Tommy Mottola visits with Gabelli School students

by Balt Heldring (GSB ’14)

It is safe to assume that many of us are unaware of the number of people born and raised in the Bronx who went on to live incredibly successful lives. Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Regis Philbin, Jennifer Lopez and Tommy Mottola are but a few of these extraordinary people.

Of these five, one was willing to tell his tale to a select group of Fordham students last month.

Tommy Mottola was born in the Bronx and worked his way through menial jobs in the music industry, eventually rising into leadership roles at Sony Music Entertainment: first, as the youngest president in CBS Records’ history at age 37, and then as CEO and chairman.

From 1988 to 2003, Mr. Mottola was credited with tripling the company’s revenue and selling an estimated 8 billion CDs, expanding Sony’s operation in more than 60 countries around the world and creating successful business models that added to its bottom line, such as amphitheaters in a co-venture with PACE Concerts, and the world’s largest rock merchandising company, Sony Signatures, which today are part of Live Nation Entertainment. Mr. Mottola’s early background in publishing proved extremely valuable for Sony/ATV: He revitalized this publishing division by making such acquisitions as the Beatles catalog.

“A job is a job,” Mr. Mottola recalled, “and it can lead to an unimaginably successful career.”

These words are exactly what Fordham students want to hear before heading out into the world and making a name for themselves. Making a name for himself is exactly what Mr. Mottola did. However, it didn’t happen immediately.

After dropping out of college in the late ’60s, Mr. Mottola pursued his dream of becoming a musician and actor. As a musician, he performed a range of gigs, from playing in small clubs to filling in for bands that visited radio stations. As an actor, he held various small parts in films and worked as an extra.

As fate would have it, his career as a musician and actor was short-lived, but his passion for music continued on.

Mr. Mottola was quick to realize that perhaps taking a different direction in music would ultimately allow him to be successful. With that, he decided to switch to the management side of the business, where he took a job with Chappell Music as a music publisher. “For me, it was about getting my foot in the door any way that I could,” he said. “I was able to use my experience as a musician to go somewhere else in the industry. I wanted to combine my passion with hard work in order to find success.”

As president and founder of management firm Champion Entertainment and later, during his tenure at Sony, Mr. Mottola directed and nurtured the careers of superstars such as Hall & Oates, Carly Simon, John Mellencamp, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. The success of many of these artists propelled Mr. Mottola’s rise to CEO and his highly successful 1988 to 2003 tenure.

For today’s students, Mr. Mottola’s advice is to “embrace failure,” much as he did when acting and performing did not pan out. His recommendation is to set smaller goals, not only an ultimate one. These achievable smaller goals can help produce a healthy reaction in the face of failure.

Today, Mr. Mottola is working on his second book, titled The Bronx School of Business.

“It’s a memoir,” he said, “of everything that was important to my success through my career.” The book aims to show how growing up in the Bronx was crucial to his success. He hopes that his experiences and career will allow students to envision success, and go out and grab it.

 

 

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