Book Review : What Makes Business Rock

How Bill Roedy built the world's largest entertainment businesses

Published: Mar 7, 2012

You wouldn’t associate someone who commanded three nuclear bases at the height of the Cold War in the 1970s with running the world’s largest entertainment businesses. But that’s exactly what Bill Roedy has done, and this book chronicles that journey.

Roedy graduated from West Point (the US military academy) and served in Vietnam before commanding nuclear bases in North Italy. He left the army after 11 years to pursue an MBA from Harvard. He joined HBO in 1979 (when it was still a subscription channel that broadcasted only nine hours a day), and was part of the team that helped build it into the giant that is today. Ten years later, he headed to London to head what was essentially a start-up: MTV Europe.

Any entrepreneur will be able to identify with Roedy’s story. When he took charge, MTV was just beginning to grasp the way Europe functioned. By the time he left, he was overseeing MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, VIVA, TMF, Game One, Comedy Central and Paramount Comedy. Along the way he also became one of the most prominent characters in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

Under Roedy, MTV International faced challenges like over-reliance on one region, supplier cartels, government red tape, partners who were not quite clean, cultural gaffes and what have you. He and his team bluffed, blustered and innovated their way to success, often relying on instinct and goodwill.

He made it a point to hire locals in every region he started operations in, so people wouldn’t feel MTV was thrusting American culture on them. Its employees were (and are) young people who get the pulse of the youth. And Roedy comes across as a good negotiator and a fire-fighter, which is, perhaps, the main reason that MTV was able to launch successfully in China.

My favourite chapter is the one where Roedy had to deal with the egos of rock stars and their interactions with the outside world. Massive Attack thanks Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, with ‘F*** you very much’. P. Diddy and his entourage make off with all the liquor in the bar. A famous chef storms out of a party because people don’t appreciate his cooking.

His interactions with leaders of countries and humanitarians are also engrossing. His reasons for fighting AIDS? He says, if you can’t find a way to justify the money spent on social causes, make a business case. Since the mid-1990s the largest number of people getting infected with AIDS were under 25. “Simply put, AIDS would kill off MTV’s audience” Doing good, in other words, is good business.

What Makes
Business Rock
Author: Bill Roedy
Publisher: Wiley India
Pages: 281
Price: Rs 399

(This story appears in the 16 March, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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