CEO's Notebook

In a Former Life: Greg MacGillivray

Greg MacGillivray, 56

Present life: President of MacGillivray Freeman Films, a $20-million Laguna Beach, Calif., IMAX-film company. His company helped produce three Academy Award-winning films and produced two more that were nominated for Oscars. MacGillivray's 1976 film To Fly! is the highest-grossing documentary of all time, and his 1998 Everest was the first giant-screen film to hit the top 10 on the North American box-office charts.

Former life: Surfer, beginning at age 12. "What I like most about surfing is just being in the water. You feel the ocean below you. It kind of allows your mind to become clear," says MacGillivray.

Lessons learned: "Surfing taught me how to be patient," MacGillivray says. "The surf is only good about once a week. By learning that and knowing I had to be vigilant all the time in looking for good surf, I was able to learn the idea of patience with film."

When MacGillivray test-screened his documentary Dolphins, viewers said the film didn't contain enough new information about the sea mammals. Other veteran filmmakers might have gotten in touch with their inner auteur and thrown a fit; MacGillivray, accustomed to delayed gratification, reshot reels and reels of footage and changed the story. "We finally released the film after spending an extra $700,000 on it," MacGillivray says. "Had we released it the way we initially intended, we wouldn't have received an Academy Award nomination," he says, adding, "it was the highest-grossing documentary in IMAX theaters last year."

All those years spent waiting for waves have made MacGillivray a mellow observer of the economy. "You've got to basically just sort of flow with the business cycles and not get too uptight," he says. In the ocean, "there are so many factors affecting the size and condition of the swell. The same thing is mostly true about running a business. There's ebb and flow, and a lot is beyond our control. Be confident that change will be good, and look for the bright side even in a downturn." Dude.

CEO's Notebook

Please e-mail your comments to