Chuck Davis knows a lot about following your passion to achieve success. After starting a little sports paper at 13, he got then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle interested by asking him for an interview. Rozelle then invited Davis to join him at the NFL draft. Davis ended up attending the NFL draft for the next 10 years, and eventually landed a couple of college internships with the NFL. Ambitious, Davis leveraged that opportunity into a job with Sports Illustrated and rose up the corporate ladder with companies like TV Guide and Disney, ultimately landing a position as president of its Internet e-commerce group, leading Disneystore.com, Disneytravel.com and ESPNStore.com.

It's no wonder Davis won the 2004 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. He demonstrated his skills by scaling Shopzilla from a small startup called BizRate.com into the largest online shopping site. Then he scaled movie site Fandango before selling it to Comcast in a nine-figure deal.

Davis, former International Chairman for the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO) is now the chairman and CEO of Swagbucks.com, an online rewards platform that has given out over $100 million in free gift cards and cash to its members. He currently serves as an entrepreneur in residence at Harvard Business School and is a venture partner with Technology Crossover Ventures. Davis has been on a tear for decades and was only too happy to share his experience. Here are his seven key lessons for success.

1. "Stand for goodness and positivity."

Davis believes in foregoing easy shortcuts and instead following the straight and narrow path. He believes the only way to get ahead in the long term is to maintain an ethical course and reputation. He evangelizes, "If you take the high road that serves your customer best, your profits--intrinsically and pragmatically--will be stronger in the long run. Plus, you'll definitely sleep better at night."

2. "Make friends and take care of them."

Davis believes in bringing much of his team along for each new business venture. He sees value in established relationships for both productivity and morale. He illustrates, "I have four teammates who are joining me at our third company together, and another dozen folks at Swagbucks who have worked with our team before. Working at a company that gives everyone a piece of equity is a nice strategy for having us all in the same boat, rowing together. Having work and friendships merge make work seem more like play, so who wouldn't want to play in a new company next time around, too?"

3. "Make giving back a part of your work, not just your home life."

Davis has made an art out of giving back in all aspects of his life. The main component of Swagbucks is a point-driven rewards system that has already given consumers more than $100 million in free gift cards and other rewards. He referees youth soccer on Saturday mornings to give back to his immediate community and also donates time coaching dozens of startups per year. There are great benefits to advising, Davis says: "It is incredibly fulfilling to be able to mentor young entrepreneurs the same way I was mentored when I was first starting out. Plus, it comes back to me in spades when young entrepreneurs tell their friends and word gets out to run good ideas by me. I see a lot of lemons, but I also get a first investment crack at many ideas that are below the radar so I can advise and/or invest."

4. "Discover where you do your best thinking."

Today's workers have greater flexibility about work location. Davis strongly believes people should take advantage of these opportunities to enjoy their work environment so they can be more positive and innovative. Davis asks, "Do you think best while walking on a treadmill? Or while wearing your earphones on a plane? Think through how to use this 'downtime' and channel it into productive work. My best ideas come when I'm skiing as I'm out with nature, away from phones and interruptions, and light bulbs go off in my head with new ideas."

5. "Be honest about what's working and what isn't."

Sticking with something that is causing you stress and draining your energy won't get you very far. Davis advises, "Cut your losses on something or someone that isn't working out. Once someone who's not carrying his or her weight is transitioned from the team, I always hear, 'I wish I had done this earlier.'"

6. "Turn what excites you into your business."

Davis loves sports. He loves to compare work to positions in the sports that he enjoys-and then find the parallel in work.

"I split my work horizon into four quarters, like a sporting event," Davis explains. "The first quarter is building the team with new hires, new goals for current management, and lateral moves. The second quarter is when we experiment with new revenue streams and start adjusting our emphasis across different business lines. In the third quarter, we scale the better businesses and close or spin out the weaker ones as we focus on growing both revenues and profits. And in the fourth quarter, I'm on the road a bit telling our story, speaking on panels, meeting bankers and eventually selling the company."

To continue the metaphor, Davis says, "Work is a nine-inning game. The difference is that each of us has a different nine innings than the next teammate. Some are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in their first inning, and some of us are finishing out our tenure and are in the eighth inning. I preach that we respect each employee in each stage, as some laid the brick and mortar, some built great businesses atop it, and others scaled it. We each have a role to play in monetizing a business over our individual and the company's lifeline."

It's Davis' obvious passion for sports that keeps him driving and competing. You may not be a sports fan; perhaps your passion lies in art, math or science. Whatever your passion, Davis recommends you use that in your career so you don't have to battle the conflict of what you have to do versus what you want to do. Davis puts it eloquently, "If done right, you'll wonder why you're getting paid for doing what you love doing anyway. Get more energized by picking the right place to work, play, and be happy."

7. "Know your lifespan."

A big factor in Davis' success is his pragmatism. His approach to management is one of stewardship over ego. Davis explains, "I rent my job. As CEO, I work at the request of a board of directors. Someday it will be time for someone else to lead, and they should take the baton and move things upward and to the right from where I left it. Because of this belief, I've been in five companies from four to six years each. Be realistic about how long you belong in a position or at a company, and then make the most of your tenure as nothing is forever."

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside YPO (Young Presidents' Organization), the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: Nov 5, 2015
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