“[New billionaires in fast-growing countries] have to buy longer-range airplanes. If you’re flying from Mongolia to Nigeria, it’s either a three-day journey flying commercial or a nine-hour flight on your jet.”
Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban claims he can type 50 words a minute on his BlackBerry. He uses e-mail for nearly all his business correspondence, saying it keeps him in constant contact with the people who need to reach him and is far more efficient than picking up the phone. So when Cuban suggested our interview with him be conducted entirely by e-mail, we e-mailed him back and said OK.
The 51-year-old's affinity for digital communication should come as no surprise when you consider his background. Cuban pocketed about $2 billion from the sale of Broadcast.com to Yahoo at the height of the dot-com boom. He's also in the Guinness Book of World Records for completing the largest e-commerce transaction ever, paying $40 million in late 1999 to buy a new Gulfstream V online without ever setting foot on the airplane.
Most people know Cuban as the brash and outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks. He has amassed more league fines than any owner in NBA history, earning him high praise from fans and brutal verbal floggings up and down the sports radio dial. A certain segment of the population may be more familiar with Cuban for his brief appearance as a contestant on the ABC reality series Dancing with the Stars. (In his younger days, he made money as a disco dancing instructor, bar owner and party promoter.)
Cuban became a millionaire at 31 by selling MicroSolutions, the computer systems integration company he founded after graduating from Indiana University. He's also the founder of HDNet, the first HDTV cable network, and the chairman of Landmark Theaters, the largest art house theater chain in the U.S.
The one thing anybody really needs to know about Cuban is that he loves to win-and, by extension, hates to lose. Whether he's playing in a pickup basketball game or is hunkered in a boardroom negotiating a multimillion-dollar deal, he approaches the situation the same way-as sport. And in sports, you play to win the game.
Cuban purchased the Dallas Mavericks in 2000 from Ross Perot Jr. and immediately turned the team from the NBA's doormat into a perennial conference championship contender, in part by lavishing money and perks on star players. The team's Boeing 757 includes a weight room, oversized seats and a facility for trainers to provide medical treatment. Each player's locker includes a personal entertainment system.
Perot Jr., who still owns a small stake in the Mavericks, sued Cuban in May, claiming he has run up $200 million in team debt. Cuban's typical, no-holds-barred response? "Perot's complaint is a joke, and in my opinion, so is he."
You're the most visible and combative owner in the NBA. It's a formula that has led to a lot of success with the Mavericks. What's been your strategy for turning the team around?
Having great players and doing my best to put them in a position to succeed has been the strategy from the beginning. All the big decisions about the team go through me. I attend every game, and usually I fly with the team. There's no reason to spend the extra money to fly on my airplane. Plus, it gives me a chance to talk to the players and the coaching staff.
I understand the team airplane is a pretty nice ride. Was buying a Boeing 757 for away-game travel part of your strategy for attracting top talent?
Absolutely. When you are on the road as much as an NBA team has to be, the ability to be comfortable, get rest and have enough room for basic treatment of physical problems gives us a competitive advantage. I came up with the strategic vision for the airplane, but not the details. I said I wanted room for players taller than seven feet, plus special setups for meetings, coaching resources and video and connectivity resources. Now, I can't say exactly how we outfitted our Boeing 757 to make it so special. That's a trade secret. We don't want other teams to find out. But it's nice!
Do you think the players appreciate the extras you do for them?
Yes. They know how much better it is playing for the Mavericks than for other teams. The players we have acquired from other teams tell me we do the best job in the league.
What led you to buy your Gulfstream V online without ever seeing it?
I did the research at the Gulfstream Web site and then sent an e-mail and asked to set up a demo flight for my pilot. He raved about it. So I sent another e-mail saying I wanted to buy it. I got the banking instructions, wired the money and that was it.
Any plans to upgrade your current airplane?
Yes. We are looking hard at upgrading.
What airplanes do you own aside from the GV?
I own the Boeing 757 for the Mavs and also a 767 we rent out for high-end charter.
What was your first exposure to flying on private jets and what do you remember about the experience?
My first time flying privately was when we did a road show for our IPO of Broadcast.com. I definitely had that "party like a rock star" look in my eyes. It was amazing to fly on a Gulfstream II back in 1998.
I think we went to 12 cities in seven days. The routine was wake up, go to a city, do a presentation, go to the airport. It was up and down the East Coast and then we traveled from Chicago to St. Louis to Kansas City and other cities. I'll never
forget the experience.
What made you decide to buy a Gulfstream?
I talked to several pilots and asked them what they would love to fly and what they thought was the best airplane. That got me to Gulfstream.
What has owning the Gulfstream meant to you, both professionally and personally?
Since I've owned the GV there are too many examples to count of how the airplane has helped me. Flying out after a late-night game to be at a meeting the next morning. Leaving a meeting to get home in time for my daughter's first daddy-daughter dance. It's part of my life that I can't be without.
It means I have more hours in my day to spend with friends and family. It means I can get more work done. It means I can travel comfortably with my family. It's a life- and game-changer.
Do you also make the GV and 757 available for charter when they're not being used by you or the team?
The GV, no. The 757, yes. We fly big groups who need high-end seating. It definitely helps defray the costs, which I appreciate.
What would you say to business leaders who've stopped flying on business jets because of the negative public perception?
They have to make their own decisions, but I just hope I compete with them. I get to work while they get to stand in line at the airport.
What's changed in the business world since the start of the Great Recession and what needs to happen for the economy to fully recover?
In my opinion, we have to make things simpler for entrepreneurs to start businesses and less costly tax-wise for long-term investors to support those businesses. Plus, entrepreneurs today seem to be thinking too much about exit strategies and not enough about their current profitability.
You've made a lot of money in high-tech industries. What drives you? Is it a passion for technology? A desire to win?
I love to compete. And I love to win. To me, business is the ultimate sport. It's you against everyone 24/7. What could be more fun than that?
You're an intense guy who seems to be going nonstop. What do you do to blow off steam and relax?
Play basketball, which I am off to do right now!