• April 2010

Happiness in Business: What does it mean to you?

Are you happy? It’s a question I’ve been pondering since hearing Ted Leonsis speak in February about his new book, “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Work and Life.”

After I read his insightful 305-page tome, I was intrigued — and slightly bemused. Sure, happiness is something we all aspire to, but is it really possible when you are trying to grow a business in a troubled economy, and (oftentimes) grow a family in an era when enough is never enough?

Happiness according to Ted Leonsis: “It took me a quarter century to connect these dots and understand how they amount to a formula for achieving happiness,” Leonsis states. He then gives us a road map, explaining that to him, the Business of Happiness relies on three concepts:

1. “You should treat the attainment of happiness in the same way an entrepreneur would approach building a business — with a vision, plan, goals, and a systematic approach and metrics to measure your progress.”

2. “Enterprises — like companies, businesses, charities, sports teams, and political campaigns — that consider themselves in the ‘business of happiness’ will do better than those that pay no attention to the tenets outlined [which include goal-setting, having communities of interest, personal expression, gratitude, empathy expressed in giving back, and having a higher calling].”

3. “Happiness is a driver of success, not the other way around.”

Sounds pretty good. But I wanted to know more. Since I like to go right to the source, I invited Ted Leonsis to be our April Entrepreneur of the Month. He said yes. I also asked his co-author, John Buckley, to answer a few questions. See those interviews below, and also read Leonsis’ Tips for Entrepreneurs.

I also asked our 20 columnists this month to tackle the topic of happiness. Each interpreted the topic for their own industries, and I think you’ll enjoy their insights:
LEADERSHIP expert Angela Sontheimer talks about Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness Index.”
MANAGEMENT expert Dr. Alice Waagen provides an “Anti-Burnout” guide to help managers keep employees happy.
FINANCE guru John Hasenberg knows that a healthy retirement fund makes for all kinds of happiness. He asks, “Do you know where your retirement savings are?”
• Talk about happiness. Learn not only how to appreciate WINE, but how to make a barrel (=300 bottles) yourself at Vint Hill Craft Winery.
• Bognet CONSTRUCTION vp Jennifer Bognet interviews Fernando Murias, founder of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, a nonprofit that brings sporting events to DC and helps children and the homeless thrive through sports. At its annual SneakerBall, the organization honored dozens of athletes and supporters, including Ted Leonsis.
• And in our PARENTING column, we learn about the power of staying happy despite all odds from Laurie Strongin, author of “Saving Henry.” In her new book, she inspires us to “live well and laugh hard” as she shares the heartbreaking tale of how she and her husband Allen fought for 7 years to keep their son alive despite a genetic disease. Grab a box of tissues, and get ready to read an amazing story by a truly amazing woman.

Speaking of Truly Amazing Women: Make a strong, powerful, inspiring woman that you know happy by sharing her story with us. I am planning to profile hundreds of women on the website for my new book, “100 Truly Amazing Women Who Are Changing The World.” Click here to submit her name and contact info.

Until next month, here’s to your happiness — and your success!
Hope Katz Gibbs, editor and publisher
Be Inkandescent magazine

Ted Leonsis Shines A Light On The Business of Happiness


Ted Leonsis, serial entrepreneur
Author, “The Business of Happiness”

Article and interviews by Hope Katz Gibbs

“The happiest and most successful people I know have in common with one another not just an ability to function with multiple communities, but a real desire to do so,” writes Ted Leonsis in his new book, “The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Life and Work.”

Surely, any entrepreneur would love to know the secrets to Leonsis’ success — much as they did a decade ago when Jack Welch’s GE ideas seemed like the best path to follow for many business owners.

But this book, co-written by John Buckley who was Leonsis’ friend and PR director when he was an executive at AOL, focuses on self-actualization — the top of the pyramid in what Abraham Maslow termed the Hierarchy of Needs.

