Business Lessons from Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

 
 
Actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and partner Dany Garcia are quickly gaining ground in Hollywood as producers. A recent case study by Anita Elberse details the story behind their company, Seven Bucks Productions.
 
 
by Christian Camerota

There is a theme to Dwayne Johnson’s life, and that theme is never settling.

Johnson vividly remembers a moment in the mid-90s when he was being driven back home to Tampa, Florida, by his father after getting cut from a Canadian Football League team, his dreams of an NFL career dashed. He looked in his wallet and saw he only had seven dollars left. That stuck with him, and it has fueled him ever since.

“The power in the entertainment industry is shifting to the superstars, and the smartest among those stars are finding ways to capitalize on that trend and emerge as business leaders"

Fast forward to today. The Rock has become a household name as both a wrestling legend and a global movie star. Perhaps less well known is that Johnson and his business partner, Dany Garcia, have quickly gained ground in Hollywood as producers, too. Their production company – aptly named Seven Bucks Productions – is behind many of Johnson’s most high-profile projects, including this year’s Central Intelligence, next year’s Baywatch, and HBO’s most popular half-hour series in years, Ballers.

Now the duo has set its sights on conquering the online world, launching a digital channel named Seven Bucks Digital Studios this past summer.

Johnson’s rise to the top in Hollywood and his unrelenting drive to achieve what Garcia and Johnson call “benevolent world domination” is what attracted the attention of Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse, who specializes in the businesses of entertainment, media, and sports. Her courses for both MBA students and executives are among the most sought-after in the School’s curriculum.

Anita Elberse and Dwayne Johnson.

“I’m fascinated by the evolution and expanding role of superstars,” Elberse said. “The power in the entertainment industry is shifting to the superstars, and the smartest among those stars are finding ways to capitalize on that trend and emerge as business leaders. For me, Dwayne Johnson is a key example—he is an extremely talented individual stepping up by not only excelling on the creative side, but being serious about the business side, too.”

Elberse interviewed Johnson, Garcia, and several members of their team for her new case study, “Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson,” which she taught for the first time last month as part of her second-year MBA course, and will teach again next year as part of her executive education program on The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports. “I flew to Atlanta to sit down with Dwayne when he was on location to shoot the movie Fast 8,” Elberse said. “We talked for several hours about his path to success in wresting, acting, and producing, how he went about building his company, and what his ambitions are.”

Although the case is named after Johnson, Garcia is no less a star in it. “Dany Garcia is the woman behind ‘The Rock,’ and an incredibly accomplished executive in her own right – that was obvious from the moment I met her,” Elberse said. “Hers is a path that might look a little more familiar to MBA students: she studied finance and marketing at the University of Miami, worked at Merrill Lynch, and founded her own wealth-management firm, all before Dwayne asked her to take over the management of his enterprise. That she’s also Dwayne’s ex-wife and that they have a terrific working relationship makes the story really unique.”

Elberse hopes that the case study will help students understand what it takes for stars like Johnson to build a successful media business that cuts across film, television, and online media. “Johnson was the first A-list actor to launch a digital channel,” said Elberse. “It will be interesting to analyze how that move fits into the broader picture of how his brand and company are evolving.”

Elberse is impressed with the business acumen and ambition demonstrated by the pair of self-made protagonists.

“They are remarkable people,” she said. “Dwayne’s career speaks for itself. And Dany is running a billion-dollar business, all while competing as a professional bodybuilder. They’re both grabbing every opportunity available to them and are running with it, full speed ahead. It’s incredibly inspiring. I can’t wait to go into the classroom, discuss the case with my students, and find out what business lessons emerge for the rest of us who are not as tall, handsome, and muscular.”

Read the first page of Anita Elberse's case study Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

About the Author

Christian Camerota is assistant director of communications at Harvard Business School.

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