#TBT: Michael Jackson, The Businessman?

Michael Jackson is perhaps the most well known celebrity figure ever to grace the face of this earth. He sold over 750 million copies of records, he won over ten Grammys, he had thirteen hits reach no. 1, he generated well over $100 million in album sales, he donated tens of millions to charity, he sold millions upon millions of tickets for worldwide concert tours and probably gave the world the greatest music video ever known to man when he debuted Thriller. M.J. didn't have to venture into anything else to cement his greatness but, with a little research, it becomes clear that he felt he did.

Besides a musical career that touched million of lives and one that made him household name, even to the most pop culture-illiterate of grandmas, another interesting aspect worth noting about Jackson's life was his entrepreneurial exploits.

"Perhaps the best move of Jackson’s financial career was one that had nothing to do with his own music," Forbes writer Zach O'Malley Greenburg wrote last year. "In 1985, he shelled out $47.5 million to buy a publishing catalog that included 250 Beatles songs. Ten years later Sony paid Jackson $90 million for half the rights, forming a joint venture called Sony/ATV."

Back in 1995, when Jackson sold a stake in the music publishing company to Sony, it was valued at $180 million. Today, Sony/ATV is a billion dollar enterprise that has experienced an estimated 3,000% growth spurt from the time that the singer bought it in 1987 for less than $50, and owns the rights to songs made by a range of artists, from Elvis to Eminem.

“You’re talking about the greatest catalog in existence,” Ryan Schinman, chief of Platinum Rye, the world’s largest buyer of music and talent for corporations, told Forbes shortly after Jackson’s death. “When you have that many No. 1 hits in a catalog, you almost can’t put a price on it.”

Another venture that Greenburg says Jackson was successful with, at least in terms of the current value compared to the original, was his Neverland ranch. Jackson bought the property for $20 million in 1987. Now, the ranch is worth $90 -- zoo and all.

The sad part in all of this, of course, is the fact that Jackson, despite his incredible amount of earnings, managed to overspend in immensely irresponsible ways. There is perhaps no other moment in his life, narrated by the New York Times' Timothy L. O'Brien, that describes his debt problems more than a meeting he had with Sony in December of 2005.

Sitting in the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, a $9,000 a night hotel, Jackson had to negotiate with his business partners to contemplate a solution to his hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. He eventually made an agreement that made him liable to give up part of his stake in Sony/ATV in exchange for helping to search for a bank to loan him money. The sad point in all of this is that the Great One still died with even greater debt to his name, almost $500,000 of it.

It's a story that falls right in line with all the craziness that filled the later years of his life. His friends would tell you, though, that the peculiar events that surrounded him are no indication of how smart he really was.

“He was not the kind of person people portrayed him to be,” entertainment attorney Donald David told Forbes. “He would play the game and use that high squeaky voice. Underneath it all, he was a very intelligent, very savvy individual, one of the smartest artists I’ve ever dealt with.”

A savvy individual indeed and a savvy businessman, it seems. If only he was as savvy of a spender...

Photo Credit: WENN