The Best Teacher is Experience

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The MGM Studios Auction:

An Education in Business Practices, Principles, and Ethics

by Leon J. Owens

My introduction into the business world was truly a graduate course in best business practices, principles, and ethics.

The year was 1969, and I was recovering from a concussion, forced to take a year off from law school. It was the same year that “master auctioneer” and well-respected businessman David Weisz acquired all of the assets of the wardrobe and prop departments at the  most iconic and prestigious (but insolvent) of Hollywood film studios, MGM.

The thousands of wardrobe and prop items ranged from Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz red shoes to Charlton Heston’s Ben Hur chariot…as well as every item seen in each of MGM’s movies since the era of the “talkies”.

Dorothy's iconic red shoes from "The Wizard of Oz"
Dorothy’s iconic red shoes from “The Wizard of Oz”

Through friends, I contacted Mr. Weisz and offered to join the team he was assembling to catalogue MGM’s wardrobe, props, vehicles, furniture, cameras, lights… everything inside the studio’s Culver City, Ca. gates, much of which had never been inventoried or appraised.

Cataloguing just the wardrobe and props was a monumental task. It was the pre-Internet era, and only “gumshoe” detective work like that seen in some of MGM’s movies led us to the right people who could properly authenticate and evaluate everything in the studio storage vaults. By the time the research and inventory was complete, the complete MGM Auction Catalogue was both a work of art and a critical factor in the successful conduct of the asset sales.  Today, that catalogue is a valued collector’s item.

The disposition of MGM’s treasures involved ongoing appraisals, frequent discovery of “hidden treasures”, and time-sensitive deadlines.  It was an education far beyond what I could have learned in that missed year of law school.

When I graduated law school, I set aside the practice of law and followed my passions for the world of commerce by accepting Mr. Weisz’s offer of working with him on a full-time basis.

What I learned working alongside David Weisz are fundamental principles that have guided me ever since. After nearly three decades of serving my clients in the most delicate and demanding of fiduciary roles, I’m constantly reminded of the lasting value of those David Weisz Principles:

  • Every challenge is a learning opportunity, every obstacle overcome teaches a lesson.
  • Knowledge in the business world comes only from hands-on experience.
  • Negotiating skills are, in fact, “people skills”.
  • Know what you’re doing (selling, managing) before you do it.
  • Do not deal with individuals who do not know the true value of assets under consideration.
  • Be clear about any and all terms; transparency helps to close deals.
  • Respect and reciprocity always pay dividends.
  • Think good thoughts.
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