Lesson #5: “Work and live to serve others.”
"Work and live to serve others, to leave the world a little better than you found it and garner for yourself as much peace of mind as you can," advised Sarnoff. "This is happiness."
Sarnoff is proof that a person with a strong set of ideologies and principles can make it to the top of the corporate world.
As the first person to envision mass electronic communications, Sarnoff worked towards this goal with the belief that he was serving a higher purpose. Radios would not only let people listen to music from within the comfort of their own homes, but along with TV, they would open up an entire new world of nationwide broadcasts - political conventions, opera and other arts performances, comedy routines.
Sarnoff saw himself as a cultural czar, bringing to the American people a world they would not otherwise know. Indeed, by the end of his term at RCA, Sarnoff's network had created an indelible influence on American culture and public opinion.
Outside of the communications industry, Sarnoff was equally as ideological. He was a passionately political man, who risked much of his success to fight for what he believed in.
In 1929, Sarnoff helped negotiate a war reparations treaty with Germany. He helped direct press communications for D-Day during World War II, garnering him the rank of Brigadier General. He fought the Cold War, vigorously opposed to Communism as he was. Indeed, in the 1950s, he wrote to Americans, asking them to "prosecute the Cold War to the point of victory." He was a close advisor to Vice-President Nixon, and once proposed dropping million of radios and phonographs on the Communist Bloc, which could then broadcast pro-democracy propaganda.
Sarnoff's anti-communist tendencies often crept into his managerial style as well. He supported Senator Joseph McCarthy's Community witch hunts, and condoned blacklisting at the RCA. Even where it had the potential to disrupt his company and generate worked hostility, Sarnoff stuck to his ideologies.
Although not necessarily popular at the time, Sarnoff proved that he was a force to reckoned with. Much like the ideology that governed his business, Sarnoff never sat back to wait for others to take action. Whether it was bringing "radio music boxes" to the public, or fighting communism, where he felt he was needed, Sarnoff stepped up to the plate.
He was not a scientist, nor did he have any formal training in technology. Indeed, Sarnoff got most of his training on the job and in the field. But where Sarnoff felt as if he had a service to perform, he made no bones about it. He made sure that whatever he was doing worked, and that there was a standard for it.
The Cold War may long be over, but the legacy of leadership that Sarnoff has left behind remains. Passionate about his business, and passionate about politics, Sarnoff was not afraid to mix the two, so long as he stood his ground where and when it counted.
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