What We Can Learn from Vince McMahon

If you've ever watched wrestling, I'm pretty sure that Vince McMahon won't need an introduction. For those that don't though, he's the CEO of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and even in the blurred reality of sports entertainment, I think it's safe to say he's a controversial figure. It's also a bit more difficult to assess him than other people in this series, as he also appears in the ring as a distorted version of himself, 'Mr McMahon'.

The big question is whether he resembles the guy you see on screen in real life?

He has an interesting background and it all starts in the days when the wrestling business was divided into territories within the United States. He and his wife Linda, who currently works within the Trump Administration, brought the WWF (they had to chance it from Federation after a conflict with the animal charity) from his father in the early '80s and went on to revolutionise the business.

He had the vision, drive and ruthlessness to embrace new national TV opportunities and effectively put an end to the days of territories. He changed the game, but a lot of people didn't like it.

This then paved the way for what we see today. With larger-than-life characters like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and 'The Macho Man' Randy Savage, he took everything to the next level and created a spectacular annual event called 'Wrestlemania'.

The WWF continued to flourish and expand around the world until the mid '90s, when some serious competition arrived. Ted Turner's WCW (World Championship Wrestling) started broadcasting its Monday Nitro in the same slot as the WWF's flagship show, Monday Night Raw. They also acquired a lot of their talent, with Hogan and Savage among those who switched sides.

The ensuing 'Monday Night Wars' created great television, but it pushed Vince to the brink.

He fought back though, reminding everyone that he could innovate faster than others could imitate, and eventually got back ahead in the ratings. He also changed his on-screen role from an announcer, where his real life position of owner was never acknowledged, to the 'Mr McMahon' character and his feuds with 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin were unforgettable.

In the end, Vince McMahon would emerge victorious and even ended up acquiring WCW after TNT had decided to discard their wrestling business following a merger with AOL. This allowed Vince to pretty much become the big leagues unopposed and he's continued to expand and improve to this day.

Like the other people I have looked at in this series, I'll look at the good, and then the bad points before working out what's important. We should also get a good idea as to whether he's a face (fan favourite) or heel (bad guy) in real life.

The Good

Now that the dust has settled after the Monday Night Wars, those involved always seem to focus on one key factor. With WCW, you had an owner, a manager and then a booker (who arranges the matches), but at the WWE it was Vince.

You knew who the boss was, and that made a huge difference.

In WCW things were chaotic and it it even got to the point where their biggest stars began to call the shots behind the scenes, with some having creative control written into their contracts. At one point, their management didn't even seem to be aware that title belts had changed.

This was a far cry from Vince, as he oversees everything. By all accounts, you know where you need go if you need a decision or want to get something done.

Another thing you'll soon notice about Vince McMahon if you start to study him is that he likes to stay in shape. Even at the age of 71, he still spends some serious time in the gym. 

I think it's best summed up by Chris Jericho, a wrestler who works for Vince, when he described a late night flight he shared with him as they returned to Florida after filming in New York. He was pretty shattered after a long day and casually asked Vince if he would be settling down after the flight.

He looked surprised, and incredulously responded that he was 'going to the gym'.

This obviously spurred a reluctant Jericho to join him, which was the last thing he wanted. I really think this story sums up Vince McMahon and it should inspire us all.

This approach isn't just restricted to workouts though, as he's renowned for working long, punishing hours.  

His people aren't surprised when he picks up the phone in the early hours of the morning and it's clear that they respect him for it. He doesn't just confine himself to a desk though, as he's also present at all the shows. There's also no sign of him retiring anytime soon either.

His close involvement isn't just restricted to the business side of things though, as you'll usually find him glued to what's going on in the ring in the 'Gorilla Position'. This is an area just past the entrance curtain backstage (named after former wrestler and commentator Gorilla Monsoon) where the management sit watching on monitors and communicating with the talent ringside. 

Vince McMahon also makes the major decisions when it comes to the creative side and storylines.

It's safe to say that he knows what works and can spot an opportunity when he sees one. This doesn't just happen, as it takes years of experience to cultivate this sort of ability.

