Thief. Gangster. Felon. Cannibal. Drug addict. Sex addict. Alcoholic.

No, I’m not describing your daughter’s latest boyfriend (at least I hope not). I’m talking about Mike Tyson, the boxer.  I just finished reading his autobiography, Undisputed Truth, co-written with Larry Sloman.  I read a lot of books, mostly fiction and biographies.  This book, however, was different.  This book was one of the best business books I’ve ever read.

Tyson’s story can be not-so-easily summed up as follows:  For the first 14 years of his life, absent of a father and with limited supervision from his addict mother, he lived in poverty, robbed houses, did drugs, raised pigeons, and frequently beat up people.  For the next seven years, living in upstate New York under the protection and tutelage of his mentor, Cus D’Amato, Tyson rose to become the boxing heavyweight champion of the world.  Over the next 25 years he earned and then lost hundreds of millions of dollars, became a drug and sex addict, spent three years in prison, bit off an opponent’s ear, married three times, and fathered eight children with several different women.  Now, after declaring bankruptcy in 2003, he’s rehabilitated himself with a successful one-man show on Broadway, a TV special, a best-selling book, and roles in films like The Hangover.

Tyson’s story is amazing.  But the lessons he teaches entrepreneurs are invaluable.  Here are five things I learned about running a successful business from Mike Tyson.

1. Tyson had raw talent as a boxer, just like you may have raw entrepreneurial talent.  But that wasn’t enough.  For seven years he not only spent 10,000 hours training both inside and outside the ring, but he watched countless hours of boxing videos, read everything he could about the sport and studied human nature and philosophy too.  You don’t get to Tyson’s level by being a dummy.  He was no dummy.  He was a student of his profession.  He knew that becoming a champion in the ring isn’t just about clobbering someone when the bell goes off.  Boxing is both a science and an art and requires a deep understanding of human nature.  The same holds true for running a successful business. 

2. During his most formidable young years Tyson sacrificed.  He worked long hours making himself into a fighting machine.  With few exceptions he stayed away from drugs, crime, girls, parties, and all the other temptations that lured his friends into trouble. He gave up his family and lifestyle to achieve his dreams.  Are you prepared to sacrifice the things that may be important to you in order to achieve your business dreams?  Many business owners I know are financially successful but oftentimes divorced, lonely, estranged from their kids, or unhappy because of the choices they made.  Think through the sacrifices before you move forward.

3. Tyson was focused on a single goal:  to be heavyweight champion of the world.  He stopped at nothing to achieve it and he approached it methodically. With the help of D’Amato he created both a short- and long-term plan for the type of training he would do and the type of boxers he would fight.  He had a game plan for each and every one of his fights. He studied his opponents beforehand and knew exactly what his approach would be before stepping into the ring.  Because of his preparation, he was able to quickly recognize his opponents’ weaknesses and take advantage.  You should also have short- and long-term goals and plans for achieving them, and you should be prepared for anything your opponents throw at you.

4. Tyson admits to earning more than $300 million over the course of his career.  Years after he peaked professionally, hiss 2002 fight versus Lennox Lewis was still the highest-grossing pay-per-view event to date, making more than $100 million. But his out of control spending forced him to declare bankruptcy a year later.  I don’t expect you’ll be dropping millions of dollars on jewelry, homes in Vegas, and pet tigers (and if you are planning this then I want to hang out with YOU!).  But no matter how much you earn, no matter how great a year you’re having, no matter how successful you feel, always remember that success is fleeting and nothing stays the same. Smart business owners save.  They know that things are never as good as they appear to be. 

5. After D’Amato died, Tyson surrounded himself with people who didn’t have his best interests at heart.  He had no control over his finances. His earnings were mismanaged.  He was allowed to destroy himself. Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t make the mistakes he made.  Instead, hire smart people.  Empower them to do their jobs independently.  But pay attention to the important details.  Meet with them frequently and keep a close eye on the accounting.  Tyson, like you, was in control of his business.  He just failed to exercise his control.

Mike Tyson is only 47 years old; we haven’t heard the last from him.  He is a very controversial figure.  He’s achieved unbelievable success and deserves every penny he earned.  But he’s admittedly made many mistakes and hurt many people along the way.  I learned a great deal by reading Undisputed Truth.  And you will too.  About boxing.  About life.  And most importantly about how to succeed in your business.