How Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino Influenced My Life

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August 2008: I became infatuated by how Live Nation, this three-year-old company with a cool name and hip branding, had taken the live music industry by storm. I didn’t know much about their dynamics, but I knew they had a courageous and fearless leader. To keep in the know, I signed up for the only Live Nation newsletter I could find – the Investor Relations report.

September 16th 2008: I received an email via Live Nation Investor Relations announcing that CEO Michael Rapino would be speaking at the New York Goldman Sachs conference the next day. It would be held at the Grand Hyatt hotel, which happened to be two blocks away from my office. At the time, I was three years deep working in sales at Xerox Corporation – slinging copy machines up and down Manhattan. I’m an art/music-nut at heart and had some experience in that space, but I opted to develop my business acumen instead. The challenge was that I wasn’t really cut from that cloth. Though I learned a ton, I needed a creative path. That path was only to go to Live Nation.

September 17, 2008: I went out on a “sales” call around 3pm. I marched up to the registration table at the Hyatt like I owned the place and asked for a badge. Hmm, they must have lost my pre-registration somehow. Then came the question I wasn’t prepared for, “And who do you work for sir?” Like a deer in headlights, “um, Xerox,” I whispered. “Well, alright then.” In I went with my name handwritten on the badge in tiny letters above a bold, all caps, Xerox. The only five letters that stuck out on the whole damn thing.

I listened, wide-eyed to every word Rapino said upon that stage. The more I listened, the more I wanted to work for his company. Mostly for two reason; the first being – I felt I simply “got it.” The vision made complete sense to me. The second was – I was intrigued by Rapino’s style.

Having done my homework, I knew Rapino had a gutsy and gritty background that got him to where he was. His career started in marketing at Labatt’s in his hometown of Thunder Bay, Canada. Prior to his first interview with Labatt’s, he created a marketing presentation and brought it to the meeting. He would out work everyone and climb the ladder at Labatt’s. Eventually as he pondered his future, he decided he wanted to be the head of concert company someday. He envisioned it and wrote it down on napkin.

After Rapino’s Goldman Sachs presentation that afternoon, he held a small roundtable in a windowless break room on the fourth floor of the Hyatt. This was like the concert after party that only the VIP’s and “industry folks” get in to. I had already sales-manned my way in, it was worth a shot. So I went, sat in the back and listened to Rapino gracefully field every odd question that was thrown his way.

In my messenger bag I had bound a high-gloss copy of my resume (not on a Xerox machine, I did have some respect!). As the chat concluded and people stood up, I launched myself right down the center lane. I considered everyone else in the room to be slower pins who had already fallen. I was the bowling ball that was thrown by the five year old after the frame was already done, but had not been cleared. As Rapino stood alone for a second, I had my chance.

I introduced myself honestly, and knew that I had maybe twenty seconds. If ever my Xerox elevator pitch skills were to kick in, it was now. I stated I believe in Live Nation, asked if Rapino would take my resume and said, “What do I have to do to work for your company?” I didn’t even know what I wanted to do at Live Nation, what I could do, what their divisions were or what I had the skills for. I just knew I wanted to be a part of it. Rapino willingly accepted my resume and mentioned that he was impressed by the fact that I sat through all of that just to meet him. He left me with a line I’ll never forget. “Initiative is everything.”

Two days later, I found an email in my inbox from Rapino. Its subject was “Meeting You.” Within the three sentence that followed were kind remarks regarding our brief encounter, a request for me to send my information to his leadership team and a zinger that suggested if I was willing to move to Los Angeles, there may be a spot for me.

Unfortunately, I just could not make the cross-country move work. In fact, working for Live Nation never really panned out for me. But eight years later, I see the true value in what transpired. I was blown away by Rapino writing me. That meant, turning away from everything else for a minute, opening a new mail note and taking the time to address it to me. Not just a CEO, but the Live Nation CEO writing to me? A small town New Jersey kid who insisted upon scrapping his way to daylight would get a personalized note from Rapino? The same guy who has Jay Z on speed dial?

Over the next few years I would occasionally and very carefully reach out to Rapino via email when I felt it was appropriate. Writing those short notes was like writing a college thesis that was the make-or-break of an acceptance letter. What fascinated me was that Rapino always replied. Often within 15 minutes. I can’t recall what each response lead to, I just remember he responded. I thought that said so much about how he carries himself as leader, a person and how he treats others.

Four years ago I started writing for Alternative Nation. I’ve always been a writer in some capacity; dating back to being eight years old and filling scrap notebooks. I began writing in music as an outlet of expression. A platform for me to remain in the music scene as I worked to feed my growing family. The keyboard on a laptop is a lot quieter than a guitar. Especially when you have little kids.

By 2013, I grew my writing career to the point where I was putting together what I considered to be worthy articles that could hold their own within the mainstream. I was most proud of the fact that they were in my original style that I would not compromise. In May of last year, I finished a special piece on the lasting impact of the band Silverchair. I named it like it was a painting – Reflections of a Sound. 20 Years of Silverchair.

Two days after it posted live, I tripped across Rapino’s “Meeting You” email out of the blue. For some reason it struck a chord in relation to my Silverchair feature and I decided to send it to him. He wrote back within 10 minutes stating he clicked through the article, thought it was nicely done and would keep me in mind. What really struck me like a bolt of lightning was the opening line of his response, “Hey Jeff, Congrats on finding your passion.” My passion? Really? Just from one article? I didn’t even explain my history or share any other works. How could he see it was my passion? I didn’t even know that!

He was right. I am mesmerized by the fact that he was able to pull that from a casual hello. I have been writing feverishly as full-time job number two ever since.

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I still follow Live Nation like I am one of those big time investors that I shared a room with eight years ago. I cheer for them wholeheartedly, and I subscribe to their vision – one nation under music. I keep Rapino’s September 19, 2008 “Meeting You” email on my desk as if it’s an Olympic gold medal that reminds me anything is possible if you believe it and live with passion. Most importantly, I consider Rapino’s approach to be mentor-like from afar. Even though, I still barely even know him. I marvel at how profound and insightful his emails are. Often just a few thoughtful words that carry the weight of hundreds. Their messages could be put to music and performed live on any of his stages throughout the world.

Most of all, I’m appreciative. I wanted to make an impression on him and somehow, he turned it into life lessons for me to have and hold. It’s no wonder Live Nation is thriving not only in the music industry, but in an effort to make the world a better place too. Rapino made me realize, the right type of success does not happen overnight, just like you don’t get the dream job simply because you met the man. That’s not how he got to where he is today. Part of what I’ve always respected about Rapino was how relentless he appeared to be in his effort to become great. He demonstrated drive and I admire how much he seemingly values the climb as opposed to the peak.

Be mindful of the people you meet. Take a second to absorb the big picture of who they are and where they come from. Encouragement comes in all forms. You never know how just a few of your words could inspire their entire world.

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