I think former WWE writer, Vince Russo summed up the difference this made when he described how Vince McMahon would be able to look at the script for a two hour show and immediately make key changes that vastly improved it. He considered this genius and seemed to be in awe of this ability.

Vince McMahon isn't afraid to get in the ring and wrestle either and has made it clear that he would never expect one of his wrestlers to take a 'bump' he wouldn't take himself.

He also knows how to get an instant reaction on the mic in front of a huge crowd. In fact, I think it's safe to say that he can instantly identify what works well after all these years.

The Bad

There are a lot of controversies surrounding Vince McMahon. From issues relating to alleged use of steroids by performers in the ring to the very public deaths of wrestlers, his critics have a lot to hit him with.

I don't think it would be helpful to go into the controversies in detail here, but I think it's safe to say that it hasn't always been plain sailing.

Vince can also be very hard to deal with as it's usually his way or the highway. He's also hard to please and he can pretty much end careers overnight if he doesn't like a wrestler's 'look'. 

It's a tough business and there are regular releases from the company announced on their website, as all the wrestlers are contracted.

He's not known for holding things back either, so you'll soon know if he's not pleased with anything. To get ahead in the WWE, you really need to learn how to deal him as quickly as you can.

I think it's says everything that he has the skull of a Tyrannosaurus Rex above his desk, clearly indicating that he sees himself at the top of the food chain,

The content that the WWE has produced over the years has also been controversial as well. The edgy 'Attitude Era' broke boundaries and I think it's safe to say that it wasn't always family friendly. Some of the storylines really made people uncomfortable and I personally feel that a lot of their TV in the early 2000s didn't send out an appropriate message to younger viewers.

The main thing anyone looking at Vince McMahon will probably pick up on is that he can actually come over as a bit of a bully.

There's no doubt that he expects a lot, but it looks like it sometimes go too far. Wrestlers are expected to be on the road for most of the year and the physical and mental demands on them are considerable. It's also easy to lose count of all the casualties of this way of life.

I'm not saying he's directly responsible, just that he doesn't appear to be that concerned.

Like I've said, he's tough and he seems to expect the same from everyone else in the ring. It also seems ridiculously easy to get on his wrong side.

His ways of working could also be said to be holding the company back at the moment. His son-in-law, wrestler and Executive Paul 'Triple H' Levesque, has brought in a lot of new talent via his NXT development promotion recently, but many of them seemed to have fallen foul of Vince. 

His clear desire for big, muscled personalities in the ring also seems to be out of touch with what audiences now expect from them.   

 What's Important

Although this feature is relatively new, trends are emerging and it's starting to become clear what helps these people succeed. While looking at Vince McMahon, I couldn't help noticing the similarities between him and another billionaire promoter, Bernie Eccleston (The former F1 boss who will also be featured very soon).

It's clear that taking charge, working hard and showing people they can trust you makes a difference when it comes to business.

Like Bernie, those around him have described how you don't really need a contract with Vince, as his handshake is enough. Former commentator Jim Ross also points out that Vince has only really been let down when he's taken someone at their word and they've subsequently backtracked and signed for someone else.

Despite his reputation, he has also demonstrated that he can move past personal issues, particularly when it's best for business.

A great example of this is his relationship with Bret 'Hitman' Hart. After his acrimonious exit after the infamous Montreal 'Screw Job' and his bother Owen's controversial death at a WWE event, it's safe to say there were issues between the two of them, at least in Bret's head.

This changed when he suffered a stoke though and Vince was one of the first people on the phone. According to Bret, he offered encouragement and was really supportive, in almost a fatherly fashion. This made a difference and he realised that business issues weren't always personal issues with Vince.

I've personally heard wrestlers say great things about him and like a lot of things in life, I think you need to consider the reasons why people may say something negative.

In closing, I think we need to consider what Vince McMahon has achieved before we judge him. We should also take time to work out whether a less abrasive approach would have been successful. 

Whatever you decide, I hope you take into consideration the positive points I've raised and we'd all be lucky if we were in half the shape he's in at his age. You also need to remember that he isn't Mr McMahon, he's Vince McMahon.

Image: Vince McMahon by Randall Chancellor licensed under CC BY 2.0