“What a man can be, he must be,” Maslow explained. “This forms the basis of the perceived need for self-actualization. This level of need pertains to what a person’s full potential is, and to realizing that potential.”

It started in a plane

In the first chapter of Leonsis’ book, we learn that self-actualization was a goal that the prosperous Internet executive has worked to accomplish since 1984. That was the year he boarded a plane from Florida to DC and nearly lost his life.

“When we were going down, I wasn’t exactly praying,” he admits during a book promotion in February held at the 6th and I Synagogue in Washington, DC. “I was negotiating. If I live, I remember telling God, I promise to do a better job.”

Of course, the plane landed safely. And a few days later, Leonsis had come up with a plan.

Ted Leonsis’ Life List

The weekend after that life-altering event, Leonsis says he decided to create his now famous “Life List” of 101 things he’d like to do before he dies.

“In the 35 minutes we spent unsure of whether the landing gear was going to work, circling the airport, burning off fuel, and learning how to brace for a crash-landing, I had to face up to something I really didn’t like: if that plane crashed, I wouldn’t die happy,” he writes in the book.

“It was a reckoning, a wake-up call. I had all the toys money could buy. At a ridiculously young age I had achieved what all believe is the American Dream, and for a poor kid from Brooklyn, New York, it had all seemed to come easy. But I wasn’t happy.”

At that moment of discovery, Leonsis says he got his priorities straight.

Topping his list is the section on Family Matters: “Fall in love and get married.” Check. “Have a healthy son.” Check. “Have a healthy daughter.” Check. “Take care of mother / father.” Check. “Take care of in-laws.” Check. “Take care of extended family.” Check. Still on the list: have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and leave all financial matters in great shape for family members upon passing.

Financial Matters was second on the list, and of the 11 items listed most have been checked off including: pay off college debts, attain net worth of $10 million after taxes, $100 million after taxes, zero personal debt for family, and create world’s largest media company. The items left to do: attain a net worth of $100 billion after taxes, create $1 billion in value with an outside investment.

Among his Possessions Leonsis has checked off a beach home that stays in his family, a jet, a yacht, a convertible Porsche or Mercedes Benz, a great piece of art, a personal collection of watches, and a Ferrari. Things he’s still hoping to attain: a mountain home that stays in the family, and a desire to support someone who makes a great breakthrough in science or art.

He’s checked off most of the Charities he’s wanted to support, including giving $1 million to his alma mater Georgetown University, where he also sat on the Board. He also has checked off his goal of making a major impact on a children’s charity, starting a family charity foundation, and having a memorial named after his family. Still to do: Giving $100 million in his lifetime.

On the Sports front, the owner of the Washington Capitals who is primed to take over other sporting teams and arenas, has accomplished all but one of his goals in this category. Still left to do: Win a world championship, play at St. Andrews, go to a World Cup, and get a hole-in-one.

Leonsis also has Travel and Stuff goals, but for those details, you’ll need to buy the book.

The bottom line, for “The Business of Happiness,”:“www.thebusinessofhappiness.com.”:http://www.thebusinessofhappiness.com/ and Leonsis, in general, is to encourage everyone — from entrepreneurs to stay-at-home moms — to build their own Life List.

Insights from Leonsis’ co-author, John Buckley

What did Leonsis’ co-author, John Buckley, learn from working with him on the book, and also at AOL where he was Executive Vice President for Corporate Communications from 2002 to 2007?

“I’ve actually worked with Ted since 2001, so I’ve learned a lot along the way,” Buckley shares. “Ted is the exception to the biblical adage that it is harder for a rich man to get to Heaven than a camel through a needle’s eye: he is the camel through the needle’s eye, a man of great wealth who is just an incredibly fine human being.”

In fact, the book stemmed from an ongoing conversation that he and Leonsis have had about happiness since 2004.

AOL was not always a happy place to work, so we had plenty of time to talk about happiness,” he says. “I buy the premise of his book—I accept the six tenets he outlines in it—even though in one important respect we are very different: Ted is an extrovert, and I am more of an introvert, which makes the notion of participating in multiple communities more difficult for me.”

