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Media maverick: Mel Karmazin

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  • "There's no such thing as too much money"
  • "I really want you to go to the Superbowl every single year, and I expect you to win it"
  • "You should believe everything I tell you, until I lie to you once"
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(CNN) -- He's a media maverick. A man who has been shaking the establishment for much of his career. Mel Karmazin began his professional life in radio in New York City, and over the next 40 years built a coast-to-coast business, ran the CBS network, and more recently became a driving force in one of America's newest media ventures, satellite radio.


Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio, in New York

Along the way he's provided a national platform for the so-called "shock jocks" like Howard Stern. He's developed a reputation as a super salesman, a businessman who could close a deal. He was a key architect in the 35 billion-dollar merger between CBS and media giant Viacom in 1999.

Here are excerpts from The Boardroom Masterclass in New York, hosted by CNN's Andrew Stevens and filmed in front of a live audience.

Stevens: You're described consistently as a super salesman, and I don't know if it's an apocryphal story you were so successful that you were earning more than your bosses. That's true, isn't it?

Karmazin: Yeah, but it wasn't hard. I wasn't making a lot of money.

Stevens: OK. Question: What is the art in closing the deal?

Karmazin: I don't know where this whole sales thing came about. When I was at CBS, I was on a straight commission. And I worked hard and made a lot of money. And they then said to me, "We're cutting your commission." And I said, "Why are you doing that?" And they said, "Because you're making too much money." I said, "What do you mean, too much money? There's no such thing as too much money." And they said, "This is the way we are, you know, we're at CBS and if you want to be at CBS, this is the way it is."

And I said that "If I'm getting paid 6 percent commission, that means for everything I'm doing you're getting 94 percent. Don't you want me to sell a lot?" And I said, "I'm willing to deal with it this time, but if you do it one more time I'm going to quit." And they came in about six months later and they said, "Mel, you're making more money than your boss's boss!" And I said, "You ought to raise what my boss's boss is making." And they said, "Well this is CBS and you can't do that," and I told them, "I quit." And I went to work for John Kluggy on that.

Stevens: We've got a question now from the audience.

Audience member: What impact do you think your personality has had on the organizations you've led, and how do you maximize or minimize that impact?

Karmazin: I think that the CEO of a company really sets the tone, you know, for a company. And I'm not sure it's the personality, because I've really seen people who have different personalities be great leaders, so I don't know if there's just one personality about it. But I do think that setting the tone and a CEO is very important.

Stevens: You're described as a pretty tough boss. What do you sort of characterize as your toughness?

Karmazin: It's sort of a cliché. I like to say fair, but everybody says fair. I have unbelievable expectations. I truly expect you, I expect excellence. I want there to be zero defects. I don't want you to make a mistake. OK, I'll support you if you make a mistake for the right reasons, but I really want you to go to the Superbowl every single year, and I expect you to win it.


Stevens: What, Mel Karmazin, are your golden rules for doing business? What would you like to tell people here today that they must do if they're to be successful?

Karmazin: The first thing that I have always said is that you should believe everything I tell you, until I lie to you once, and don't believe another word I say if I do that. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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