Jimmy Iovine never thought he’d be famous. He came from a family of longshoremen, who “hustled” to earn a living. After seeing the Rolling Stones in concert, he wanted to be in a band but wasn’t quite talented enough with an instrument.
“I got a job sweeping up, and I realized how special the people were who I was working with in the studio.”
Iovine went from a 19-year-old college dropout cleaning in recording studios to becoming the founder of Interscope Records — one of the biggest record labels in the country, known for artists including Eminem, Selena Gomez, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Ellish, and Playboi Carti — and his own school at USC. Now, he wants to inspire another generation of leaders.
In a co-sponsored panel between USC Annenberg and the Iovine and Young Academy on March 10, Iovine and business manager Rich Kleiman spoke about how they became successful in the entertainment industry, business and life.
Kleiman is NBA star Kevin Durant’s manager and business partner, overseeing the former MVP’s investment portfolio and the day-to-day operations of Thirty Five Ventures and the Boardroom media outlet. Iovine is one of the namesakes of the Iovine and Young Academy at USC, which was founded in 2013 to “nurture critical thinking and unbridled creativity at the intersection of four essential areas: arts and design; engineering and computer science; business and venture management; and communication.”
The conversation, entitled “The Executive’s Playbook,” gave USC students and faculty an inside look at the thought processes and mentalities that the two moguls used to find success in business and in life.
“It’s about self awareness,” Iovine said. “I never thought I was going to be [Mark Zuckerberg or Clive Davis], I just wanted to be good…if you become great the rest will take care of itself.”
In Iovine’s executive career, diversity of ideas and interests has been vital to his success.
“I want to be around people who think differently than I do. I want to go to lunch with someone who is a computer science major who is also taking design,” he said.
Thinking across disciplines, especially the intersection of technology and design, has become a core principle of Iovine’s educational philosophy.
This, he emphasized, mandates risk. One of the biggest pointers he had for students was to be courageous and willing to fail in their pursuits.
“If you are afraid to fail and you get frozen because your fear is blocking your path, you’re toast,” he said.
The two panelists discussed how fear is often caused by a lack of knowledge, experience or confidence. Iovine encouraged students to embrace their gaps and insecurities.
“I am not afraid of what I don’t know,” he said. “If you walk into a room and pretend to be the smartest guy, you are not going to be the smartest guy… you want to know what you don’t know, you aren’t protecting what you do know.”
Iovine also imparted advice to aspiring business leaders. “Focus on what you are doing at that moment and become really good at it,” he said. “A lot of people think they can’t be really good and they have to accentuate the hustle. Become good and the hustle will happen.”
As students approach a full year of online classes due to the pandemic, Iovine empathized with them, highlighting how it will strengthen them for the future.
“What you guys are all going through is impossible, unfair, and not since the depression has there been a generation that has had to go through what you guys are going through at your age. I bleed for you guys. I can promise that a lot of you will get so much strength and that the world is not coddling you guys. It is beating you like a stick.”
Students in attendance felt his message was particularly relevant as we approach a hopeful end to the pandemic.
“With COVID, everyone has been forced to innovate,” said public relations major Ellie Schneider. “I think being an entrepreneur and an innovator is something that we’ve all become over this time.”
She also felt his work ethic was relatable to USC students. “We’re fortunate to go to a school that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship and trying new things and interning and doing extracurriculars. I think the same way he lives his life is the same mentality that Trojans have,” Schneider said.
Jose Saucedo, another student, found timely resonance in the panel.
“It made me excited and curious to see where the world is going,” he said. “There are so many new ideas coming out as a result of the pandemic, the business and entrepreneurship world is changing and we have to change with it.”
Despite Iovine’s journey to fame, Schneider said there are still echoes of Iovine’s past in his work today. “He has remained very humble, and he’s still that kid from Brooklyn that grew up playing baseball,” she said.
“He’s never lost who he is, despite being in an industry full of egos.”
Correction made at 8:40 a.m. on March 11: A previous version of the story used the incorrect names for Rich Kleiman’s companies.