Tyler Perry: Rags To Riches

Business moguls make growing and attaining a successful business look incredibly simple. We see CEOs, company founders, and celebrities living exciting and luxurious lives, jet-setting to beautiful and exotic locations, and it seems, living without a care in the world. But, for some of these highly successful business men and women, the luxuries of life didn’t come until much later. Sometimes, those we envy in business haven’t come from money and haven’t had parents to lend them million dollar loans for their startup. They know what it’s like to scrape for every penny and they’ve overcome great adversity.

American actor, playwright, filmmaker, and comedian, Tyler Perry, was named the highest paid man in entertainment by Forbes, earning $130million USD between May 2010 and May 2011. While he has built an empire including the beloved Madea character, stage plays, TV series, partnership with Oprah Winfrey, among other projects, his success wasn’t always so obvious or even fathomable.

Perry, formerly known as Emmitt Perry Jr. was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and has overcome an extremely traumatic childhood. Suffering severe abuse and molestations during childhood, Perry explained how his father’s answer to everything was beat it out of you. He said that he never felt safe inside or outside of his home and to escape his surroundings, he would close his eyes and imagine himself living in a freer and better place.

Recalling memories from this time, Perry told Oprah Winfrey in an interview “I felt like I died as a child.” He recounts a memorable beating by his father and being unsure what the cause was. He took drastic measures and tried to commit suicide to escape from the abuse.

Instead of accepting his situation, Perry strived for something better. He now relates his story to one of strength, courage, and victory. In an effort to distance himself from his abusive father, Perry changed his name from Emmitt to Tyler at the age of 16, went on to earn his GED, and turned to his faith for comfort and refuge. He was moved by a comment made on The Oprah Winfrey Show about how writing about difficult experiences could lead to personal breakthroughs and growth. Inspired, Perry wrote a series of letters to himself that became the basis of his first musical and the start of his Hollywood career.

At 22 with a giant leap of faith, Perry moved to Atlanta, Georgia and produced his first play, I Know I’ve Been Changed—which encompassed themes of Christianity, forgiveness, dignity, and self-worth and addressed the issues he’d faced with child abuse and a dysfunctional family history. It flopped. While this failure could have easily forced Perry to give up, it didn’t. It pushed him to work harder and dream larger. He eventually would sell out a showing of I Know I’ve Been Changed, draw attention from investors, and develop a devoted African-American following. The same play would sell more than $100million in tickets, $30million in videos, and estimated $20million in merchandise. He produced 300 live shows a year and gained the attendance of nearly 35,000 people per week.

Perry’s first film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman was widely well received and grossed earnings of $50.6million domestically. He went on to become a director, producer, and co-producer of several other films that gained as much popularity. He’s won awards for his work and, to date, has produced more than 20 plays, movies, and TV shows. He began Tyler Perry Studios in 2006 where he guides the work of other filmmakers. He has also signed a multi-year deal with Winfrey Network (OWN) to create a scripted TV show.

Perry says, “when a seed is planted in the ground, all you can do is water it. You cannot control the sunshine. You cannot control the weather. And you cannot control what the locusts would do when they would come to destroy it. All you can do is plant your seed in the ground, water it, and believe.” He credits his situation now with merely planting ideas and tending to them. He encourages everyone to “never despise small beginnings that would change the world.”
If you’re someone interested in starting, buying, or contributing to any business, there will be drought. There will be downpours. There will be failures and hardships. But if we can learn anything from Tyler Perry about business and success, it’s that if you continue to dream and work toward your goals, despite the adversity, you can succeed.