As a much-loved Hollywood star, it’s fair to say that a great many movie fans will be relieved to know that Dan Aykroyd didn’t pursue his initial career plan to become a priest. Instead of following that path of spirituality, he pursued acting, for which he is best known for battling evil spirits in the 1984 box office smash Ghostbusters.
In more recent years, Aykroyd has delved into the business of another kind of spirits – alcoholic drinks – selling both tequila and vodka.
His big break came in 1975 when, aged 22, he was appointed to the writing team of then-new comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, and soon became one of the cast members, where he remained for four seasons.
Film work then followed, and in 1980 he had his first major hit starring in The Blues Brothers, for which he also co-wrote the screenplay. The movie remains a much-beloved comedy classic, and Aykroyd still occasionally tours with the “The Blues Brothers Band“, singing as his character from the film – Elwood Blues.
Ghostbusters arrived four years later, which he again co-wrote, and was nominated for an Oscar Academy Award for best supporting role for 1989’s Driving Miss Daisy. Other film highlights include Trading Places, Spies Like Us, Antz, and My Girl.
The move into the alcohol industry came in 2005, when Aykroyd set up a company to import Patron Tequila into Canada. Two years later he launched his pride and joy – made-in-Newfoundland Crystal Head Vodka. Dissatisfied with the existing vodkas available, which he claims contain additives, oils and artificial flavours, he decided to create a pure version for the market. The unmistakable bottle – a glass skull – was a “mystic indigenous element.” To date 13 million-plus units sold, it’s distributed across 70 countries, has won 11 gold medals, including the Prodexpo in Moscow.
Meanwhile, back to battling spirits, the fourth installment of the slime-fighting franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, is due to be released in theatres next year in March.
What have you discovered about the business world?
The moment I entered the acting trade I was in ‘show business’, and I had to market and broker deals for myself. Any actor who goes into the business has to work with a broker or agent who establishes ones’ value and make a sale. Every audition is a sale, then you have to follow it up with a contract, union obligations, tax planning, as well as – if you have a good job as an actor – investment. Then, when I was originating my projects; that is selling a piece of material, setting a value, brokering a deal. So, I’ve been in ‘show business’ all the way through. It’s not too hard to look at the numbers in another dimension.
What are some key qualities to leadership?
The first thing is that you have to respect what other people are doing for you, respect that they have skills and abilities that you may think you know something about, but you don’t, because you don’t do that particular function within an organization. Let them do their work. Let them teach you. Learn about it. Lay back and enjoy the results.
The other thing, in a team, is to immediately make the decision as a leader to remove any poisonous elements, any elements that are going to be clashing with personalities because of a fault with a person. You meet people sometimes and you think as a leader or executive, ‘They are so skilled and great, but their behavior is appalling. If their mother and father couldn’t alter their behavior, it’s not my job to do that.’ Those people have to go.
Any business advice you’d offer?
Don’t give up! Keep at it! Prepare for disappointments, but those disappointments will filter your experience. Travis Kalanick (co-founder of Uber), I must say he had perseverance. He was beaten down several times before the point that he got Uber. He tried many things – two major ventures that were disappointing – but he stayed with it. All his past experiences have led to the success of what I believe Uber is really going to become.
What was it like to come back to the Ghostbusters gang and the iconic brand?
Oh, it’s spectacular to see Bill Murray at any time, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson; Danny Potts joined us. That aspect of it was really fun and satisfying, to see those guys again. But what is really outstanding is this new cast. The next generation of Ghostbusters are all big stars on television. It hands the DNA of the first two movies to the new generation in a really strong, organic, and truthful way. It is a great tribute to the first two movies in that it has a blood link to the first two movies.
Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer