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Mike Heisley (1937-2014) - A Personal Remembrance

Former Memphis Grizzlies owner and Chicago based billionaire Michael Heisley died on Saturday, April 26 of complications from a stroke he suffered about a year ago.

Much has been said about Mike. I would like to share a personal remembrance.

In 2002, I was a speaker at the Annual Association for Corporate Growth's (ACG) Middle Market Mergers & Acquisitions conference in Los Angeles. Arguably the most successful amongst the other perhaps more notable speakers was Mike. He had made a career -- and a bundle of money -- buying underperforming companies and turning them around.

The ACG hosted the guest speakers at a cocktail party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Mike attracted people to him like bees around honey. Everyone wanted his attention. When it was my turn to greet him, something possessed me to ask, "How much of who you have become was due to your father?"

Momentarily taken aback by this question, he pointed to a couple of chairs at a nearby table and said, "C'mon, let's sit down." Other people waiting for their audience with Mike may have been a little miffed, but I wasn't about to refuse such an invitation from this successful revitalizer of the rust belt.

We sat down and Mike shared the following: "Some of the best advice I ever received came from my dad. There was the time when I told him about a business I was about to buy that was clearly a win for me and a lose for everyone else who had any connection with the company. He looked at me and said, 'Why would you do a deal that helped you and hurt everyone else?'"

"It was as if he were saying, 'Mike, because you know how to take advantage of opportunities, you don't have to take advantage of people.' What I didn't realize at the time was that my father had so much confidence in my ability to be successful by knowing and doing the right thing, that I didn't want to dishonor his belief in me by being any less than he thought I could be. And I didn't. Like Jack Nicholson's famous line from the movie, As Good As It Gets, my dad made me want to be a better man. And I like to think I have."

That sense of judgment was a guiding principle that Mike tried to follow in his business and his life. Not betraying the trust of those less powerful than you is one of the best ways to inform you about what the right thing to do is. Knowing the right thing -- and then doing it -- is what causes not just success, but also the peace of mind that comes from a well-lived life.

One of the reasons Mike exercised his judgment with care is to honor his dad.

It's now our time to honor him.

We will miss him. I will miss him.

Reader Comments (1)

Who knew? Thank you for this memory, and for making a good person remember to remain a good person.

May 10, 2014 | Registered CommenterKC Victor
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