The transient career of the modern worker has been well-chronicled. Employees leave their companies at a rate unimagined by previous generations. But what happens when a company leaves its workers?
MGM’s sale to a consortium headed by Sony was approved in mid-December by company shareholders; European regulators are now reviewing the transaction. Daily Variety sought out Chris McGurk, the Lion’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, to discuss, among other topics, what it’s like to work at the studio during this time of change.
Q: How did the MGM workforce respond to the rumors and then the announcement of the sale?
A: Clearly, all the talk of the sale along with Warner Bros. and Sony’s interest was a distraction over the last year. Through it all, the people at this company remained remarkably focused on their jobs. We had a great year financially in 2004.
Q: Who decides which executives and staff members will be offered positions and who won’t?
A: I can’t comment on that directly, because it’s an area where the Sony consortium will be making the decisions. But Alex (Yemenidjian, MGM’s chairman and CEO) and I truly believe we have great employees here who would be extremely attractive employment candidates either for the newly configured MGM or any other company looking for very smart, talented workers with a proven track record of success. And if people aren’t kept on, we feel very good about the fact that even before the negotiations got serious, we created what we think is a very broad and generous employee security plan that touches every single employee of MGM.
Q: What do you advise employees when they find themselves in a situation where their company is in the process of being acquired?
A: When Alex and I started to build the staff at MGM, we looked for team-oriented people who could operate in a very idea-generating environment, where people were free to communicate ideas and who really wanted to work in an extremely nonpolitical atmosphere, where the focus was on the assets of the company, the products we were creating, and results. We created a set of core values, some of them that I just described, that really drive the company.
Q: When it comes to treating employees well, what does Hollywood do best and where could it improve?
A: The best thing about Hollywood is that it truly is a meritocracy. If you can create great art or create great commerce, you can be extremely successful regardless of what your background is, where you started or who you know. This town has lots of people in senior positions who started in the mailroom or sold used cars a few years ago. This town really is, in a lot of ways, the American dream. I think that the worst part is that sometimes, in some corporate environments or some studios, employees can feel like second- or third-class citizens if they’re not working directly on the latest creative property.
Q: What’s your tolerance for a mistake by a member of your team?
A: Mistakes are part of the process. They’re part of management. We’ve tried to create an environment here that’s nonpolitical. Everyone feels that they have a voice, and you don’t get penalized for putting a foolish idea out there or making a mistake as long as it was done with the right intent and the right mindset, which is creating value for the organization. A big part of being a good leader is to own up to your own mistakes, A, and B, to not be afraid to look foolish in the pursuit of new ideas that are going to move the business ahead.
Q: What kinds of errors are unforgivable?
A: When they’re done for political reasons … when the reason that someone got himself into the fix is because he was doing something to advance his or her own career at the expense of the company.
Q: How does an enterprise go about wooing an executive from a rival company?
A: In this business, almost every senior executive, and certainly every good senior executive, is operating under an employment contract. We would never do anything to violate the terms of anybody’s employment agreement. Over time, what you do to attract good people is to make your company a great place to work with a great work environment where someone feels they can thrive.
Q: Finally, what management lessons can be learned from that studio icon, 007, James Bond?
A: When Alex and I came to MGM, we decided that this was a company that needed to be shaken not stirred.
Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at email@example.com.