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Wayne Rogers: From M*A*S*H to Mogul

Most of us know Wayne Rogers from his starring roles on TV’s M*A*S*H and House Calls. Yet Rogers has been quite busy over the past four decades: he has been a founding shareholder in six banks, produced movies and Broadway plays, managed the finances and investments of others, and served on the boards of several companies. He has also developed residential and commercial real estate in five states, co-owned a convenience store chain, a film distribution company, a vineyard, a restaurant, and a hotel or two. He has helped turn around numerous distressed businesses, notably Kleinfeld, the largest bridal retailer in the country.

Rogers can now add one more accomplishment to his impressive and diverse résumé: author. His new book (written with Josh Young) is Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success (AMACOM, 2011).

The following has been excerpted and adapted from a recent interview with Rogers for AMA’s “Edgewise” podcast series.

AMA: The book is titled Make Your Own Rules. How have you made your own rules throughout your career, not only in show business but in your various financial ventures? 

Wayne Rogers: I came to the business world armed only with my training from the theater. I didn’t go to business school, so it was on-the-job training. I had to make up the rules as I went along.

I’m not suggesting that everybody do what I did. There are probably easier ways. If I’d been really smart and I thought I was going to end up being a businessman of some kind, I would have gone to the Wharton School or Harvard Business School; but I didn’t know my life was going to take these turns, so it is what it is.

AMA: How did show business provide a foundation for your success in fields like real estate, banking, wine making, and a bridal business?

Rogers: I think it’s the methodology. It also has to do with writing. For example, Neil Simon wrote his play Brighton Beach Memoirs in three or four days; but really, he didn’t write it in three or four days. He’d been working on it all his life. It was back there in his subconscious somewhere, and it percolated up to the surface, and then bingo, he wrote it. I think that’s the way a lot of problems are solved. If you leave yourself alone and you trust the homework, it will come to you.

The homework is to read all of the financials and immerse yourself in the facts of a particular business. What is the projection of this business? How are we going to do it? 
You’re going to be called on to make a judgment call at some point: Should I invest in this business?

When I go to buy—I know this is going to sound dumb—I don't have any rules.  I make them up as I go along. For example, there’s a chapter in my book about Kleinfeld, the New York City wedding store. I don't know anything about the wedding business or the wedding dress business, but I knew that Kleinfeld was a great brand that had been driven down. How do I know it’s a great brand? Because I get girls coming into the store who say, “My mother bought her dress here,” or “My grandmother bought her dress here, and I want to buy my dress here.” I knew it could be revived. The guy who had it before us did everything he could to kill it, and yet he couldn’t.

To make a sound decision, you get all of the information you can, then you let it work in your subconscious.

AMA: What do you look for in a prospective business partner? 

Rogers:   One of the first things is honesty. A lot of that is feel, based on your experience in meeting people and interacting with people. Second is their competence—not necessarily their experience. That means that they can absorb information about the business in a relatively short time and they understand where and how to identify the things that you need to move the business forward.

I think those are the things that you find out in a personal interview that you can never put on a piece of paper. I had two friends who went to see Bernie Madoff. He was trying to convince them to let him manage their money. Once they got on the elevator to leave, one of my friends said to the other, “What’s your take on him? He replied, “I can’t tell you exactly, but it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Now, Bernie Madoff produced numbers. They were cooked books, but he produced them.  However, something told them, no. Now, I don't know how you develop that sense, but once you do, you hone it. That has to do with your experience with other human beings.  It doesn’t necessarily come from a business background.

AMA: Could some of that have come from your show business background?

Rogers: Yes, I think it does in a sense, because in show business you have to be sensitive to all of the things that are happening around you. You’re taught as an actor to sense what the surroundings are, to be sensitive to the room, the light, the colors, because it all affects you and your behavior. I think that everybody’s behavior is affected by those things. You have to be able to read those signs.

AMA: In your book, you make a passionate case for the role of creativity in business. You wrote: “Business can be like an art.” Can you expand on that? Can the financing of a business be a creative pursuit?

Rogers:  Yes, in two ways. First, there are no rules about financing except what the SEC (the law) says, so you can make up all kinds of things. I’m in the middle of a deal right now in which I’m designing the financing. It requires—because of the way the capitalization is set up—something creative in order to make the second round of financing attractive. So, we have designed a loan, but it’s not a loan. It’s disguised. It’s going to be a piece of preferred stock. This design is going to make the deal more attractive.

The other creative thing is you’re saying, “Okay. Is this financing going to do what it’s supposed to do?” What are we going to do with this money? Why do we need this financing? What is it going to do for us going forward, and how are we going to use the funds?  We know the source of funds is we’re going to sell stock. How is it going to produce income and income stream going forward?

To sum up, as I write in the introduction to Make Your Own Rules: “You don’t have to be ‘against the system’ to succeed; you just don’t want the system to systematize you, as it were. You don’t always have to be a rebel, but, at the same time, you don’t want the system to turn you into an automaton. The goal is to maintain your individuality while functioning within the system.”

Listen to the complete podcast with Wayne Rogers.

Read an excerpt from Make Your Own Rules.