To Pixar and Beyond
My first completed book this year is Lawrence Levy’s To Pixar and Beyond. In 1994, Levy was personally invited by Steve Jobs to become the CFO of Pixar. Against all his nagging doubts, he accepted the challenge. Levy shares his wild experience as CFO of Pixar, working closely with Steve Jobs from the days when Pixar was a little known, near bankrupt animation shop to a multi-billion dollar creative powerhouse. Levy oversaw Pixar’s business strategy and IPO and helped lead Pixar from a profitless niche company into a world-class entertainment studio.
The Five Year Goal
This story was a wild ride with numerous business lessons to be learned. Two extremely remarkable things occurred to me in this story. The first was that from the time that Levy met Jobs for the first time in 1994, accepted the job and helped with the release of Toy Story, to when Pixar released A Bug's Life and subsequently Toy Story 2 in 1999, only FIVE years had passed. In five years, Pixar was already a world wide sensation. Think about this for a minute. How many of us, as owners of small businesses have even a fraction of this kind of vision for succeeding in mind for the next five years? Levy not only shared the vision he and Jobs developed for Pixar, but he went into great detail about the seemingly insurmountable barriers and unsolvable problems that faced them.
A Clear Vision
Vision is vital and gives us great hope. It is what motivates us to get up every morning and keep working on our businesses. If we can see that we are getting somewhere, we are able to “keep swimming” as Dory repeatedly reminds us to do in Finding Nemo. But we need to know where we are going or else we’ll just swim in circles. And that’s where, for many of us, the really hard work kicks in. It means facing the reality of finding out what's really required to get where we want and fighting every foe and barrier along the way. It means not giving up no matter what. Levy talks about the literally thousands of details and decisions he mulled over in his mind, roadblocks negotiated through and ideals fought for and ultimately earned. He even had a huge car accident during this time leaving him disabled for a better part of a year. I was stressed just reading about his ordeal. But Levy created a plan right from the start with a clear goal and he never let Pixar veer from its destination.
What Really Matters
My second remarkable observation was that when Pixar became a household name and was established as a Hollywood superstar, Levy chose to leave his job. At just it's third movie release, Pixar was poised to create many more blockbusters. With immense wealth, a stellar reputation and unbelievable accomplishments, Levy had achieved, by all measures, the pinnacle of business success. In this situation, would you not want to enjoy the attention and spoils of your labour? Perhaps take a company sabbatical? Levy willingly chooses to leave what most of us would consider a dream job. Sure, maybe he needed a break from all that stress of success. But he certainly was in the position to hire an army of assistants. Even more interesting was the reason Levy gave it all up: he chose to study world religions. Essentially, he was searching for the meaning of life. He took years to read books from all the of the world’s great thinkers and philosophers. He studied science and religion, Christianity, Buddhism and much more. This was a life choice coming from a Silicon Valley attorney and business executive who had personally managed billions of dollars in his career. Despite his enormous achievements, he felt he needed something else. Levy articulates clearly that there is much more to life than money and business achievements. His message was that sometime, somehow, before we kick the bucket, we have to make room in our lives to find what really matters to us in life and to live for something that means something.
The Middle Way
For me, a life of inner peace, and significance has infinitely more value than my business. But I too, wrestle with these matters. It is a daily juggle to find balance and harmony amongst life’s rapid moments. A real measure of faith is required to move oneself into the realm of spirituality. I have a strong connection with God, I love my family, I love people, I do business, and I produce creative work. These varying values are constantly vying to be the dominant goal, often colliding and wrestling together in a struggle for my attention. But I truly believe they can all, not only coexist, but work in harmony with great direction and purpose. Occasionally I have serendipitous moments when my values align in unity. They appear as fortunate “happenstance” that I believe are neither fortunate nor coincidence. Levy speaks about “the middle way," where business and creativity cooperate, where left and right brain unite, and where purpose and practical are one in the same.
A Life of Significance
When Levy told Jobs about why he was leaving Pixar, Jobs replied, "I’m glad one of us is doing this.” Apparently, Steve Jobs also knew the importance of this. I hope he had the chance to find what he was looking for before he left Earth. If you have experience with this journey, share your thoughts with me. If you don’t, consider that life is short and fragile, and take the time to create a life of significance.
by Gil Ngai