Leaders Forum: Roland Betts
During his Leaders Forum lecture at Yale SOM on February 7, Roland Betts YC '68 gave students a few pieces of advice. First, if you have stability in your life, it's much easier to go out and accomplish things (he has been married for 40 years and has had the same business partner for more than 30). Second, always be better prepared than the person across the negotiating table. And third, always—always—make sure to get your cut out of the gross. "If you're a net participant," he said, "you're never going to see a dime."
Since he left Yale more than 40 years ago, Betts, founder and chairman of Chelsea Piers, L.P., has been a teacher, an attorney, a movie financier, a baseball franchise owner, and a developer. A theme throughout his career, he told the audience, was never to chase money, but to get immersed in things that interested him. He became a teacher right out of college and stayed at a Harlem school nearly a decade, rising to assistant principal. He wrote a book about his experience in the inner city school and then went to law school, becoming interested in entertainment law. That led to helping finance the movie Gandhi, an experience he credited with "opening a million doors." Betts then launched a firm that financed films, forming a partnership with Disney that made 90 films over 18 years. Along the way, he went in with Yale friend George W. Bush on the purchase of the Texas Rangers. His daughter's passion for ice-skating led him to get involved in the project that eventually became Chelsea Piers, a massive complex of sports space, film studios, and office space in New York City. "When it started out I wanted a place where my daughter could figure skate," he said of the 1.6 million-square-foot complex. "It got completely out of hand."
From a distance, the last 40 years might seem like a remarkable string of successes for Betts. But the story, he insisted, isn't so simple. "For each thing I've done, you can find another that didn't happen," he said. "You have to be prepared for disappointment when living by your wits. Not everything you're going to do is going to work."