If he could advise entrepreneurs to take away one leadership lesson from the book, what would it be?

“Ted’s belief is that happiness drives success, not the other way around,” Buckley insists. “Constructing a happy business — a business which answers to multiple constituencies, not simply financial analysts, Wall Street, or your personal bank account — is the surest way of being successful.”

“I happen to think that’s true. Businesses that have a higher calling, and think about the interests of all of their stakeholders — employees, community, and their shareholders — are companies that are built for long-term success.”

Buckley says that although he has never drawn up so formal a list as Ted’s, they are very similar in their list-making and organized pursuit of goals.

“Checked off on my list is running a marathon, publishing a novel, working in a presidential campaign, writing a best-seller (thank you, Ted), getting married and having a child (thank you, Anna), and visiting Bhutan. Still to be achieved: learn to speak Italian, hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim, visit a free Tibet.”

Inspiring others

Virtually every day, Buckley notes that Ted will forward emails from people who have been inspired by the book.

“It’s really quite wonderful. Honestly, if one person is made happier than he or she would otherwise have been, it will be sufficient. To this end, we seem to be on to something. Writing the book was a happy experience, and so of course we were successful.”

Praise for The Business of Happiness includes:

Alex Ovechkin, two-time NHL Most Valuable Player—Washington Capitals, says: “A happy team can be a winning team—that’s why you see me with such a wide smile on my face. I love my teammates and our fans and our coaching staff. Our owners believe in creating a place where we all care about each other. It is all about following Ted’s belief in happiness and success. I buy into it completely, and it really works; I believe Ted’s book can help you become MVP in your life, at work, and at home.”

Ken Chenault, CEO and Chairman, American Express Company says: “Ted Leonsis is one of the most creative minds in business. For more than twenty-five years he has been shaping the digital world that is now such an important part of our lives. In The Business of Happiness, he offers a personal guide to navigating the traditional boundaries between work and life. His insights on business, career planning, and how to succeed in today’s 24/7 environment reflect the wisdom of a renaissance man whose interests range far beyond the realm of technology or commerce.”

Don Graham, CEO and Chairman of the board, The Washington Post Company says: “This wonderful book is as bouncy, ebullient, energetic, and likeable as its author. It contains much sage advice, dozens of great stories, and guest appearances by everyone from Allen Ginsberg to Alex Ovechkin. You can decide whether it contains the secret of happiness; it definitely holds several hours’ very pleasant reading.”

Check out Ted’s Tips for Entrepreneurs.

Ted Leonsis Helps Business Leaders Find Their Bliss

A Q&A with the billionaire who is helping business leaders find their bliss

By Hope Katz Gibbs

Be Inkandescent magazine: What is the most important thing that entrepreneurs should know about growing their companies?

Ted Leonsis: The smaller the company, the more authentic and connected to customers your mission needs to be. The biggest and best tool you have to compete in the marketplace is your nimbleness and small size — so use it to connect closely with your customers.

Be Inkandescent magazine: You’ve often said that big companies suffer from the “theory of nines.” Can you explain what you mean?

Ted Leonsis: The message here is that the founder is a 10 who hires 9s to do the work. As the company grows, they hire 8s to help them, and eventually as the company grows it morphs into a place where the 2s are running the show.

That’s when things start to go awry. What they forget is that small companies need to have 10s and 9s to attract the employees that will keep them connected to the mission. That’s the only way they can hear clearly what the customers are saying and the only way they can respond. When a company loses touch with the people that helped build them to where they are, well, that’s when things start to fall apart.

Be Inkandescent magazine: What was the secret to your early success?

Ted Leonsis: It helps to be first in the market. That’s where I got lucky when after college I created a TV Guide-like product for the personal computer business. I was the first one that filled a niche. It also helped to have insight into what was happening in the computer business. That came from what I learned when I was a student at Georgetown University and had access to the early version of computers. So yes, there is luck involved. But it also takes the ability to know what customers want. I call these self-evident plays.

