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Career tip from Will Smith: Diversify

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Seemingly overnight, Will Smith became Hollywood’s most powerful leading man. He replaced Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise, who jockeyed for the top spot but now have fallen off.

That leaves Smith, whose lifetime gross at the box office is $4.4 billion worldwide, millions ahead of anybody else.

What makes Smith the leader? Let’s look at how he’s managed it:
  • He understands the global marketplace, which means selecting scripts with universal appeal. His foreign box office is more than Adam Sandler’s and Will Ferre l l ’s combined, and more than twice that of Denzel Washington.

  • He’s made himself bankable (through careful script selection) in every genre, from sci-fi (I, Robot), to action-comedy (Men in Black), to romantic comedy (Hitch) and drama (The Pursuit of Happyness). “He can do anything,” one top exec says.

  • He’s likable. “We’re talking a ‘Tom Hanksian’ level of likability,” the exec says.

  • He’s race-neutral. “ He’s the black Jimmy Stewart,” says another insider. “He invites the white community in, yet he’s credible with the black community. That’s a pretty hard trick.” Smith does it by choosing roles that transcend race, such as roles about men facing moral choices.

  • He put his head down and kept moving. “ There has always been an obstacle,” says Smith’s business partner, explaining how studios constantly tried to pigeonhole him. Only recently, they “finally looked at his numbers and went ‘Wow.’”
Bottom line: Unless you’re convinced that your opportunity lies deep in one niche, cultivate your career for the widest possible appeal. If you specialize, let that be your own choice.

—Adapted from “The $4 Billion Man,” Sean Smith, Newsweek.

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