In the tech-boosted 21st-century media landscape, superstar CEOs have become dime-a-dozen. “Brazen” and “billionaire” have become inextricable as characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, especially American business leaders operating as their own PR. But it was Ted Turner, the original “Captain Outrageous,” who blazed the trail for today’s outspoken executives, providing a blueprint for success with a cautionary tale embedded within.
From the TV expansion of the 1970s to the explosion of the Internet, Turner exemplified the modern loudmouth mogul through the highs, lows, and valleys of his cable TV-fueled empire. While today’s eccentric executives fight over outer space, Turner’s legacy is rooted in land, air, and sea. Throughout his career, “Terrible Ted” contributed to Atlanta’s development and success, wielded the power of the airwaves with his Turner Broadcasting empire, and led his country to a yachting championship in the America’s Cup.
However, Turner’s “mouth of the south” mythology has northern origins in Providence, Rhode Island, at Brown University specifically, where he earned a renegade reputation that would ultimately steer him toward tremendous success as a captain of both the cable industry and the high seas. His time at Brown was short yet contentious, featuring two suspensions and expulsion, but time and triumph have helped forge a bond between Turner and his alma mater.
Despite leaving school prematurely, Turner is recognized as an exemplary entrepreneur with Brown University roots, justly receiving both an honorary bachelor’s degree and a doctorate from the school. Maybe more fitting is his memorialization within the Brown University Yacht Club and the Sailing Pavilion that bears his name. Before he was the skipper of the racing yacht Courageous, Turner was the Commodore of the Brown Yacht Club, his sailing legacy only eclipsed by his incredible business success.
As far as modern-day magnates go, Turner is the only one with membership in the Television Academy Hall of Fame and Brown University Athletics, not to mention the National Sailing Hall of Fame. He is an entrepreneur who took risks that paid off largely, like launching 24-hour cable news with CNN, but he also suffered some of the most public losses of any modern mogul.
He’s also one of the few media executives to step inside the squared circle of professional wrestling. But the real Ted Turner, innovator of the “Superstation,” is also a generous benefactor responsible for seeding the United Nations Foundation with $1 billion. Of course, Brown has also benefitted from his quiet goodwill and financial giving, and he is on board with Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, joining other “disruptors” of his generation. Through all of the storms of his chaotic public and private lives, Turner keeps sailing straight.