Be Inkandescent magazine: In your book you talk about the people and experiences that got you to the place you are now. If you could tell an entrepreneur anything that would help them avoid some pitfalls, what would it be?

Ted Leonsis: That is tough to say because I learned as I went along. I had great mentors along the way, and I made mistakes along the way. I just hoped they weren’t life threatening.

The bottom line is that there is no standard plan for success in a small business. And, unfortunately, the statistics are daunting when you look at how many companies start each year, and how many fail. But if you believe in your idea and are creative and clever, you have to try to make it succeed.

Be Inkandescent magazine: You’ve said repeatedly that America needs its small businesses to be successful. Can you elaborate on that?

Ted Leonsis: In the US, we need our small businesses because large, public companies, quite simply, are job shedders. They live quarter to quarter, and when times are tough they need to keep shareholders happy so they cut expenses — and that often means cutting people.

Small businesses hire people, and there is no better time to recruit talent than today. It’s also a great time to bring mentors into their orbits because corporations are letting some really great, experienced people go. Too often, big companies lose their way.

Be Inkandescent magazine: Are you referring to your experience at AOL?

Ted Leonsis: Most definitely. In the early years of AOL’s success, we never talked about our financials. We talked about our product, our customers, and how we could change the world. That is how we got to be so successful.

When we bought Time Warner in January 2000, our focus went from what mattered on main street to what mattered on Wall Street, and after that all we talked about was generating money to justify the acquisition. Our best people were now focused on the financials and that became the goal for the company.

But it wasn’t our original mission, and as soon as we got off of our mission, we could no longer chart how our customers felt about us. When you move from a purely business model, you start managing for your stock price and it’s like heroin. Sure, it feels really good at first, but then it kills you.

Be Inkandescent magazine: At the end of the day, what makes you happy?

Ted Leonsis: A lot of things. I was the Mayor of Vero Beach, where I have a second home. I have no other political aspirations.

Blogging really makes me happy. Today, I’ve already blogged 3 times. It’s a stream-of-consciousness of things I’m thinking and what I want to share.

But you have to have a thick skin. I get disappointed when someone writes a really snotty comment on my blog, then doesn’t leave his or her name so I can respond and have an intelligent conversation.

Just today that happened, and I asked my assistant if I might have this person’s email address so I can write them a personal email saying something like, “I read your comments and clearly there has been a misinterpretation of what I stated. If you are free I’d love to talk to you about it.” I sent it, and it turned out to be a fake email address.

As a blogger I put myself out there. As a person making a comment, you should do the same. Otherwise, my only option is to figure you have an agenda that is not authentic. So if I want to connect with you, and you lie, this isn’t really you.

Be Inkandescent magazine: Do you have any final words of wisdom for entrepreneurs?

Ted Leonsis: Yes. Know that a lot of what you’ve been taught is wrong. Jack Welch’s philosophy of “run it by the numbers, lay everybody off,” was ridiculous.

Companies that are breakout hits have corporate missions that go beyond their success. At Google, for instance, they allow employees to dedicate 20% of their time to self-expression and volunteering. I think that’s terrific.

Entrepreneurs like that should be celebrated. They are the heart and soul of our economy. So my message to small business owners is never give up, never quit. You are on the side of the angels.

About the authors

Ted Leonsis is an Internet industry pioneer who helped build AOL into a global phenomenon. He is a serial entrepreneur who has built and sold multiple successful businesses over three decades, culminating with the recent sale of Revolution Money to American Express. He owns the NHL’s Washington Capitals and other sports properties. He is an award-winning producer of documentaries, and the founder and chairman of SnagFilms. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, and later, Lowell, Massachusetts, he now lives in McLean, Virginia, and Vero Beach, Florida, with his wife and two children.

