May 5, 2001

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - A Passion to Win

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 9:25 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

A Passion to Win by Sumner Redstone with Peter Knobler, Simon & Schuster, 352 Pages, $26.00 Hardcover, May 2001, ISBN 0684862247
As you all know, Sumner Redstone is the Chairman and CEO of Viacom, which also happens to own Simon & Schuster. When I first heard about this book, I was afraid it was going to be one of those books that are heavily vetted by lawyers, drained of anything potentially damaging (read: edgy or informative). But this book is the real deal, not just an I love everybody, we are all one big happy team book, written by a highly visible tycoon. Mr. Redstone tells it like he lived it, actually naming names and expressing emotions.
Instead of I was born in a little house on a., Passion to Win begins with a torturous account of Redstones survival (he survived with third degree burns over 45% of his body) of a horrible fire in 1979. After the fire, he needed five operations, totaling sixty hours in surgery, and underwent many skin, and even bone, grafts. I can not imagine the pain he must have gone though. He uses this harrowing story to illustrate us his Herculean drive to survive and how his tenacity carried the day.
Chapter 1 tells the story of how Redstone acquired Blockbuster, how important it was in his acquisition of Paramount Pictures, and ultimately, how Blockbuster, in Mr. Redstones words, tanks. He tells the story completely unvarnished. He has his opinion and he shares it, straightforward, so by that time, I was completely hooked. The book then reverts to the more traditional How I got to be format, beginning with graduating first in his class from Boston Latin to his graduating from Harvard in three years to his humiliating D from Harvard Law. He graduated in 1947 and clerked in San Francisco with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He then went to work at the Department of Justice where he argued cases for the government in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Ultimately, he ends up at the business his father started and ran called Northeast Theater Corporation, which later became National Amusement. This journey lead to the acquisition of Viacom International and then the merger with Paramount Pictures. I think the essential, and unaswerable, question is: will the world have been better off because of people like Sumner Redstone? Time will tell, but this book has given me quite a lot insight into a fascinating man.