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Redstone Risks It All
by Tahl Raz

At a public gathering a couple of years ago, an ill-advised reporter asked Viacom Inc. CEO Sumner Redstone whether he felt eclipsed by the Time Warner/AOL merger. An irate Redstone responded, "You obviously don't know who you're talking to."

Sumner Redstone ( biography)
Title: Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer
Education: LL.B., Harvard University School of Law, 1947
Company: Viacom, Inc.
Headquarters: New York, N.Y.
Viacom's 2000 Earnings: More than $20 billion in annual revenue
Find out more about other Great Entrepreneurs.

To know Redstone, is to know a man who revels in a celebration of individual will. The CEO is to personal power what Mick Jagger was to free love.

Redstone commemorated his 77th birthday last year with another testament to his relentless spirit: the completion of his company's $85 billion merger with CBS. Did that schmuck say eclipsed?

The CEO's story shows where you can get when you treat caution like it was bad breath. "In order to succeed, you have to live dangerously," Redstone said in an exclusive interview with "As long as the danger is rationally accepted and as long as the rewards far outweigh the risk."

"Success isn't built on success; it's built on failure, frustration and sometimes catastrophe."

Take his now-famous escape and recovery from a 1979 Boston hotel fire. Doctors predicted he wouldn't walk again. He had burns over half his body. Asked to comment, Redstone often fires back, "Today, I run faster on a tennis court than most people you know."

In 1997, his $8 billion investment in Blockbuster, the nation's largest video retailer, left him leaping a business hurdle. By all accounts, the deal turned into a disaster. Critics said the transaction was proof that the CEO was past his prime; "razzmatazz Redstone, the foolish boss of a bloated empire," wrote one financial columnist.

So the old man did what he has always done. He worked harder than anyone else. He moved into the company headquarters in Dallas, restructured management and developed a new distribution system based on a radical revenue-sharing plan. The new model has transformed the video-rental industry for film studios, video stores and consumers.

The press downplays Redstone's accomplishments because he isn't a glamorous media mogul. There isn't Michael Eisner's creative wizadry, Barry Diller's negotiating ferocity or Steve Case's technological vision to trumpet. Redstone takes risks and works hard.

It brings us back to his philosophy of success based on failure. At some point, says author and editor Harriet Rubin, "We all have to decide how we are going to fail: by not going far enough, or by going too far." Redstone, like Rubin, would rather go too far and risk success than be certain of mediocrity.

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Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom Sumner Redstone on trusting your instincts.

Related Stories
• Congratulations, You Failed
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• The Bright Side of Darkness
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Related Books
• Soloing: Realizing Your Life's Ambition, Harriet Rubin

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