Every entrepreneur has a unique way of managing his or her own business.
Charlie Ergen’s management style has raised both chuckles and hackles through the years. Critics call the Dish Network founder the meanest boss in media; the Hollywood Reporter once named him the most hated man in Hollywood. He’s a seasoned blackjack and poker player who likes to “play the odds.” And despite being worth nearly $20 billion, Ergen prefers to eat $3 pancakes in front of newspaper reporters.
You don’t get to build a $33 billion enterprise without finding some proven success strategies. And Ergen described one of them when we sat down for an extended interview at his company’s headquarters in Englewood, Colorado last week for Bloomberg Television.
It’s well known he signs the checks at Dish Network–like, literally signs them. He used to sign all of them when the company began in the 1980s. Now he signs only the ones over $100,000. The task, he said, takes him a few hours a week.
“You’d learn more about the company than you will in any other two hours you could spend,” he said. “It’s after the fact but you can then ask questions about why you bought this software or why you built that building or why you did this or why you did that. Next time you’re in a meeting with that executive or that person, you can ask a question about it.”
What initially seems like a time waster is, in fact, one of the most efficient ways Ergen is able to get a handle on the company. A few weeks ago I wrote about some time-saving hacks that chief executives employ and here now is one of the best I’ve heard.
Before we left, Ergen described why he takes a group of summer interns on a mountain hike every year. Not withstanding that Ergen is a fanatic hiker and just loves the sport, he said it’s a way for him to connect to the interns and see how they operate. It’s a “metaphor” for working at Dish, he noted.
Think about it: going on a rigorous group hike is a lot like working at a competitive company. Can you do simple things like show up on time and follow directions? Can you handle being outside your comfort zone if you’ve never done this before? Do you help others when they’re falling behind? Are you fit mentally and physically?
At the end of our conversation, one of the public relations executives invited me on one of these hikes with Ergen. The idea sounded both exciting and horrifying–I would need to spend the year getting in shape. I’m sure Ergen is glad I don’t work at Dish.