As many of us mourn the passing of Whitney Houston, tons of memorials and tributes have popped up across the internet. I decided I wanted to pay tribute to her as well, especially since I couldn’t find anything remembering her for being business savvy.
Whitney Houston was a major role model for me when I was entering my teenage years and I will always remember her from that time. She has a lasting legacy through her daughter Bobbi Kristina, her godson Nick as well as her works as an entertainer, philanthropist and mentor.
My tribute to Ms. Houston is in recognition of what she did as an entrepreneur (and professional) and what the rest of us can learn from her example.
Concentrate on your strengths
Whitney was infamously mocked for her dancing skills during the early part of her career. In a 1991 interview with Ebony magazine, she acknowledged her dedication to singing since that’s what she was good at. She did not take dancing seriously – that’s not what people loved about her. She honed that craft to win 415 awards (562 award nominations) in her career from a diverse body of organizations including the top experts in her field.
Lesson: Become great at what you do by practicing; investing in your development with classes, coaches, even developing others; practicing; challenging your strengths; practicing; listening to good advisers; and practicing.
Diversify your income streams
Whitney Houston has earned more awards than any female singer has ever received. She sold over 200 million records and albums internationally, an extraordinary achievement especially for an African-American artist. That said, singing was not her only talent and was not the only way she earned income. Unlike what has been commonly reported, she co-wrote and published some of her music under her publishing company Nippy Music Inc (later WhitNip Publishing, Inc). Songs published under this name include Count On Me, Something in Common, Queen of the Night, Like I Never Left You, and others. As these songs have sold during the years, they have earned residual income for her (and now her estate).
So many are aware of her transition into acting. Her movies The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale and The Preacher’s Wife earned combined box office revenues of $540.5 million worldwide. Some of the success, I believe, was because she used her voice in two of these movies (The Preacher’s Wife soundtrack is still the best-selling gospel album ever made). What is not as widely acknowledged was the role she took on as a movie producer by delivering movies she thought would be good for little girls to see. In addition to her version of Cinderella, the Cheetah Girl and Princess Diaries franchises (all associated with Disney) were co-produced or executive produced by her company Brownhouse Productions, usually in association with Debra Martin Chase. The Princess Diaries alone earned over $300 million in box office revenue worldwide. She recently picked up the producer and actress bug for a remake of the ’70s classic Sparkle which wrapped around Thanksgiving 2011 and is scheduled for release in August 2012.
Lesson: Fill in service gaps you believe exist in your market. Open your business portfolio to include more areas of your value chain or other products/services complementary to your strongest talent. Look for ways to incur residual income such as licensing your work to others.
Do what works for you
When Ms. Houston began tipping over to superstar status, she began losing fans in the R&B market… she was even booed at the Soul Train Awards in 1989. Many accused her of not sounding soulful enough on her records. In the December 1990 issue of Essence magazine, she acknowledged making a business decision to pursue a mainstream pop sound, a sound she felt would provide longevity to her career. Her name and her history-making music will stand the test of time because she didn’t bow to pressure from others.
Lesson: Decide on a path to share your talent and stay true to your decision. There will be naysayers especially when you go against the grain and do the unexpected, but if you twist and turn with what everyone else says about what your work should look like, your work will lose the essence of what works best for it – you.
Early in her career, Whitney gave a voice to the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. She later set up the Whitney Houston Foundation for Children to give and raise funds for children all over the world. She helped raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, United Negro College Fund, Red Cross and many others throughout her career. Her contribution of singing helped to raise $300,000 for the Children’s Defense Fund in one night. I believe her contributions to charity helped her career last as long as it did.
Lesson: A basic tenet for successful entrepreneurs has been to give. Share your time, talent and/or money with organizations who work on behalf of others. There are so many benefits of doing this – in the end, it helps us all have a better world than we would without your contributions.
Whitney Houston is a testament of how someone can become the best in the world at owning her talent and serves as a reminder to those watching that she was still human. The most gifted people can go through the greatest personal struggles especially when they have been given superhuman status. At the end of the day, if we don’t take care of our bodies, we will not be able to share our talents with the world for very long.
Here’s a song I appreciate now more than ever before. It’s inspiring for entrepreneurs building our businesses, one day at a time.