Business leader offers insights on leadership, entrepreneurship, and private equity

The University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.
By Kelly Montoya

The University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.

Business leader offers insights on leadership, entrepreneurship, and private equity

By Kelly Montoya
In a recent webinar, Edgar Bronfman Jr., an accomplished businessman, shared what he has learned throughout his career, discussed emerging investment and technology trends, and offered advice to students.

At the height of one of the most trying times for the music industry, when technology started providing opportunities for music to be downloaded instead of purchased through its traditional album format, Edgar Bronfman Jr., who was the CEO of the Warner Music Group, had to put up a fight against pirating sites in order to help save the music industry from nearly collapsing. 

“Music was being delivered for free and effectively stolen, leaving the artists, record companies, and others who were investing in those careers without any income,” said Bronfman. “I felt these sites needed to be a legitimate paid for service.” 

Fortunately, piracy websites like Napster and LimeWire didn’t last long. But, they gave way to services like iTunes and Spotify and helped the music industry grow again by making music streaming more accessible at much lower costs. 

“It's a product that everybody loves,” he added. “Although we went through a trough and had to remake the whole model of our relationship with our artists, I think everybody came out the other end with great success.” 

Since then, Bronfman has gained experience leading big-name firms like the Seagram Company and is currently the chairman of Endeavor Global; executive chairman of Thermostat LLC; managing partner of Accretive LLC; executive chairman of fuboTV; and general partner, chairman, and co-founder of Waverly, a leading venture capital group. 

On June 25, Bronfman joined John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, as a speaker for the school’s Distinguished Leader Lecture Series to discuss his insights on emerging trends in various industries, entrepreneurship, and private equity. 

Quelch started the virtual discussion by asking Bronfman about his background and association with Endeavor Global, an important and unique concept in scaling up companies started in Miami. 

“Endeavor was started as a way to engage entrepreneurs and create entrepreneurial ecosystems, because there wasn’t anyone really helping the small and medium‐sized enterprises (SMEs) networks, which is where jobs are created,” explained Bronfman. “Today, we are in over 30 countries around the world, eight U.S. cities, and our entrepreneurs employ over 4 million people worldwide with more than $20 billion of revenue.” 

As the largest mentoring network for entrepreneurs in the world, Bronfman emphasized the importance of Endeavor’s focus on bridging the gap in racial and gender inequity. 

“Often the problem within companies is that leaders usually mentor people who look like themselves or who remind them of themselves,” he explained. “If we apply our mentor network to people who may not look like ourselves, but have just as much potential to move forward, that’s when we have an inbuilt mentor network that can really make a big difference.” 

The discussion shifted to highlight Bronfman’s major contributions and how his investment decisions are made at Waverly Capital, a venture capital group that focuses on the nexus between media and technology. 

“The world is moving away from content delivered by broadcasting, cable, and satellite,” he emphasized. “Most content will be received by streaming through over-the-top networks that don't depend on the traditional infrastructure of cable and satellite.” 

Bronfman believes that over the next five years many industries are going to have a reckoning with social and environmental justice. 

“The entertainment industry has often been at the lead in reflecting the changes that go on in society. And, it's really going to need to take the lead to find different ways, both to represent the stories and the histories of minority communities,” he added. 

As the executive chairman of Global Thermostat LLC, which is developing and commercializing a technology for the direct capture of carbon dioxide, Bronfman spoke about the immediate steps needed to address the climate crisis. 

“Anyone who follows climate science has to understand that no matter how great our mitigation efforts are to reduce carbon emissions, they will be vastly insufficient to solve the climate crisis,” he explained. “There is no choice but to remove carbon from the air, as well as to move the entire planet to a renewable energy platform over time.” 

Bronfman forecasted that somewhere between 5 to 10 billion tons of CO₂ must start coming out annually in the 2030 to 2040 period in order to save humanity from the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. “And probably something closer to 20 to 30 billion tons of CO₂ has to come out of the atmosphere annually past that,” he noted. 

Quelch asked Bronfman about the virtuousness of private equity. 

According to Bronfman, the success of private equity lies in the companies that effectively deal with second-order effects that arise from cutting costs to revive a company. When a company starts making money off sacrificing quality, increasing unemployment, or contributing to poor environments, society is ultimately the one paying the costs of the second-order effects. 

“It is going to become increasingly necessary for all companies to think about not only how they do well, but also how do they do good,” he said. “The companies that only do well will struggle mightily versus those who can do both.” 

Given the coronavirus crisis, Bronfman believes there are investment opportunities in streaming businesses that follow business models like Spotify and Headspace. 

“2020 will represent the official start of the 21st century,” he said. “People are looking for better ways to understand their emotions in a world where they find themselves increasingly isolated. 

“So,” he added, “I think those kinds of businesses have a lot of growth in front of them. And traditional businesses, many that require large gatherings of people, will be more problematic until we find ways to allow large congregations again.” 

To the recent graduates entering a disheartening job market, Bronfman recommended keeping a strong belief in oneself, reaching out to the network created throughout the years, and maintaining patience while this episode passes. 

“If you're not otherwise engaged, go seek out a mentor. If there's somebody that you admired in your life, whether it was through school or something else, just ask them, will you mentor me?” he advised. “You'll be surprised at how many yeses you get and how many opportunities that might lead to.” 

Quelch asked Bronfman about the characteristic he looks for in the business leaders and executives running the companies he invests in.    

“I look for a combination of financial acuity, perseverance, passion, and common sense,” answered Bronfman. “If you can find those four things in a business leader, you're going to succeed more often than you fail.” 

The webinar concluded with Bronfman reiterating his optimism for the future of business. 

“Unfortunately, there are times where you have to get in a fair amount of trouble to recognize how good you have it, and how much better you can have it,” he said. “I think we're in one of those moments now. And, between technology and humanity, we've got some great years ahead of us.”