Hollywood's Most Influential People Reveal the Best Advice They've Received About Power
"Remember it's the seat, not your ass."
You're only as powerful as the position you hold. Power is fleeting. Be nice — and humble.
These are some of the most common pieces of advice about power cited by those who made the cut for The Hollywood Reporter's second annual ranking of the 100 most powerful people in entertainment — advice they received from parents, bosses and, in many cases, other members of the THR 100 (also frequently named as a font of advice about power: the late Jerry Perenchio, longtime CEO and chairman of Univision).
Many on THR's list focused on one key point: You're only as powerful as the position you're in. Among those who reflected that sentiment were WME-IMG co-CEO Patrick Whitesell ("Always remember, power is the position you hold, not you"); Fox TV Group co-CEO and chairman Dana Walden ("The power is in the chair and it’s rented. Don’t abuse it"); and Netflix vp original content Cindy Holland ("Remember it's the seat, not your ass").
Many others, including Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger (No. 1 on the THR 100), say humility is the key to holding and keeping power, while a few cited kindness as the key to being a successful leader.
One unique piece of advice was given to Tom Rothman, chairman of the motion picture group at Sony Pictures Entertainment, by Meryl Streep. He said he once asked the star "why her Devil Wears Prada character whispered, and she told me that the most powerful person in a room always spoke the softest."
Read on for more candid responses from the THR 100.
Bob Iger, chairman/CEO, Walt Disney Co. ( No. 1)
"Always be humble. No matter how successful you are or how good the world thinks you are, it’s very important not to let that go to your head."
Leslie Moonves, president and CEO, CBS Corp. (No. 4)
"'Be tough, but be fair.' — Jerry Perenchio"
Bob Bakish, president and CEO, Viacom ( No. 6)
"Be nice to people on your way up, which my father told me long, long ago. He’s 91 now and thankfully doing fine."
Alan Horn, chairman, Walt Disney Studios (No. 8)
"My dear friend Jerry Perenchio had a quote in his office, which came from a quote on Ronald Reagan’s desk in the Oval Office: 'There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.'"
Oprah Winfrey, CEO, OWN (No. 9)
"From author Gary Zukav: The only power that lasts is authentic power, using your personality to serve your soul."
Peter Rice, chairman and CEO, Fox Networks Group (No. 10)
"Lew Wasserman told me never to greenlight a movie without looking in the mirror and asking if I truly believed in it or if I were doing it to appease someone else."
Jeff Shell, chairman, Universal Filmed Entertainment (No. 11)
"From Chase Carey to Tony Ball to Steve Burke [No. 3], I received the same advice: Things are never as bad or as good as they seem so take a deep breath."
Donna Langley, chairman, Universal Pictures (No. 11)
"'Power is like being a lady. ... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't.' — Margaret Thatcher"
Ron Meyer, vice chairman, NBCU (No. 11)
"Assumption is the mother of all f—ups."
Emma Watts, vice chairman and president of production, 20th Century Fox Film (No. 12)
"'Never take no for an answer and always be suspicious of yes.' — Oliver Stone"
Ariel Emanuel, co-CEO, WME-IMG (No. 13)
"Never received any [advice about power], but it’s fleeting and not an accurate reflection of anything. People who are insecure think there is something in power. It’s a false sense of security for insecure people."
Patrick Whitesell, co-CEO, WME-IMG (No. 13)
"Always remember, power is the position you hold, not you."
Dana Walden, co-CEO and chairman, Fox TV Group (No 16)
"From Peter Chernin [No. 50]. He told me a long time ago that the power is in the chair and it’s rented. Don’t abuse it. Try to do some good while you have it."
Gary Newman, co-CEO and chairman, Fox TV Group (No. 16)
"My parents taught me not to take myself too seriously. The power is in the job, not the person."
John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios (No. 17)
"From Steve Jobs: Don't worry about power, just make our movies insanely great."
Richard Plepler, CEO, HBO (No. 23)
“'Always beware of hubris.' My dad."
Casey Bloys, president of programming, HBO (No. 23)
"From Game of Thrones: You can be an old King or a brave King, but not an old, brave King."
John Landgraf, CEO, FX Networks (No. 24)
"'There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.' — Lord Acton. To paraphrase: Bad behavior or deceit is much more easily justified when it is perpetrated by people in power."
Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment (No. 26)
"A great leader is not always the smartest person in the room. Great leaders succeed by empowering the people they surround themselves with."
Tom Rothman, chairman, motion picture group, Sony Pictures Entertainment (No. 26).
"I asked Meryl [Streep, No. 75] why her Devil Wears Prada character whispered, and she told me that the most powerful person in a room always spoke the softest. Superb advice that I have never successfully followed. "
Robert Greenblatt, chairman, NBC (No. 27)
"Peter Chernin [No. 50] told me power is all about pushing meaningful things through the system."
Jennifer Salke, president, NBC (No. 27)
"My dad was kind and interested in all people, no matter what their position. As a leader, I strive to be the same for no other reason that it's the right thing to do and makes the world a happier and more productive place. There's really no downside."
Paul Telegdy, NBC Entertainment (No. 27)
"It’s nice to be important, but it is important to be nice."
Jay Sures, managing director, United Talent Agency (No. 33)
"Jeffrey Katzenberg told me, 'Whatever you will do inevitably, do immediately.'"
Dwayne Johnson, actor/producer (No. 34)
"I wrestled in a small-time wrestling circuit through the South, in flea markets and used car dealerships and sometimes even bars, with haystacks and shit. Probably the biggest lesson I learned was listen to the audience. If you listen to them and you have your finger on the pulse and your ear to the ground of where they stand, they'll direct you on what they want. And I'm in the business of giving the audience what they want."
