Bookcase: Call Me Ted

• Ted Turner with Bill Burke
• Sphere
• $39.99

It’s not easy to warm to manic achiever like Ted Turner. But his book, Call Me Ted, written with the assistance of Cable Network News (CNN) colleague Bill Burke, goes long way to explaining what drives this success-obsessed media man.
Turner founded CNN, America’s first 24-hour cable news network. Unlike contemporary media mogul Rupert Murdoch, it wasn’t commitment to editorial – sound or sleazy – that took Turner to the top of media heap. Rather, he wanted to find new outlets for his advertising empire, one that was built on the billboard business founded by his alcoholic and often-times physical father.
Every page of this book is about Ted. But that’s the way the man is. Obsessive, over the top, acutely aware of himself and single-minded about things. If you can handle that about the man, the book is well worth reading, particularly for the recounting of the tale of how he built CNN.
Turner acknowledges his personal shortcomings, particularly his commitment to everything but his first two wives and five kids. “Putting so much of my energy into work and sailing didn’t leave much time for family life and things were chaotic on the home front,” he concedes. He explains his lack of attention to this detail thus: “I’m product of my environment and I grew up with an intense desire to achieve and to be successful… From an early age I always had lot of energy and when I became an adult, my drive and that energy were channelled toward trying to be the best in sailing and business.”
The simple, folksy style of the book makes it easy to comprehend but not always satisfying to read. On the other hand, the personal anecdotes and Ted Turner stories from host of colleagues, friends and acquaintances, from Jane Fonda to former US President Jimmy Carter, offer compelling insights into the man and his relationships with people.
This is the story of how Ted Turner made and lost billions, told in personal, self-focused sort of way. From management perspective, it reveals seat-of-the-pants operator. guy who relies on his gut, not consultants. As he says of life’s experiences: “… suck it up, learn at least one useful lesson from the castigation and move on.”
And while he reportedly lost around US$8 billion following the sale of Turner Broadcasting to Time Warner and its subsequently disastrous merger with America On Line (AOL), he’s still one of America’s largest land owners and wealthy enough to have pledged U$1 billion to the United Nations Foundation for medicine for needy kids and refugees.
He’s also launched an organisation called the Nuclear Threat Initiative to strengthen global security – so the man, like his book, has some distinct strengths. • Reg Birchfield

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