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“A Passion to Win” by Sumner Redstone (with Peter Knobler) Simon & Schuster; 315 pages “I would hate to view myself as any type of tycoon,” Sumner Redstone told the Associated Press after buying Viacom International in 1987. “Words like ‘tycoon’ and ‘mogul’ and ‘magnate’ turn me and my children off.” OK — except that such labels are pretty hard to avoid when you are, in fact, a magnate, mogul, tycoon. Redstone controls 68 percent of the third-largest entertainment media company in the world. Last October, Forbes magazine valued him at $14 billion, which made him number one on its list of “Content Kings,” beating out both Robert Murdoch and Ted Turner. Redstone’s sprawling empire — home to such glossy brands as CBS, MTV, Simon & Schuster, Paramount, and Blockbuster — inhaled $20 billion in sales last year. Still, Redstone explains in his new memoir “A Passion to Win,” winning is his thing; hence the title. And it’s this love of winning, Redstone doesn’t mind saying, that has led to his many impressive accomplishments (which now include having his very own Simon & Schuster publish a book co-written by Peter Knobler, an author who’s already proven his passion to win by helping the married political insiders Mary Matalin and James Carville produce their successful book “All’s Fair.”) Passion is written the way many good CEOs communicate: with clarity, confidence, and a good deal of repetition. It’s also an energetic account that shares a master dealmaker’s thinking. When vying for Viacom, for example, Redstone’s financial advisers wanted him to dump MTV Networks so as to reduce the company’s debt, enabling the banks to recover their investment. “They wanted us to gut [Viacom],” he recalls. “They didn’t share my vision; they didn’t understand that the components which they wanted us to get rid of were the very ones vital to the company’s success.” Redstone, now in his late 70s, traces his passion for winning to his childhood as the son of Jewish parents living in a tough Irish neighborhood in Boston. Driven by a demanding mother, young Sumner was expected to be first and best at school. He didn’t disappoint. At the eminent Boston Latin School, Redstone writes, he recorded the highest grade point average in the school’s 300-year history. (Cut to scene of mother swelling with pride.) After graduating from Harvard Law School, Redstone did a five-year stint at the Department of Justice as special assistant to the attorney general, then four years as an associate and eventually name partner at Ford Bergson Adams Borkland & Redstone. By the time he was 30, Redstone says, he was “making a ton of money,” and was a “famous tax attorney.” (Maybe to a mother and to the tax bar there is such a thing as a “famous tax attorney,” but to the rest of the world?) Anyway, Sumner says he discovered that the practice of law is “not a crusade for humanity, it’s a business.” So he decided to skip the legal career and go directly to business. And the somewhere he decided to go was a place where he could soon be boss. At 31, he went to work for his father’s Northeast Theater Corporation, a string of nightclubs and drive-in movie theaters (later called National Amusements Inc.). Right away Redstone improved his father’s company and made a name for himself. He expanded operations and negotiated with Hollywood studios for better deals on movie releases. Redstone does a good job of describing the economics of the movie theater business. He also tells about how he argued against and eventually went to court over the practice of blind bidding, in which movie production companies auctioned their films to theaters without letting the theater owners see previews. His case against Buena Vista Distribution Company Inc. (owned by The Walt Disney Company) settled. The theater industry’s limitations, along with the arrival of cable television, led Redstone to be more interested in producing content than in merely distributing it. Using National Amusements’ cash flow, he invested in entertainment companies such as Viacom until, eventually, he was able to engineer a hostile takeover. But that’s not all. Every good story needs its hero to triumph over adversity. And Redstone’s autobiography is a good story. In 1979, at age 55, the content king opened the door of his Boston hotel room to a hallway full of flames. He suffered third-degree burns on more than 45 percent of his body. Rehabilitation was excruciating, requiring five operations. Yet Redstone made the comeback — and went on to triumph in the biggest deals of his life, including the purchases of Viacom, Paramount Communications, Blockbuster Inc., and CBS Corporation. As dramatic as that plotline is, Redstone’s book is most satisfying when he describes his deal making: the players involved, the offers and counteroffers, the strategies, the around-the-clock negotiations. Redstone’s recollections may not make good lessons in humility. But they are terrific for anyone interested in someday becoming a mogul, tycoon or magnate.

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