Whitney Houston’s Rise and Fall: Lessons for Small Business Owners

Whitney Houston’s meteoric rise as a young star and her long, slow downfall offer life lessons for all of us. Sadly, her battle with addictions, which may have played a role in her death, threaten to overshadow her incredible talent and many accomplishments.

Whitney Houston

Whitney reeled off a record seven consecutive number one singles, won six Grammy Awards, sold tens of millions of CDs, and inspired a generation of singers. Her version of “The Star Spangled Banner” sung before the 1991 Super Bowl will forever be the standard by which others are judged. Later, Whitney branched out into films and found success on the silver screen.

Her life became a case of perhaps achieving too much, too soon, and offers important lessons for young people pursuing a career in entertainment or any other industry, for that matter.

There are plenty of things that small business owners can learn from Whitney Houston’s life:

There is danger in accomplishing too much too soon. Sadly, Whitney Houston became accustomed to the celebrity lifestyle that often includes drug use. Having too much money at too young an age can be dangerous. The lesson for small business owners is that while your startup may be booming, don’t let early success cloud your judgment. Your company may be flush with cash — from a VC, startup loan, your own savings, or your revenues — but don’t spend it extravagantly or foolishly.

Invest in your talent. Years of drug and alcohol abuse damaged Whitney Houston’s golden voice. She squandered the great talent she had been given. Small business owners should take heed. If you have talented individuals working for your company, nurture them, invest in them. Keep that talent as long as you can. It will benefit you business — and your employee personally — in the long term.

Branching into related fields can reap tremendous rewards. Once she had conquered the pop charts, Whitney Houston made a successful transition into films, notably with The Bodyguard, a 1992 film that grossed $121 million at the box office. The starring role wasn’t that much of a stretch from her core strength; Whitney played a strong willed music superstar. Entrepreneurs should look for opportunities to expand into related businesses, but remember not to divert too far from their core competencies.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Certainly, Whitney Houston was aware of her great talents, but she also realized that she made poor judgments. While recent interviews indicated that the singer understood that her demons hurt her, she simply couldn’t overcome them. Small business owners need to self-assess. Always understand and nurture the qualities that make your company successful. Equally important is the ability to recognize your weaknesses and devote your energy to overcoming them.

Your personal life matters. Whitney Houston’s stormy relationship with husband Bobby Brown took its toll on her life and career. Small business owners must assess their own work-life balance, refrain from overextending themselves at the expense of their relationships, and avoid relying on bad habits when things don’t go well.

Entrepreneurs who start successful small businesses watch them grow and flourish. If a company is strong enough, it may outlast its founder. Often these enterprises become successful big corporations. Hopefully, Whitney Houston’s enormous talents will outlast the memories of her sad demise. Her life is now a cautionary tale for anyone who dreams of building something big and leaving a meaningful legacy.

Whitney Houston Photo via Shutterstock

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Rohit Arora


Rohit Arora Rohit Arora, CEO and Co-founder of Biz2Credit, is one of the country's leading experts in small business finance. Since its founding in 2007, Biz2Credit has arranged $800M in small business loans and has helped thousands of entrepreneurs. Rohit was named Crain's NY Business "Entrepreneur of the Year 2011."

10 Reactions

  1. Great lessons Rohit. I love the parallels you make. I just published a similar article on my blog this morning but this is great info. Thanks for sharing. Great leaders don’t get too impressed with their own strengths, don’t get too carried away spending some of the early profits, and understand that a healthy life and focus on growing relationships are all important to ultimate success and, more importantly, a life of significance.

  2. I was wondering when I’d see a Whitney Houston article in a business vein.

    This is a smart one, and I particularly like your last tip. A workaholic with a crumbling personal life can keep it going for a little while, but eventually that starts to weigh on you and affect your productivity. Work/life balance is incredibly important.

  3. This is GREAT, but surely there’s a real BUSINESS lesson in not falling asleep in the bath while high on crack (I mean, in a metaphorical sense of course. LOL!)

  4. Great points. I particularly appreciate the last one. So many celebrities – like Houston – get caught up in only valuing themselves for their career successes, while neglecting to nurture and develop a personal self-worth from a healthy personal life. Entrepreneurs – we do the same thing. Here’s a 6-step plan I put together for fellow home biz owners/freelancers/solopreneurs who are struggling to navigate biz success when emotional baggage is pulling your attention away:

    http://www.yourhealthyhomebiz.com/emotional-intelligence-in-business-a-6-step-plan

  5. I agree philosophical lessons can be learned from anyone. However, I would disagree that Whitney Houston had relevant business experience that would translate to actionable insight for entrepreneurs. What this article points out is the same a lot of articles point out about business in general. Although I love Whitney, she does not leave behind a viable company. However, at the apex of her career, one could argue she was a corporation generating millions of dollars in revenue.

  6. I am disappointed in the poor choice to parallel Ms. Houston’s death with a lesson in business. Perhaps NAWBO should capitalize on another “opportunity” and allow the Houston family to mourn their loss privately.

  7. Wonderful insights! What might you include about her marketing efforts?

  8. I noticed that you did not mention “courage” because Whitney Houston displayed the courage to speak her mind, live her life and show her face unlike those that commented behind blank profile pictures.

    Witney houston did not die violently, alone,shut off from the world or unloved. It is pointless to point to drug use as her undoing and demise because without drugs life itself is impossible.

  9. How dare u compare her , a wonderful lady with GOD giving talents and try to write her off as a person who just didnt have control! Read this and understand this even if she was doing crack , which i know she was not cuz i read the coroners report she was better then Any of you judgmental pukes on here trying to tear her down even after she she is not gone. She had more money then u and she lived a life u dream about and she was adored by the world. So u can open ur mouth when u have had a job for 30 yrs and u have more the 100 milllion set aside for ur kids! Until then live ur sorry ass life and and get off ur drugs : ciggeretts and coffee both DRUGS most of u are hooked on and one of them is the worst drug of them all Ciggerets. At least whitney got hi from her drugs!

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