By Meg White, REALTOR® Magazine
It’s hard to imagine someone with business interests ranging from Hollywood to wine-making to wedding dress sales being worried about becoming the proverbial cog in the machine, but Wayne Rogers avoids this fate at all costs.
Rogers, known for his role as Trapper John on the TV series M*A*S*H, recently wrote a book with co-writer Josh Young that helps translate the success he’s had in performing as well as investing. The result is an entrepreneurial self-help book for people who can’t stand entrepreneurial self-help books.
“I have no interest in telling you what you should or should not do or in giving you lessons about how to get involved in a business, start a business, or run a business. I have no step-by-step plan for success or surefire tips to becoming a millionaire,” Rogers writes in his introduction. If readers have a problem with that, he boldly suggests “there is always the trash can,” and moves on to chapter one.
Instead of following the usual self-help script, Make Your Own Rules: A Renegade Guide to Unconventional Success (AMACOM Books, 2011) uses case studies to illustrate the impact creativity, research, and careful partnership can have on the timely seizure of opportunity. Rogers’ emphasis on turning distressed assets into successful ventures takes special note of today’s market volatility, as does his advice to buck trends and disregard the status quo. His new spin on tired business clichés such as “the customer is always right,” gives readers reason to dust off these old paradigms and repurpose them for a new generation. Along with his many property development and acquisition case studies, real estate professionals will especially appreciate Rogers’ innovative ideas, self-reliance, and independence.
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Rogers recently spoke with REALTOR® Magazine about his new book and his unconventional path to entrepreneurial success.
In your book, you say you devote the same amount of energy to a $10,000 investment as you would a $100,000 investment. Real estate practitioners often work just as hard to sell a $200,000 house as they might for a house two or three times that much. How do you stay focused and motivated to do your best in those situations?
Rogers: In selling residential real estate, the reputation of the REALTOR® is always at stake. As a consequence, the REALTOR® has to give it their best shot, regardless of the price of the house; otherwise they shouldn’t take the listing. They’ve got to be enthusiastic about it. If they’re not going to do the work, they shouldn’t take the listing.
You say that women are “almost always” the ones who choose the house and you go on to talk about a strategy you employ to survey neighborhoods where you’re looking to invest in new development. How can the average REALTOR® adapt your “ask questions and shut up” strategy to serve buyers better?
Rogers: As a matter of fact, I was doing a little homework this morning. I went into an outlet mall to learn the ways these stores are designed and decorated. So I just ask everybody in there: “Where are you from? Why did you come here today? Do you come to malls often?” In other words, I do my own surveying.
I think a REALTOR® going into any neighborhood where they’re representing a development of some kind or have listings should do that. Go around and talk the people who live there. Ask them what it is about their house that they like. Do they want to leave? What would they do differently? Things like that.
And it’s true: The woman is the one who buys the house. We’re building houses now with a his-and-hers master suite. I once asked a woman, “Do you like sharing the bathroom with your husband?” And she said to me, “Would you like to share the bathroom with my husband?” And I said, “Well, I don’t know your husband, but I don’t think so.”
Do you have any real estate-related plans in the near future?
Rogers: I just picked up something that my son sent me—he does a lot of real estate with me—a short sale of an office building that is empty but is going to be sold for probably 50 percent of its loan value and probably about 65 percent of its cost to reconstruct. We do a lot of distressed real estate, and those opportunities interest me.
You are consistently working in industries with which you have no prior experience, where you aren’t bound by the conventions of people who know the business too well. How do you muster the confidence to buck tradition—and the persuasive powers to get other investors to join you on the road less traveled?
Rogers: I don’t ever try to tell somebody else what to do. Just like the book. I want to find out what they do, I want to find out as much as I can. I love doing the homework. I have the curse of an inquisitive mind. I’m more interested in the process than I am in the success of the process. That may sound a little crazy, but I’m learning along the way. In other words, if I learn that I shouldn’t do this—if I learn enough about it that I’m going to pass—that in itself is good. If you were successful all the time, you wouldn’t learn anything.
Do I know anything about wedding dresses? I have a chapter on Kleinfeld [Bridal, co-owned by Rogers]. I still don’t know anything about wedding dresses! I’m constantly learning. I’m questioning people, asking them why they would behave this way, why they would do this instead of that, why they would buy this instead of that, and how much they would pay for this instead of that. I’m always learning something.
I’m a great believer that the customer will tell you what they want, particularly in housing. That customer is going to say, “I want a house that has X, Y, and Z.” Now, there are people who don’t know what they want in the sense that they can’t describe it. They know what they want when they see it. So you as a real estate professional should say, “I’m going to take you in and show you this, and you tell me if you want a little more, this or that.” After a while, you can pretty much design what somebody wants, and then you can find it for them. Now, if they are truly emotionally unequipped, that is to say they can’t make up their own mind, that’s something else. I would pass that customer on to someone else.
