Sunday, August 29, 2021

Entertaining Business Champions

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor August 22, 2021) 

On August 4, 2021, Forbes magazine published that the Caribbean-born entertainer Rihanna is now officially a billionaire. How did that happen? Is there a management formula that is available to others to recreate that success? There is little doubt that advances in this direction by more of our citizens would be welcome, but I am mindful that progress along this path is constrained by the fact that such advances need the right skill sets, and substantial institutional and economic support. These are often dictated by politics, economics, and history, and the lingering institutions and agencies that continue to weigh on the arrangements of the present. Worse, this is perhaps not even the conversation to have during this COVID-19 pandemic, since when we layer the challenges of leadership on top of these constraints, we find ourselves in a dire state. But our history as formerly enslaved African people in the Caribbean has been one of hope, one of slow steady progress, even if many times we find that that progress is too slow, but it leaves us with the assurance that this, too, will pass; we are the survivors. So, we cannot afford to end necessary conversations, or not make plans for where we wish to be even amid tragedy. 

Image: Illustration by Viktor Miller-Gausa for Forbes 

The story on Rihanna by Madeline Berg in Forbes magazine intrigued me for the questions it raises for our engagement with the global entertainment business. The story used the subheading, “How the singer became the richest female musician on the planet. Hint: It wasn’t from performing.” And, perhaps, because it affirmed a model, I have written about since, at least, 2009, as a path that some of our more established figures, in both music and sports, should consider as a way to build their businesses. These writings are still accessible throughout this personal blog, where I wrote on figures like Bob Marley, Levi Roots, Usain Bolt, and a few other Jamaican brands. Not understanding that acquiring stardom leads in parallel to the creation of a brand is a cardinal oversight and, further, not assembling the right team to help the talent figure out how to extract value from the brand is almost criminal. The case of Rihanna speaks for itself. 

One question that comes immediately to mind is, what are the implications of this news on business practice in the Caribbean? Depending on how you look at it, entertainment and sports can open up the world of business opportunities for those who are given to pursuing these paths. That much should at least be clear. It is not just a place for the ne’er-do-wells or school dropouts, but equally a place for some of our brightest formally educated minds. My hope is that more of us will move to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise. The article tells us that Rihanna has not “released a new album since 2016’s Anti.” And, that approximately only two percent (2%) of her estimated wealth is directly attributed to her music practice. In other words, ninety-eight percent (98%) of her now USD $1.7 billion wealth comes from the other businesses she has parlayed her fame and fortune into – Fenty Beauty (an estimated $1.4b) and Savage x Fenty ($270m). CR Fashion Book's writer Lauryn Jiles dives more into Rihanna's portfolio in her feature titled "Rihanna is Officially a Billionaire".

Photo: Caroline McCredie, Getty Images

This should be sobering and should give our entertainment and culture stars and entrepreneurs something to think about. It may mean that the emphasis should not only be on art, artist, and talent development (what mercifully little we currently support formally), but that we also need to look at the capacity to build out businesses from our art, artists, and talents as well. Scholar Christiaan De Balker reminds us that “culture is the core of the entertainment trades” and so if we are going to get serious about doing better in the global entertainment business, we are going to have to give more formal support to preparation and training to attain these levels of success for more of our own icons, which also means the financial training and exposure as well. These are entertainment business deals engineered by finance professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that this has business practice implications, but also government policy implications. 

Rihanna is but the latest I hope can serve us. Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the book 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business writes, “you have to know what is attainable before you can decide what it is you want”. He made the statement in the context of him attending a party on one of the boats of Micky Arison the then chairman and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. This was his way of pointing out the lack of sufficient examples of huge economic success within Black communities in the United States, but the example can also serve the wider African diaspora, and more specifically for the small audience for whom I write. It remains a challenge for many of us to envision alternative realities because many of us simply do not get close enough to huge wealth and opulence. Of course, there are those among us who would perhaps dismiss these levels of wealth as obscene, and not worthy of our aspirations, but that approach is tantamount to us looking away and doing nothing in the face of a fast-approaching relegation to irrelevance, squalor, and mediocrity if we fail to respond appropriately. It is either a welcoming of defeat or a surrender to individual comfort, which by any metric is a loss. 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.