Why Taylor Swift is a Great CEO

by HPA VP of Talent Theo Song

With all due respect to Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook and Bob Iger – Taylor Swift is my CEO of the year. She is The Man. She is staving off the next recession. She is her own business cycle. She is proof that Keynesian economics works (just ask the dozens of Uber drivers, restaurant owners, Michael’s employees, and merchandise retailers in your city).

Ten months ago, Taylor announced an ambitious tour concept – a “journey through the musical eras” of her career with 27 shows in 20 cities. Eventually, huge demand caused it to snowball into the biggest tour of her career, resulting in 52 shows across the US. A tour of that size with shows lasting over three hours was a massive undertaking. But Taylor delivered, and the end result potentially injected over $1 billion into the US economy.

Pulling off something as ambitious as the Eras Tour takes some serious management skills. Here are three lessons that all business leaders can learn from her.

She sets stretch goals, then lets her team figure out how to accomplish them.

After five years of not touring, she envisioned a stage show that was beyond reason. My daughters and I have seen her on three different tours – this was bigger than all those events combined. She called her moonshot, and her team figured out how to execute that vision.

For example, the tour’s stage involves a massive screen, hydraulic moving platforms, pyrotechnics, lasers, fireworks, a catwalk the length of a football field, and more. In order to achieve the ambitious goals she had for production design, her team had to figure out how to flawlessly set up, tear down, and move tons of equipment. It ended up requiring around 50 semi-trucks, a full-time logistics team, and weeks of preparation at each location.

Lesson 1: Taylor sets the bar extremely high, but then gives her team room (and time) to develop the solutions.

She rewards her team for giving it their all.

While most people think of the Eras Tour as a major cultural phenomenon, it is also the most commercially successful concert in history. And while this may sound crass, it is also a business venture, and there are hundreds of employees working to make sure that it is flawless every night.

Take a step back and think about the level of commitment from her team. In the climate of “quiet quitting”, her employees were fully invested to making every night a success. And Taylor rewarded them handsomely. She recently paid out total bonuses over $55M to her crew (including $100,000 to each truck driver). That’s a six-figure bonus for six months of work – in an industry where the typical driver gets paid $0.55 per mile. She didn’t have to do that, but she did.

Lesson 2: Taylor shares generously in rewarding her employees, which not only encourages loyalty, but aligns her team to ensure they are bought in and giving their all to improve the customer experience.

She is the ultimate business disruptor.

Even though the initial run of the US tour has ended, Taylor is still in the news. The Eras tour is moving to Latin America, followed by Asia-Pacific and European legs next year. Here in the US, Taylor shocked media executives when she announced the October release of the Eras concert movie, prompting Universal to move their release date for the latest Exorcist movie.

This was a move that nobody saw coming – no film studios, distributors, or exhibitors except for AMC and Cinemark knew about the film before she announced it. Not only was it produced entirely by her own team, they also may have set the distribution terms and pricing.

Lesson 3: Taylor isn’t afraid to think outside the box and challenge conventional thinking to create a multi-channel experience and maximize impact for her customers.

There is much to be said about Taylor Swift, as an artist, a person, and a business leader. She and her team have pushed the boundaries in the music and live events industry. We can all take away a few useful lessons from the successful run of the Eras Tour.