John Buckley is the author of the novels Family Politics and Statute of Limitations. He has held senior positions in three U.S. presidential campaigns, and has been the top communications executive at companies including AOL, where for six years he worked closely with Ted Leonsis. He is currently managing director of The Harbour Group, a strategic communications firm, and lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

– Thomas Edison

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.”

– Noela Evans

That which grows fast withers as rapidly; that which grows slowly endures.”

– J.G. Holland, novelist

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

– Winston Churchill

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.

– Robert Frost

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

– Anais Nin

When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

– Audre Lorde

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course there is no formula for success except perhaps an unconditional acceptance of life and what it brings.”

– Arthur Rubinstein

Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

– Basil King

If you do work that you love, and the work fulfills you, the rest will come.”

– Oprah Winfrey

Everyone is a mirror image of yourself—your own thinking coming back at you.”

– Byron Katie

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.”

– Steve Jobs, Apple, Inc.

We are perfectionists. We are hungry to work all the time. We are entertained by every aspect of business and we never want to stop working.”

– Suzy Welch

A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.”

– Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

The best reason to start an organization is to create a product or service to make the world a better place.”

– Guy Kawasaki

Inspiration and genius — one and the same.”

– Victor Hugo

Do you have the desire to create something new; the strength of conviction to believe your creation will be successful, and the reservoir of energy necessary to thrust it into the marketplace?”

– Steven Schussler

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.”

– Steve Jobs

The follow-your-gut mentality of the entrepreneur has the potential to take you anywhere you want to go or run you right out of business.”

– Bill Rancic, "The Apprentice"

A truly forgiving person is someone who experiences all the anger merited by injustice and still acts with fairness and compassion.”

– Martha Beck

Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make Me Feel Important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.”

– Mary Kay Ash

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which obstacles vanish.”

– John Quincy Adams

Death is to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”

– Thomas Wolfe

As each woman realizes her power, she transforms the world.”

– Patrice Wynne, WomanSpirit Sourcebook

Do you believe it is important to give back some portion of your wealth to support charitable causes?”

– Steven Schussler

Entrepreneurs are willing to roll the dice with their money or reputation on the line in support of an idea or enterprise.”

– Victor Kiam

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver

‎The biggest flaw in our existing theory of capitalism lies in its misrepresentation of human nature.”

– Muhammad Yunus

We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

– General Omar Bradley

There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”


That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t follow your dreams. Chase them.”

– Richard Dumb

Never cut what you can untie.”

– Joseph Joubert

Let us seize the day and the opportunity and strive for that greatness of spirit that measures life not by its disappointments but by its possibilities.”

– W.E.B. Du Bois

You must learn to be still in the midst of activity 
and to be vibrantly alive in repose.”

– Indira Ghandi

Do not say, ‘why were the former days better than these,’ for it is not from wisdom that you ask this.”

– Ecclesiastes, 7:10

When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard or welcomed. But when we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak.”

– Audre Lorde

Letting go of expectations is a ticket to peace. It allows us to ride over every crisis—small or large—like a beach ball on water.”

– Martha Beck

The goal of Life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.”

– Joseph Cambell

Speaking more than one language is no longer just an asset in today’s job market; it is a requirement.”

– Tom Adams, CEO, Rosetta Stone

We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”

– Charles R. Swindoll

The great use of life is to spend it on something that will outlast it.”

– William James

The good ideas are all hammered out in agony by individuals, not spewed out by groups.”

– Charles Brower, Advertising Hall of Fame

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. 
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.”

– Mary Jean Irion

We never know how high we are
 till we are called to rise;
 And then, if we are true to plan,
 Our statures touch the skies.”

– Emily Dickinson

Some things are destined to be—it just takes us a couple of tries
to get there.”

– J.R. Ward, Lover Mine

If it isn’t good, let it die. If it doesn’t die, make it good.”

– Ajahn Chah

Be Inkandescent Magazine's Back Issues

Don’t miss the great advice our entrepreneurs have offered in the past. Click below to view our back issues.