David Nevins, CEO, Showtime Networks (No. 36)
"'Take care of your talent.' — Brian Grazer"
Charlie Collier, president/GM, AMC (No. 42)
"'You rent the chair you’re in and should never confuse the chair’s power with your own.' — Peter Guber"
Nancy Dubuc, president/CEO, A+E Networks (No. 44)
"I can't say there's been any specific advice that I could quote. But, so many people that I admire — especially those women who have climbed the ranks, from super agents to gifted storytellers and mentors — all taught me by example to respect your use of power and never assume it’s a given, certainly as a woman."
Cindy Holland, vp original content, Netflix (No. 45)
"'Remember it's the seat, not your ass.' — Paula Weinstein"
Scott Stuber, vp original film, Netflix (No. 45)
"'When you're an executive, always remember you don't own the chair, you rent it.' — Ron Meyer [No. 11]"
Chuck Lorre, writer/producer (No. 47)
"Steven Bochco once told me, 'Network executives treat writers like children partly because they dress like children.' Sadly, I didn’t listen to him."
Greg Berlanti, writer/producer (No. 52)
"'Treat people how you would want to be treated.' — My dad, a businessman for 40 years."
Gary Barber, chairman and CEO, MGM (No. 54)
"Never abuse it."
Simon Kinberg, writer/producer (No. 59)
"The best advice I've gotten about power was from my dad. And it was simply that it's fleeting."
Mark Pedowitz, president, The CW (No. 60)
"From Ron Sunderland at ABC: If people think you have power, then you have it, but use it wisely."
Chris Albrecht, CEO, Starz (No. 61)
"50 Cent told me to name a show ... Power."
Diane Nelson, president DC Entertainment (No. 64)
"In the context of conversations around [Wonder Woman], I was sharing my belief that power does not equate to strength, but strength may connote power. Simply put, power allows the (positive) impacting of people's lives and careers."
Geoff Johns, president/chief creative officer, DC Entertainment (No. 64)
"Dick Donner always said to listen to people. He did it on every set, in every story meeting and in the editing room. He had his vision, but he was always willing to hear another point of view."
Jon Berg, co-president, production & development, Warner Bros. Pictures (No. 64)
"Watching Alan Horn [No. 8]. You can be strong, fair and warm-hearted all at once. Lead with a smile."
Adam Fogelson, chairman, STXfilms Motion Picture Group (No. 66)
"I’ve never gotten any [advice about power]. Should I be worried?"
Tyler Perry, actor/producer; CEO, Tyler Perry Studios (No. 67)
"'Don't let this shit go to your head.' — my mother."
Zack Van Amburg, president U.S. programming and production, Sony Pictures TV (No. 69)
"'With great power comes great responsibility.' I think Spider-Man told me this."
Jamie Erlicht, president U.S. programming and production, Sony Pictures TV (No. 69)
"The advice was more about success than power, per se, but early in my career when I was offered a job as director of current at Columbia TriStar, I was worried about being pigeonholed in current and sacrificing the other ambitions I had in television. My first mentor (I was lucky enough to have two), Mike Ogiens, gave me great advice, telling me, 'Talented people can't be pigeonholed,' and if it's a good opportunity and an interesting job, I should take it and a path would become clear. He was right."
Kelly Kahl, president, CBS Entertainment (No. 71)
"'All glory is fleeting.' — General George S. Patton"
Noah Hawley, writer/producer (No. 76)
"It’s not about power for me but I did have a conversation about Damon Lindelof at one point when I was struggling on My Generation, which was this fake documentary show and he said to me — because there was an executive there at ABC who just didn’t get the show and it was just a really hard process — he said, 'If it’s not a show you would watch, you shouldn’t be able to give notes on it.' Which I thought was a really important thing to think about [with] power. When you have the power to shape something, you have to understand: Is it for you or is it for somebody else? And if it’s for somebody else, you shouldn’t try to shape it into something it’s not."
Kevin Hart, actor/comedian (No. 80)
"You can judge a man’s power by looking at his team. The more successful his team, the more successful that individual is."
David Linde, CEO, Participant Media (No. 83)
"A very good boss once told me to read the entire room, not just those who are speaking."
Steve Harvey, talk show host/producer( N0. 84)
"I actually got the best advice I ever received on power from my father. He told me something, he said, 'A person who has undeserved power, the first thing are going to do with it is tell you no, because "no" gives them the authority to not allow.' He said, 'A person with true power usually tries to find a way to say yes.' And that’s the most powerful, people who try to find a way to make it happen."
Patty Jenkins, director (No. 94)
"I learned to watch the simplicity of shifting power dynamics from [producer] Brad Wyman, who used to break it down for me daily while we were making Monster. He has one of the cleanest grasps on power of anyone I've ever met because it is totally unfettered by emotion or his own agenda. He's a pessimist but could always be talked into pointing out the only available avenues for optimism when pushed. I learned a lot from him about the dry simplicity of strategy and patience."
Brian Grazer, partner, Imagine Entertainment (No. 95)
"Jerry Perenchio, who was my mentor, would say power is a force of your own perseverance and intellect. It’s not external."
Neal Moritz, producer (No. 96)
"That power is fleeting and you’re only as powerful as your last film — told to me by everyone who’s had a moment of power in Hollywood."
Barry Jenkins, writer/director (No. 97)
"At the PGA Awards, Megan Ellison [No. 30] said, 'The only way I know how to safely handle power is to share it.' I heard that and it felt so clear. For me, that's it right there."
Reese Witherspoon, actor/producer (No. 98)
"I had the privilege of working with Oprah Winfrey [No. 9] on a movie for three months this year, and she taught me so much about business. She does not waste a minute of her time, and she does it all with grace and style and humor. She is hustle personified."