Larry Wilson might be ‘the $2 billion man’ who learned a lot of lessons about business and life during his career. It’s just unfortunate that he was unable to turn it into a compelling story.
It was when I was listening to a podcast by one of the world’s A-list copywriters that I came across Larry Wilson’s story and his book.
The interview was insightful, and Wilson was an engaging and interesting interviewee. It was on the back of this interview that I spent some of my hard-earned and ordered the book directly from the author.
Australians are likely not to have heard about Larry Wilson, though he is in the Country Radio Hall of Fame in the US. A man with a real insight into what makes radio tick, Wilson spent his career buying and leveraging stations that he knew he could improve.
Forming the foundations of his success are two things: A moral drive to do the right thing no matter what (perhaps in contrast to the common perception of a very wealthy person); and a deep, loving respect for the people who created his stations’ successes.
This book traces Wilson’s career from his youth right through to retirement. Judging by the sheer number of pages that I’ve dog-eared for future reference, it’s also scattered with wisdom that entrepreneurs will appreciate.
As an entrepreneur myself, there were some real moments that resonated, chiefly in Wilson’s lessons about people, teams, values, and investing. It sounds like it could be a great read.
It seems to be a book that is an important addition to any business person’s shelves. The opposite is true.
You are likely to be shocked at the immense number of errors: From money expressed as fractions, to absolutely incorrect words. My favourite of all the errata was an ‘anecdote’ given for a ‘poison medicine’. As I remarked to a friend while I was reading this book, ‘it would want to have been a bloody good story!’.
In interview, Wilson is fascinating. In writing, he is awkward and challenged. If Wilson had taken his own advice, and built a great team to help him produce this book, it could have been excellent.
I say that for a number of reasons.
The first is that he attempts to weave the title into the story, just as primary school students do when they’re given a theme and told to write about it. If a narrative is artfully constructed, and examples well chosen, there is no need to do this: The story tells the moral on its own.
The second is that it’s clear that Wilson cares about people; that he values relationships. This is why it’s so startling that the emotional side of his relationship with his first wife, her slow death from a terrible brain-cancer, and the impact it had on him, is almost absent.
And finally, a good editor would have drawn in the author’s tendency to explain every quotation; would have introduced some consistency; and would have given the work a lick of best-seller polish.
Entrepreneurs know that you have to move fast and break things; that 80% is good enough; and that perfectionism gets in the way. But in books-as-products, you really do have to sweat the small stuff. Maybe all Larry Wilson could see was the big picture.
Knowing the foregoing, should you read this book?
The answer is: Maybe.
If you identify as an entrepreneur, and you are looking for some insights that few others can give you, then the answer is yes. But if you are an avid consumer of memoir simply because you enjoy seeing how others live and learn, then regrettably it’s a hard pass. You will simply find it threadbare.
Larry Wilson’s Do What’s Right is available now at: www.larrywilsonstore.com
This review first appeared in the Australian Arts Review on 30 September 2020. It was syndicated on my YouTube Channel.
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