Guitar Hero's Rosensweig: Passion Is the Key to Success

Last Updated Dec 2, 2009 12:32 PM EST

If you were the president of a wildly successful company, would you go back to b-school? Probably not, but that's exactly what Dan Rosensweig, president and chief executive officer of Guitar Hero, the Activision business unit which develops the Guitar Hero franchise, has done.

As one of Columbia Business School's Executives in Residence, Rosensweig takes on a variety of roles, mentoring students interested in media and technology, helping them build relationships with companies for future jobs and internships and guiding them on big-picture considerations like "what it means to have a job versus what it means to have a career," as he said during our conversation last week.

I asked what compelled him to be part of this program, and he first mentioned his friend Jonathan Knee, an adjunct professor in finance and economics, who has brought Rosensweig in to speak to his classes at Columbia. He also noted that he's a New Yorker who loves spending time there, though he now calls the Silicon Valley home. However, the key was the opportunity to work with Columbia's students.

Follow your passion
So far, Rosensweig has been especially impressed by the MBA students' passion, creativity and eagerness. I asked if he was sharing any information with them that he wished someone had revealed to him at the beginning of his career. He mentioned some ideas he'd gleaned from his mentors and experience that he wished he had known from the start.
"It's a long journey, and any time you commit to a career, you should follow your passion," Rosensweig said. Because everyone inevitably faces challenges such as industry changes and competition, "focusing on your passion helps you navigate the ups and downs," he added.

Also, he advises students to "head toward the current" and go into professions that are looking toward the future. For example, Rosensweig says, "The tech space is still exciting. Also, look at where the money is being spent, in areas like energy."

Do MBAs have an advantage?
Rosensweig, who has a long and impressive resume - including stints as the COO of Yahoo! and president of Ziff Davis - did not go to b-school. This raised the question of whether or not he thought MBA students have advantages over those who don't go.

"Any path you take, if you commit with passion, you can be successful," he answered. "By going to business school, certain opportunities may open up to you sooner. But it's who you are and how you take advantage of your opportunities that matter. If you have a positive attitude, if you're a problem solver, if you put more oxygen into the room than you take out, then you'll be successful, and it doesn't matter which path you take."

Finally, I asked the question that every Guitar Hero fan surely wants to know: what is the president of the company's favorite song to play? For the new DJ Hero, he chose the MC Hammer-Vanilla Ice mash-up; for Guitar Hero, "Play That Funky Music White Boy"; and for Band Hero, he said he and his two teen daughters "play a lot of Taylor Swift."
  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.