difference between an ambitious business and a business that’s achieved many of its ambitions? There’s scale, obviously: more money, more work, more people. There’s also risk tolerance. You might think that a larger organization has more to lose, but Garcia sees it differently. “We were actually very risk-averse” in the beginning, Garcia says. “We didn’t have that understanding of the audience. But as you become more mature, it’s different. You can actually take greater risks, because everyone has a sense of who this individual is, and so therefore the extensions make more sense.”
By “individual,” she means Johnson, but the same can be said of any organization. Once customers understand and love a brand, they’ll follow it, too.
That may sound like common sense. But what Garcia says actually goes against the natural gravity of most companies. Maxwell Wessel, the chief innovation officer of , once wrote this in Harvard Business Review: “Big companies are really bad at innovation because they’re designed to be bad at innovation.” Once a company succeeds at something, he argues, it learns to do that thing as efficiently as possible. It stops discovering new things and becomes an expert in itself. That’s when it stops taking risks…which is when a smaller, more nimble competitor can come along and destroy it. Blockbuster versus Netflix. Sears versus Walmart (versus Amazon!). It’s an old story.
This can happen with a leader, too. A leader can be amazing at overseeing one phase of a company — the startup phase, the cleanup phase, the first-burst-of-growth phase. They fashion themselves as the right leader for the moment, and they serve it perfectly. But when the company enters a new phase and needs them to be a new kind of leader, they’re unable to adapt. Great and enduring leaders, therefore, are the ones that can change along with their company. They’re a new kind of leader at every stage.
So what does that look like for Johnson and Garcia, as Seven Bucks and The Garcia Companies have taken up more and more of that 10-lane highway? How have they become different leaders than the way they began?
“Oh, that’s good,” Johnson says, when I ask the question. Then he turns to Garcia.
“You want to take that?” They laugh.
But Garcia has a ready answer. “What we did this year, we did not do last year,” she says. “We are not attached to process. We are only attached to outcome.”
Garcia’s process has changed a lot over the years. She used to be involved in every conversation and all logistics, she says. But that’s not what their companies need now. “So I became a different type of producer,” she says. “Now it’s ‘How do all these enterprises work together? How are they tied to what’s happening in the global economy? How does it tie to the global audience that he now represents? Who is he today after every film? And how does that tie back?’ ”
Johnson has a similar perspective. Leadership, for him, involves asking a lot of questions — and constantly forcing himself to see things fresh. “I’ve felt my leadership ability and qualities grow,” he says, “but they could not have grown without the capacity to go, ‘OK, let’s always think this is my first day of school, first day on the job, and I don’t know shit.’”
Garcia describes Johnson as “the deliverable”—he is both a creator of a product and the product himself. That puts him in a unique position as a leader. And Johnson agrees: He must be as good as everyone’s expectations. He has to be the hardest worker.
“For me, what has really helped is just leading by example — really leading by example and always putting in the work,” he says. “And if we fail, it’s OK; we fail. But I’m always going to put in the work. These guys will tell you — you know, we’ll fly to China网盟彩票, we’ll land in Beijing at 4 a.m., we will immediately go to the hotel, then we’re going to go to the gym, and then we’re going to start our day. And it is a long day, right? But I’m right there with you. Yeah, we’re going to do it together.”
These answers should sound familiar.
In the beginning of my conversation with Johnson and Garcia, we talked about our cores: What is the thing that fuels us? The thing we know how to do best? Garcia said it’s to “engage in the complete experience” — to simultaneously dig deep and see the big picture. Johnson said it’s to “be a 10-lane highway approaching the world.” They figured out these things years ago, when Johnson was just a guy puzzling over his fame. Now their place in the world is very different. Their lives are defined by billion-dollar deals. But when I asked how they evolved as leaders, they restated a version of their cores: Garcia is digging deep and rising above. Johnson sees massive opportunity and is fully committed to owning it.
That’s what happens when you have a well-defined core, and when you understand exactly how well it interlocks with your partner’s. Lots of things will change after years of experience and billions of dollars, but the core will not. It cannot.
“Because the process, it’s just a cycle,” Johnson says.
“It has to refine; it has to improve,” Garcia says.
“The refinement is so critical,” Johnson says.
But the starting point is everything.