What are your impossible goals?

With the New Year upon us, goal setting is a trendy topic. Few business leaders have been as eccentric and unpredictable as Ted Turner in setting and meeting their goals. He took pleasure in choosing goals that seemed impossible to achieve. He created the first “superstation” television station, WTBS, which broadcast nationwide through a network of local cable television operators. He invented live television broadcasting of news events as they happened. In addition to making himself one of the world’s foremost businessmen, he became the dominant figure in sailboat racing, winning an unprecedented number of ocean sailing events.


Ted Turner became president and chief executive officer of Turner Advertising in 1963 after his father’s death. With brilliant salesmanship, he expanded Turner Advertising’s clientele, thereby bringing in enough money to pay debts and stabilize the company’s finances. By 1970, Turner owned the largest advertising company in the southeast, but he worried about inroads into the billboard business made by radio and television. That year, he made one of his typical leaps of faith by buying an Atlanta UHF television station.

In 1971, the station lost $500,000, but Turner started buying old black-and-white motion pictures, adding them to the station’s programming and increasing its viewership. Because Turner bought the movies outright, he could show them endlessly without paying royalties.


In June 1980, Turner sold the station for $20 million to help finance his latest idea, an all-news cable network. He launched the Cable News Network (CNN) to mostly negative press. Most journalists believed that no one wanted to watch news all day, a view also held by the major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC.

CNN did not make a profit until 1985, but by then it was evident that the bottom line did not motivate Turner as much as his unrelenting desire to be the first to do something.

In 1986, CNN introduced flyaway dishes—satellite dishes that could be folded up for transport in aircraft or trucks and then set up anywhere—allowing CNN reporters to broadcast from anywhere in the world in real time, with no delays between when events occurred and when television viewers could see them.

Turner Broadcasting System merged with Time Warner, with Turner becoming vice chairman of the board of Time Warner, running all of the company’s cable and production operations. He was the company’s largest shareholder and his fortune grew by $1 billion in just nine months.


In 2001, Time Warner merged with AOL to become AOL Time Warner. AOL was in dire financial straits, costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars. Even after dropping AOL from the company’s name, Turner saw his stock value drop by $7 billion.


Turner’s shift to philanthropy has only increased his focus on going after impossible goals. As the largest landowner in America, he is set on returning hundreds of thousands of acres to the same state they were in 200 years ago. He pledged a $1 billion in humanitarian services to the United Nations and co-founded an organization dedicated to lessening the dangers of nuclear and other weapons. These efforts have shaped a few simply stated but very ambitious impossible goals:

1. End extreme poverty

2. Rid the world of nuclear arms

3. Preserve the environment

While he will admit this will not likely happen in his lifetime, setting the goal is the first step in making it a reality. What are your impossible goals?

photo by norlen

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