In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that
have shaped their business philosophy.

Founder and president, Emery Entertainment


St. Louis-based Emery Entertainment is an independent production firm that develops integrated marketing strategies for a wide range of artists and productions. Its client list includes The Blue Man Group, among others. Locally, the company is one of the collaborators behind the reopening of the Playhouse @ Westport Plaza. Prior to founding Emery Entertainment, Paul Emery served in several roles within the entertainment industry, including vice president for national touring at Clear Channel Entertainment.

The Mistake:

Not assessing risk and managing my own emotions when evaluating business opportunities.

I got into the entertainment business out of a love for music. It seems very glamorous and you can tend to have a blue-sky mentality. You don’t always recognize the speed bumps in the road till you get to them.

I started out pretty well, doing a few concerts, selling enough tickets to make little money and having a good time. Then there was one concert I did with B.J. Thomas. It was a very expensive event to produce. I was excited about doing it in this mid-sized arena. Unfortunately, we didn’t sell enough tickets. I remember sitting in the office of the venue that night with this big stack of bills to pay and this little stack of money to pay them with. The thought never occurred to me that I might have to make up the difference.

I got into some significant debt as a result of that particular show. I was young, 20 or 21, so I had to figure out a way either to walk away from that debt and permanently damage relationships and never do business in that field or to make good on it. I worked hard and eventually did. That’s what earned me respect from a lot of people who later went out on a limb with me again.

It’s obviously a financial accounting thing, but managing risk is also ego-driven.

The Lesson:

I’ve learned now that it’s about risk management and not looking at everything with such a blue-sky mentality. It’s looking at the down side and what you potentially have at risk and then drawing the line somewhere in between. Where is that place you feel you can handle? If it doesn’t reach that number or that result, then you don’t do it. You just say no. As an entrepreneur, sometimes the hardest thing to do is look at an opportunity and recognize when it’s right to say no. Early on, when I experienced that particular kind of financial pain, it made me look much closer at the possible risks you don’t always see.

As time has gone on, I’ve worked with many people throughout the industry who have taught me how to do that better. You also learn about not burning bridges with people when things don’t go well because, a lot of times, those same people meet you on the path somewhere else. Relationships in any line of work are always the most important assets you have. I count on an enormous amount of great relationships I’ve developed over the years. People have gone on to become not only business associates, but friends.

It’s obviously a financial accounting thing, but managing risk is also ego-driven. You always believe you can do it better than the next guy, so you have to manage your own emotions in the process. There’s always competition. There’s always a chance that maybe your idea isn’t the best idea. You might think it’s the greatest idea since sliced bread and “How could this fail?” Yet, oftentimes, without perspective from friends and associates who might caution you, you can make emotional decisions that are very costly. On the other hand, sometimes emotional decisions are groundbreaking. But, usually, if you’re the only one chanting that cry to move forward, it’s probably not a great idea. But if you get a circle of people who support the idea and think it’s great, you’re odds are improved. It all circles back around to risk management, managing your emotions and being careful and thoughtful about the people you do business with.

Paul Emery is on Twitter at @jpauliewalnut.

Photo courtesy of Emery Entertainment.

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