The legendary producer describes watching Nelson Mandela open the hearts of a group of wealthy and hardened business people.
Question: Do you mind sharing an experience you’ve had with a purposeful story?
Peter Guber: Nelson Mandela was turning, I believe 75, could be 70, he turned a lo tof years so, somewhere in that window. And he had just been released from Robin Island in South Africa. And suddenly out of nowhere I, as the then CEO of Sony, got a call in the big boardroom: Nelson Mandela’s on the phone. Of course, I laughed and I say, yeah, right, the guy gets out of prison, 29 years, calls a middle-aged white American in California as his first call. No, no, no, it can’t be. And I ignored it. And then again and again and again and finally the South African Embassy said, it’s really Nelson Mandela on the phone. And he said, “I want to come to the United States and I would like David Rockefeller on the East Coast and you in the West Coast to host an event for me.” I said, “Sure.” What was I going to say, no? A guy had been in prison for 29 years, no, it didn’t sound right, didn’t sound generous. So I said, “Yeah, sure.” And gladly, and I was kind of thrilled and what an honor it was.
And I was trying to think of why he wanted to do it and he said, “let me tell you a story.” Tell me a story. And he sits down and he tells me the story of when he was in this prison and that when he was about to be released one of his guards that had been with him for many, many years came to him, all excited, telling them he was going to be released. I’m going to be released from prison. He was all excited to tell me. And I looked at him and I realized andthen said, I was never in this prison. I was never in his prison, never, never, ever. You know?
And I realized that was the secret of what I had to do. I had to recognize that my country was in a prison in this is the story he told me. And this is the story he told all the businessmen. I’m here to raise money and enlightenment about my country for my country by these people in America who can help us. And I need to get them to help us. And he tells the story of this guard that comes there and he said, “If I allowed that jailer to imprison my dreams and aspirations, I never would have made it the whole time in prison. I never let them do it. And what I have to do now is I can never allow the dreams and visions and hopes and aspirations of the young people in South Africa to be imprisoned. And you can unlock them, you can help fund not just money, but your time, your effort, your intellectual resources into our country. And therefore it will be a tremendously peaceful and powerful embodiment of everything I’ve dreamed of and everything I aspired for, and I believe to move my feet and my heart in that direction.”
And he told that story to me and it unlocked my wallet and unlocked a lot of people’s wallets that were there and also their belief. And it was a story they paid forward. So I saw a man who had literally been brutalized by being imprisoned for 29 years, who saw his life, not as a prison, butas an opportunity to deliver for his country and his people an opportunity by telling that story and empowering others to believe that if they can free those people in that country to believe they had opportunity, they could do that, it would be worth every moment he spent in jail and every moment and money they spent in that support.
And I saw the power of that story—how it had opened the hearts of the toughest businesspeople and opened their wallets.
Recorded January 19, 2011
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Directed / Produced byJonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd