UP & Away
Mathew Knowles reveals his guide to life and the real reason he's proud ofBeyoncé
Mathew Knowles says there are a million reasons why he could have failed at life.
Born black and poor in rural Alabama during a time when segregation still reigned, he lived in a house on a dirt road that didn't have indoor plumbing until he was 14. He was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from previously all-white Gadsden (Ala.) High School, and, while he managed to fit in as well as he could in a sometimes hostile environment, he admits some emotional scars remain.
"I have insecurities in my private life even today that I have to work on," the 59-year old entrepreneur told an audience gathered at Rice University Tuesday night for The Mini-UP Experience, a precursor to the annual October gathering of internationally-known great thinkers at the Stafford Centre.
But Knowles, who went on to create Houston-based Music World Entertainment and until recently managed the career of his daughter, Beyoncé Knowles, said he never let such impediments swamp his dreams.
"As a boy, I wanted to be a businessman. In the third grade I invested $5 in candy and I was the most popular kid in school (selling it as a profit)," he said. "As you walk through life, passion has to be your driver. If there's anything you take away from this, it all starts with passion. It all ends with passion. Every day I wake up passionate about the music world."
Knowles' guide to life includes these observations:
In hiring employees, if they're more concerned about their salary than what they will be doing, he questions if they're right for the job. The one thing successful people have in common, he says, is a great work ethic. "If you have passion, obviously it's not, work. It's fun. It's joy."
Don't be afraid to fail
In 1992, Girl's Tyme, a singing group that Knowles put together featuring Beyoncé, competed on Star Search. After they lost, the pre-teens "cried their hearts out," Knowles said. Afterwards, he approached host Ed McMahon and asked how the group could be successful. McMahon told him to refocus his efforts on the business end.
So, once back in Houston, Knowles enrolled at Houston Community College to study management techniques. "Knowledge is power," he said.
The reincarnated group, Destiny's Child, went on to phenomenal success, but the early going was rough. "Their first song was No no no because we heard so many 'No, no, no's," Knowles said.
"I haven't learned anything from my successes. All my successes have come from my failures," he said. "Never be afraid to fail. Failure is the best thing to happen in business because it teaches you."
Asked to name a failure, Knowles came up with a humorous example. Early on, he paired Destiny's Child with a boy band for a concert tour. "I had the idea to put them all in one tour bus. That doesn't work when you have four 16-year-old girls and four 21-year-old boys. I literally put these guys out in Baton Rouge, Louisiana," he said.
Have a plan
The much ballyhooed announcement that Knowles will no longer manage his 29-year-old superstar daughter's career didn't happen overnight, he says. Beyoncé came to him nine months ago and told him, "I want to build my own career," so they worked out a transition plan.
"Successful people plan," he said. "A failure to plan is planning to fail."
Have a high "talk-to-do" ratio
A lot of people talk a lot, but never follow through. Knowles insists the team around him have a high "talk-to-do" ratio. "If you say you're going to do it, then do it," he said.
Calculate your risks
Successful people are risk takers, but it's got to be worth the risk, Knowles said. "It needs to be a large enough reward if you're going to take the risk."
Think outside the box
In a class he teaches at Texas Southern University, Knowles asks a student to get into a box-sized space and pick three people to come along, so they can see how confining it can be psychologically. "If you're inside a box, it's because you're a boxed-in thinker. What happens in that box is you are constantly hitting a wall. If you step outside that box, you have nothing but mobility."
The family attends St. John's Downtown Church, and Knowles recalls many years ago they would often pass a mansion on Hadley street after services ended while walking to their car. He and younger daughter Solange would dream of day about owning the mansion. "One day, daddy, you're going to own this," she told him.
Years later, he passed by the mansion and noticed a "For Sale" sign. He walked in and asked to see the owner but the receptionist, not believing he had the financial means to buy such a grand house, turned him away. He returned the next day and was more persistent. The owner finally agreed to see him and was a little standoff-ish until Knowles asked, "Would you prefer a cashiers check or a personal check?"
He later found out the home was owned by William Marsh Rice, the namesake of Rice University. "Who would ever have thought that?" Knowles recalled.
Asked his most important accomplishment, Knowles replied, "My daughters Solange and Beyoncé are good people who care about humanity. They will look you in the eye and ask how you're doing or swerve their car to miss hitting an animal. It's not the awards (they win). It's that they are good, genuine people."
Asked how he handles tabloid pronouncements about his family's life, Knowles said he follows what he calls the "Jedi mind trick," where — poof! — such pronunciations vanish into thin area and out of his mind.
"As long as my family and banker are happy, I'm good with it," he said with a chuckle.
What is he excited about now? Faith-based gospel music.
"Right now, the world needs hope and inspiration," he said. "The world does not need any more religion."