07/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Calculated Risks

A few years back, my pal, Hollywood veteran Michael Levine sent me this quote from the great American military man, General George Patton: "Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash." It was a game changer for me.

When I think of that quote, two other friends come to mind: Haji Taniguchi and Phil Foxwell. Haji is managing director of one of Japan's largest record labels, Avex, and Phil is the founder of one of the most successful consulting firms that helps connect American companies with their Japanese counterparts.

While I've benefited from their advice over the years, it's a good thing Haji in particular has ignored mine on occasion. We had met in the early '90's when he was working at Sony Music in Tokyo and I recall as though it were yesterday the time he asked me to lunch and after swearing me to secrecy, pulled out a chart, telling me that he was going to leave Sony and launch a new company called Avex. Visionary that I was, I counseled Haji to stay put and take advantage of his great position at Sony and work his way up to the top. Nobody had every heard of Avex then, but a few years later, it was at the top of the Japanese record biz.

Fortunately for him, Phil never asked for my advice, but he made a similar move in the mid '80's that has paid off well for him. An executive at Duskin Servicemaster, one of Japan's largest cleaning services, Phil had a dream of starting his own shop, and sensing his moment, left his well-paying job and forsook quite a bit of stock he had coming his way, in order to strike out on his own in a foreign country.

Phil and his crew at Foxmark just brokered this deal between Pepsico and Japan's leading snack manufacturer, Calbee, just one more in a series of masterful deals he's put together to help American businesses succeed in Japan.

Both Phil and Haji would likely be well paid and powerful executives at Sony and Duskin/Service Master today had they not made their moves. And of course there's nothing wrong with those who do stay, but I particularly admire guys like these who take calculated risks and follow their dreams.