Over and over again, you talk about how distress created opportunity in your business dealings. We’ve talked about homework, but I’m wondering if there’s any other way to tell an opportunity from a sinkhole.
Rogers: I don’t know any other way. I’m serious. I don’t know any substitute for doing the homework. You certainly don’t get a deus ex machina by osmosis or something else. You have to do the homework. There is no substitute for that.
Are you feeling optimistic about the entrepreneurial spirit in this country?
Rogers: We have a controlled market. We have a market that is impeded, certainly by government regulation, certainly by the banking system, certainly by things that are beyond the control of five guys getting together to hatch an idea. Now, you can still do that in information technology, so you can start up a company with very little capital. That has opportunity. But beyond that, we’ve lost our manufacturing abilities to other countries and we’ve become a service economy and what goes with that is a higher level of a requirement for education and we’re not meeting that.
You say that more regulation isn’t the answer in this economic environment, but I wanted to ask you about being called to testify before Congress against the proposal to dump Glass-Steagall [the 1933 banking law that established the FDIC, which was replaced by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999]. Was Glass-Steagall a better regulation than what we have now?
Rogers: Yes, that’s true. Glass-Steagall was a regulation that worked. It came out of three years of study. And Congress abandoned it. It worked for 60 years. It separated investment banks from commercial banks. I define a commercial bank as one that takes deposits and makes loans. An investment bank is one that sells securities and underwrites stocks and bonds and trades derivatives and all that. If you separate those two, you’ll be fine. The commercial bank is then ruled by the FDIC. The FDIC isn’t bailed out by the public. They’re bailed out by assessments on the rest of the banks. You, as a bank, pay a fee in order to be a member of the FDIC. Those fees go into a fund that is used to bail out sick banks. But when the banks got into trouble, it was “Oh, the banking system is going to go down,” so the taxpayers bailed out the big banks. We bailed out Goldman Sachs, we bailed out BofA.
You talk about people who have not had the professional diversity that you have had, and it reminds me of your advocacy for following passions within a diverse business life, especially when the potential for profits is not immediately visible. Could you explain why you decided to still pursue show business and other pursuits after finding business success?
Rogers: Oh, well, I’m interested in everything. I spent half my life in show business. The reason I went into it is that I’m fascinated by the process. The process of creating a stage personality of someone who is getting inside a different person and trying to create that person is fascinating. It has all kinds of ramifications.
Most of the time we’re using words to disguise what our real feelings are. And well-written plays are written that way. Your behavior is not described by the words that you’re saying. Your words are indicating what that behavior is hiding.
There’s an old adage that says, “Watch the feet.” Meaning: Don’t listen to somebody’s words; watch their behavior. Their behavior tells you what’s going on. And we as human beings are constantly hiding our behavior and we do it for all kinds of reasons.
Would you say that informed your business decisions and vice-versa?
Rogers: I think every time you do a part that interests you, or if you do something that interests you in that way, once again you’re constantly learning from it.
I’ve often said to directors when I’m acting, “In the rehearsal process, I’m going to just look terrible.” Because my choices might be to do it the wrong way three or four times differently in order to find the right way. That’s why you rehearse. You don’t rehearse to do it immediately the way you’re going to do it on opening night. You rehearse to find out all of the mistakes that lay in there, so that when you get to a performance level you’ve gone through a number of ways not to do it. I think the same thing is true in business. You don’t get the same opportunity to rehearse all the time so you’ve got to do it intellectually. You’ve got to say, “What if we did it this way? What would happen? Let’s find somebody else who did it this way and see what happened. If that doesn’t work, let’s test it.”
At Kleinfeld, we have an e-commerce situation that we’re about to launch, and I said, “Let’s don’t spend a jillion dollars doing this right away and plunge in. Let’s find out if it works and here’s how we can do it. Here’s a simpler way for us to experiment, and get some feedback.” That’s why you test certain things in a business before you plunge ahead. That’s your rehearsal period, if you will. You do customer surveys and you try certain things before you plunge into it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wayne Rogers is an extremely successful entrepreneur in a wide variety of fields, and has served as a financial adviser to actors, rock stars, and businesspeople. Still known for his role as Trapper John on the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, he has remained active in show business, from acting in television sitcoms and dramas, films, and stage plays to producing HBO movies and Broadway plays. He currently appears as a panelist on Fox Business Channel’s top-rated weekly show, Cashin’ In. He lives in Los Angeles, California, with his wife Amy. For more information, visit waynerogers.webs.com.
Josh Young is a bestselling author who specializes in collaborations with notable entertainment figures, most recently, Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me with Howie Mandel. As a journalist, he has worked for Esquire, George, and LIFE magazines. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.