The U.S. presidential election is just days away, while Corporate America continues to adapt to the “new normal” and the many nuances and challenges that it poses. Corporate leaders across the nation are persistently searching for approaches to address the most critical topics and challenges facing their companies today, particularly those related to COVID-19 and social justice.
During a recent episode of The View From the Top, co-hosted by Equilar and Borden Media Consulting, Steven Borden, Founder and President of Borden Media Consulting, sat down with Dallas Mavericks Owner, Shark Tank personality and iconic entrepreneur Mark Cuban for a lively discussion. Mr. Cuban shared his insight on the upcoming presidential election, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, adapting business operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the future of AI technology and much more. This segment features highlights from the one hour long interview. The interview was edited and condensed for the purposes of this publication.
Mark Cuban: I think it’s reflective of President Trump and who he is. It’s not the first time we’ve had a president that really stuck to one side of things. Historically, when we’ve had divisive presidents like him or presidents who really just stuck to their own supporters, we didn’t have the media, and there wasn’t this real-time presentation of the president at that point in time.
We’re in a very unique point in time with the various levels of social media, in addition to traditional television. It puts it all front and center, and to make it even more difficult, everybody has a voice on social media.
I think the underlying partisanship issue is more a reflection of the two-party system. Rather than us always talking about it being Democrat- or Republican-controlled, imagine if there was a third, independent candidate. All of a sudden we would actually have to govern, and legislators would have to legislate. I think we wouldn’t be dominated by partisan and party politics.
We always hear the conversation of whether or not we’re country first or party first. That really is a function of the fact that there are two dominant parties. Now I’m not a fan of trying to create another party, because no matter what you create, if it grows to be of any size, it’s going to have its own politics. It’s going to have its own people who try to take over and get power. I think if there’s a world where we have independent candidates and independent legislators, all the dynamics change.
Cuban: No. It’s something I certainly considered before, but my family voted it down. It wasn’t that I have this dream to be president or run for office. I just thought I would be a good alternative or antidote to Donald Trump, but my family voted it down.
Cuban: It was the way I was raised. My dad was a Navy vet, wounded, worked his whole life. He was middle-class and did upholstery on cars. He always taught us that you have to treat people with respect, and there is a whole lot of joy that comes from being nice. My dad was always the guy that everybody wanted to be friends with, that into his 80s, I would get stories from friends and others. “Yes, your dad was holding court at this restaurant bar” or “Your dad was with 10 30-year-old women drinking wine and telling stories.” That’s who my dad was.
He always was clear with me that today’s the youngest you’re ever going to be, and you have to live like it. When you look back, however old you are today, that age is going to seem young at some point in the future. The things that you can do today, you won’t be able to do at some point in the future.
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was go, go, go, get out of my way, because I was on a mission. I wasn’t as good to people as I should have been, and it took me a while, but I think I finally started to understand as I got older what my dad meant and how important it was to be nice, how important it is to be fair, and to recognize that we’re all unique in our own ways. This is something special.
Cuban: More than half of my companies are now run or started by women and people of color. We’re growing those numbers as quickly as we can for a very selfish reason: It’s great business. I always try to look where other people aren't and look for opportunities that others have ignored. The reality is so few people of color get hired into positions of power or management that it’s an undermined population, if you will.
They are opening up new markets, new products and new ways of doing business that guys like me would have never considered. There is a company from Shark Tank called Twist It Up that takes African American hair and has this little thing that looks like a tennis racket and styles the hair in a new unique way. The founder knows something that I’d have no understanding about, and this company is killing it.
Diversity and inclusion is not a checklist. It’s not like “African Americans make up 13% of the population, so I need 13% of my employees to be African American.” No. If that’s the way you’re looking at it, you’ve already lost. It's like “Are there other ways to sell into communities that we’re not selling into right now?”
Cuban: It is all part of the solution. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen quickly, but when there’s racism in organizations and when there’s systemic racism in the country, we all suffer, and our businesses are less successful. We always hear the saying, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” and that applies to us as a country as well. It’s a challenge that we all need to take on if we want to leave a better place for our kids.
The good news is that younger generations don’t look at race like older generations have. To them, it’s no big deal. You have to recognize that if you’re selling to those younger generations and you show any signs of being prejudiced, they’re going to ignore you. If you are not supportive of social constructs and you don’t have a social mission, they’re going to ignore you.
Now, we all have a brand. Every single person in this country that’s on social media has a brand that they’re trying to present. You need to recognize that if you’re selling to consumers, they will not want to affiliate themselves with a brand that they don’t have confidence in representing. It’s good business to be supportive of doing the right thing in this country. Nobody’s for racism, it’s just that most people don’t want to deal with racism. Nobody’s for poor people staying poor or people not getting the education that they need. We all recognize that if kids don’t get educated, if they can’t eat, if they don’t have a place to live, then that weakest link is weaker, not stronger. I think we all have a responsibility.
Cuban: The first thing I need to address is that people look at me and say, “You’re a billionaire, right? You can be compassionate with your capital, it’s really easy.” This is something that I’ve tried to support and do even when I started MicroSolutions, my first real company. I was living with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment and sleeping on the floor. It was never about maximizing, but just what I put in my pocket. I always tried to be fair to my employees.
Every single company that I’ve ever started, I’ve given equity to my employees. No exceptions. Every company that I’ve ever sold, my employees came out really well. To me, that’s something I always took pride in. That is being a compassionate capitalist. Could I have been worth more money when I sold my first company, MicroSolutions? When I was 29 or 30 years old, I sold it for $6 million. Would it have been nice if I made another million dollars out of it? Yes, it would have been. At the same time, you couldn’t pay me enough for how I felt when we all went out partying because all 80 employees did really well. That’s being compassionate with capitalism.
When there’s racism in organizations and when there’s systemic racism in the country, we all suffer, and our businesses are less successful.
When you provide your employees with an appreciable asset like your stock, not only are they more committed, but you also get the chance to improve the life of not just that individual, but their families as well. You give that person some amount in stock and they bust their ass, you’re busting your ass, and everybody in that organization is busting their ass, and you go public, or if you’re already public, that equity grows in value. That can be life-changing.
That could be the difference between somebody being able to provide support for their kids and pay for the college they want. They’re never going to get there by the hour. They can get there if you’re compassionate and you provide equity because that’s the difference-maker, not just for them but for their families and this country.
Cuban: We’re keeping people at home and really orienting ourselves to keep people safe. I’ve had people across my businesses who have gotten sick, and it’s difficult. Keeping them safe is first and foremost. Then trying to visualize what comes next, to communicate and say, “The world’s going to be a little bit different because we’re all getting so used to being online. What things can we do online that make us smarter and better, more agile and better able to support and communicate with our customers and fulfill our customers' needs?” That’s on the business side.
On the science side, I think we all try to read as much as we can. People can make arguments on both sides of the science, I guess, but just look at the probability. Why create the risk? There’s just no upside to putting our employees at risk or allowing anything in any circumstances we’re involved in.
I think we’re gearing towards letting people work from home because that’s the nature of our business. We’ll have gatherings once or twice a week, whatever it may be, where we get to socialize, talk to each other, and be in less stressful circumstances, so everyone can talk about work and other things. We get the benefit of those idea generators. How do we organize that so that we can be effective and take advantage of people inspiring each other?
Cuban: I think this time next year a vaccine will be in place, and people will have enough confidence to start venturing out more. Not everybody’s going to do it right off the bat. You’re already starting to see football and college football start to have people in their arenas and stadiums, and I think we’re going to see more of that as the vaccine becomes more and more widely distributed whenever that starts.
Cuban: I think once we get that confidence in a vaccine and that we’re not putting our family or loved ones at risk of really being sick, the snapback on live entertainment and location-based experiences and entertainment is going to be enormous. There’s going to be so much pent up demand, people are going to go nuts. Someone said to me this morning that, “Look what happened after the pandemic of 1918, we got the Roaring Twenties.” People were so cooped up and ready to go. I think we’re going to get something similar.
Cuban: In terms of importance to the future of our country, it’s everything. It is the most important subject, and it’s going to define and drive where we stand militarily in the world. Vladimir Putin said, “Whoever dominates AI will dominate the world,” and he was right. The Chinese have their 25-year plan, and it’s built around technology. Right now, we’re still in the lead. We still have the best scientists. We have the best schools when it comes to AI, but unfortunately, we’re losing that lead quickly for a couple of reasons.
First and foremost, up until three years ago, we were the destination for anybody around the world wanting to learn AI. 80% or more of those people who came here to learn high-end technology stayed here. We had people coming from other countries that not only wanted the education and, maybe, initially thought they’d go back to their home countries, but also loved it here so much, and the opportunity here was so great, they stayed. That’s changed for obvious reasons, and that’s a problem. Hopefully, that will change very quickly going forward.
Number two, we’re not really a leader in semiconductors. Semiconductors and chips, in particular, drive the forward progress of AI. The faster there are chips coming, the better AI performs.
Cuban: It hasn’t bubbled up and you haven’t heard them speak about it because neither one of them are technologists, and that’s part of the challenge. In terms of talking to the White House, which I’ve done, they know it’s important. Within the military, they certainly recognize that it’s an issue. They’re not ignorant to it at all, and they’re trying to get it in a more organized fashion where it becomes more of a joint effort across all the aspects of the military.
Cuban: I like Elon Musk. He’s got his way of doing things. All these ideas he comes up with, it’s like, “That’s a great idea, no way he can do it. Damn, he just did it.” I like Elon. I don’t know him well, but I think he’s an advanced thinker that we need more of.
Cuban: Because I can put alcohol and mixers in each of the pockets when I went to the cafeteria and just sit, drink and be the bartender, so I can meet girls. That is exactly the reason.
Steven Borden is Founder and President of Borden Media Consulting, which specializes in high-level management consulting and executive placement for a wide range of media, entertainment and information companies. BMC’s areas of expertise include executive placement, strategic planning, organizational design, process evaluation, values and culture determination, internal/external communications and executive coaching. Mr. Borden has worked in media, entertainment, sports and news for 35 years, including 20 years providing senior level consulting and executive placement services for all types and stages of media companies.