“Be a great listener”. Over the past year I have been humbled by many people who know more than me — as I mentioned earlier, we are a team; no ONE person has all the skills — and I have learned the criticality of: don’t listen to reply, but rather listen to listen.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ezra Rosensaft.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
To give some background, after receiving my BA and then going on to get my MBA, I worked for “Big Four”, and then HBO for about 15 years. I joined the IDW family in early 2018 as the CFO, and then mid-2020 I took on the role as IDW’s CEO.
I’m afraid the details of my career path are rather bleak as it is pretty straightforward, (though both HBO and IDW as well as the TV industry in general, are anything but boring), but when I started in the industry after getting my degrees I dedicated myself and my time to it. Some people will test their passion for their career by veering off path and exploring other options — maybe to return, maybe not, but for me, when I started I was in it for the long haul, and that’s all she wrote. As I like to say, it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle (though to be honest I often daydream that my background is something out of one of our comics or television series… don’t we all secretly wish to be interesting?) Frankly, I think it’s that “interesting” part that makes companies like IDW excellent. The people are all interesting and the chemistry and culture that I’ve had the privilege of helping build are amazing.
Our Chairman, Howard Jonas, is an amazing role model in that regard, for me on both personal and professional levels; I’m simply carrying out his vision.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think that most professionals hit certain obstacles throughout their careers that make them wonder whether they’re in the right place or not. Challenges are inevitable, so how you handle them is ultimately the deciding factor of your success. To this day, I continually remind myself that there is room for improvement, which has always been something that’s motivated me to push past any hardships that I’ve been presented with in my career. When things get tough, we have to remember that once the difficulty passes, the easier times are that much sweeter. Mindset is half the battle, so looking forward — even in the most difficult times — was half the battle, sometimes more.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going to be great in 2021! Yes, I think we all need to force ourselves to be positive in the face of the past 12+ months. I now start each morning, the moment my feet swing out of bed by verbally stating “It’s going to be a beautiful day!” Perhaps the theme of 2020 was grit and resilience. Much like nearly every industry this year, the publishing and entertainment world was rocked by the pandemic and eventual lockdowns. We had to rethink how we approached all facets of the business. But we did it and we did it well. Though our book sales have almost doubled from last year (what do people do in a pandemic? Buy books.), it’s not to say that challenges have been curtailed by any means (books up, productions on hold — argh!) There’s still so much to work through, but these obstacles are what I am most thankful for. I’d much rather be humbled in the face of adversity than continue being comfortable and complacent.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
One of my first months at KPMG (the Big Four firm I started with), the head of the practice saw me in the hallway midday and asked me if I had time to review something timely for a very large client (parent company of Mercedes-Benz, actually). I was a newly minted MBA, and I must have been on another cloud that day for some reason as I recall looking at him and stating “Sure, but later, Tony, I’m going to lunch now.” Literally. That was my answer. Only later that evening when I told a friend did she say “Are you crazy? He wasn’t really ‘asking’; he was telling you to do it NOW.”
I quickly realized that learning to prioritize — truly prioritize — is as essential in business as in the emergency room (I was a volunteer EMT in NYC for half-a-dozen years, so yes, having been in many ambulances and ERs, media is not as life critical, but nevertheless prioritization is essential).
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
IDW is unique because we do it all and we do it well! We’re a leading (growing) media company that provides the best of entertainment through our licensed brands like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, and breakthrough IP like “Locke & Key”, while always endeavoring to be on the forefront of the latest trends across all platforms. We holistically evaluate and acquire IP for franchise development across comics and graphic novels, television, theatrical, games, merchandise and more.
I remember visiting the “writers room” in LA for “October Faction”, first an IDW comic, then a TV show we licensed to Netflix. Our current Publisher, Nachie Marsham, was not with us yet, but our President of Entertainment, Lydia Antonini, was at IDW, albeit a different role at the time. She brought the best of the industry to IDW and into that writers room (helmed by Damian Kindler). That is what everyone should aim for, whether a window cleaning company or a telecom giant: the best in class. Great people aren’t just a little better than very good people; a great employee is 10x better than the next “very good” one.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I believe that oftentimes, you reach the point of burning out when you’ve been doing the exact same thing the same way for too long. The world is constantly changing, so as leaders in the publishing and entertainment industries, we must mirror this. Rather than constantly sticking to what has always worked, it’s important to seek innovation and surround yourself with people who think differently than you. Combining tradition with an open mind and a corporate culture with a diverse perspective will not only set your company up for success, but it will also keep you engaged, fresh and in the fight. And, one more thing: no matter how hard it is, it’s critical to “unplug”. I had a run of several 80-hour weeks. It wasn’t until our counsel said to me one day: “Ezra. Shut it off and no emails from you for two days.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
As I mentioned earlier, our Chairman, Howard Jonas, is a personal and professional role model. I was depressed after leaving HBO, and when I met with him, he saw past the depression and anxiety, and offered me a role at IDW. I would absolutely not be where I am today without boots-on-the-ground, real-world conversations with Howard. At the same time, Lydia (Antonini) was in the trenches with me as we both put in ridiculous hours to course-correct IDW. Even our new Publisher, Nachie, helps ground me every time I talk to him about the comic book space. I am so grateful I can learn from him and others. The company is a team; forget titles — they are meaningless.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I wish I had a snappy answer such as “helping to cure cancer”, though I can say that I’ve had a strong hand in bringing IDW’s culture swiftly in line with a “correct” diverse and open culture that reflects where the world is headed and people want to come to work.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- “Don’t work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.” It’s true. It is not productive or efficient in the long-run, and you will not only burn yourself out, but your family and friends will truly loathe you.
- “Don’t try to control everything’. I think it is natural for C-level professionals to want to manage or control, not micromanage mind you, but still an attempt to manage things. Better off delegating and then delegating some more.
- “Encourage growth in others”. It seems obvious but harder in practice. Yet boosting employee self-esteem is hugely important for a healthy organization.
- “Be a great listener”. Over the past year I have been humbled by many people who know more than me — as I mentioned earlier, we are a team; no ONE person has all the skills — and I have learned the criticality of: don’t listen to reply, but rather listen to listen.
- “One day at a time.” It’s true. The lights go off and the office cleaners come in. One can only do so much in one day — especially from home in a pandemic
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My favorite IDW initiatives come from our children and family divisions, publishing an array of comics and graphic novels for young readers. I would love to see this initiative flipped with young authors and illustrators creating content for adults to help us reconnect with our inner-child. As mentioned, I make it a priority to constantly expose myself to out-of-the-box thinking and as a father, I can say with complete certainty that children are expert out-of-the-boxers and can teach us a thing or two through their surplus of creativity and imagination. I think all adults could use even just an acute reconnection with that unique creativity that children have. If only we can all un-learn to “color in the lines” and just color anywhere on the paper — literally and figuratively.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I can be found on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ezrarosensaft/
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
My pleasure; thank you for the opportunity. I’ve been a Medium premium subscriber for a while; I could get lost for hours reading articles on Medium, and love that Authority is firmly rooted here.