Dick Clark, the ever-youthful host of American Bandstand, died last week at 82. I grew up watching Clark on TV, and I knew he was entrepreneurially active, but I had no idea just how many business ventures he was involved with. As I read Clark’s obituary, I was struck by how many lessons small business owners and entrepreneurs can draw from his life.
- Work hard, but watch for lucky breaks, too. Clark knew from age 13 that he wanted to be in broadcasting. He was working at the WFIL/WFIO radio and TV station in Philadelphia when the popular host of the station’s “Bandstand” dance show was arrested for drunk driving. Clark stepped in, and the rest is history.
- Be able to spot opportunity. Clark’s favorite kind of music was jazz; he wasn’t a huge fan of rock n’ roll. However, he recognized the music’s potential and became a major force in making it palatable for the mass audience (and parents).
- Set high standards. I didn’t know this, but the smiling Clark you saw on TV wasn’t always that way off camera. He would often lose his temper if a show didn’t meet his high expectations or a segment ran too long or too short. By holding everyone he worked with to high standards, he ensured his show always delivered.
- Think long-term, or always have a Plan B. Clark was concerned that he’d be forced into retirement from the youth-oriented Bandstand, so he started his own production company so he would have something to fall back on. He branched out into roles as an artist manager and music publisher; he also owned record manufacturing plants and a distribution business. (He even owned the franchising rights for Krispy Kreme Donuts in Ireland and England.)
- Do the paperwork. Knowing your way around a contract can make all the difference in your success or failure. Clark was able to re-use and re-package clips from Bandstand because he had artists sign releases giving him ownership of the footage of their appearances on his show. He also owned partial rights to over 100 songs.
- Build your brand. Clark developed the American Bandstand brand into many lucrative offshoots. He developed TV specials, sold videos, and even launched a chain of “American Bandstand” restaurants in airports.
- Keep on truckin’. Clark missed only one New Year’s Rockin’ Eve countdown—the one in 2004 shortly after he had a stroke. Like many entrepreneurs, he couldn’t imagine not doing what he loved.
R.I.P., Dick Clark. Thanks for the memories…and the inspiration.