Every morning, Dick Clark steps into a van for the 45-minute ride from his home in Malibu to the ivy-covered headquarters of Dick Clark Productions Inc. in Burbank.
Compared to the flashier sports cars and Land Rovers driven by many of his peers in Hollywood, the family-style van driven by Clark is a mite pedestrian at least by outward appearances.
But the non-descript exterior masks a high-tech interior outfitted with a TV monitor, videotape player, cell phones, chairs and other gear that allows Clark to work while he is chauffered to Burbank.
"It's a mobile office," Clark said.
In a way, the van is a bit like the entertainment company Clark heads. Not always a favorite of stock analysts, Dick Clark Production performs lethargically on the Nasdaq, trading at about $12 last week. Revenues for the year ended June 30 are down from a year earlier.
"The projection is they will have flat earnings and flat revenues," said Arthur Rockwell, an analyst at Yeager Capital Markets. "They have huge cash and no debt. They could have become a mini-King World, but they haven't."
But Clark and his executives see it differently.
"We think our growth is just fine," said Francis C. La Maina, the company president. "We would like to accelerate, but that is a double-edged sword. If you accelerate and put all your eggs into one basket, you can be out of business quite quickly. We have been criticized for it. But the bottom line is, we earn money every year and over the last 10 years we have an upward trend."
The company, founded on the strength of Clark's landmark "American Bandstand" television show 40 years ago, has been public for a decade. Much of its revenues come from the annual awards shows it produces, including the Golden Globes (resulting in an earnings spike each year for the quarter ended March 31).
The company also has a corporate events division putting on shows for annual meetings and the like as well as a chain of restaurants in small or mid-size cities that are faring only modestly well.
But the heart of the company is its TV specials. In addition to the Golden Globes, Clark produces "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve;" the annual "Academy of Country Music Awards;" the annual "Soap Opera Awards;" and the "American Music Awards."
The company has also moved into the lucrative syndication market and developed the upcoming "Donnie and Marie" talk show for Columbia Tristar Television Distribution and a syndicated talk show starring Latina standup Jackie Guerra for Disney's Buena Vista Television. The shows are scheduled to air next fall.
In addition, Clark produces "Weird Al" for the CBS Saturday morning lineup. VH1, the cable music channel, is currently running "The Best of American Bandstand."
The company, however, does not have a prime-time network series. Clark has purposely shied away from sit-coms and one-hour dramas, La Maina said, because of high development costs and deficits that producers incur to launch and maintain a prime-time series.
This philosophy has changed, however. "There is always a potential in any fiscal year to hit a home run and a successful series could change the face of the company, dramatically," LaMaina said.
But don't expect anything overnight.
"For the business arena that we are in," said Clark, "we are very methodical, very conservative. I think that is an asset, itself. A lot of companies are built on less solid foundations."
Clark acknowledged the criticism that he should expand more and begin spending the company's cash reserves.
"They are probably right," he said, "and there may be some day when there will be an exact fit for it, but right now we are not actively seeking it."
Clark said his approach to business has come from his parents. "They were very conservative people," he said. "They didn't spend money that wasn't necessary to spend."
Clark owns about 75 percent of the company stock, making his stake worth about $70 million. Forbes has estimated his worth at $200 million, a figure company insiders don't dispute.
Clark's net worth, however, might have been much greater had he not been forced to divest himself of his positions in publishing companies, record labels, distribution companies, pressing plants and artist management following the payola scandals in the late 1950s.
His bosses at ABC felt that his role on "American Bandstand," a show that could turn records into hits almost overnight, created a conflict of interest. Although he had done nothing illegal, Clark was given one day to decide if he wanted to remain in broadcasting or keep his recording businesses.
"There wasn't much of a choice," he said. "I always wanted to be in broadcasting. Music was a convenient income producer at that point. I didn't think about it for a minute."
But he said the incident had a chilling effect on him.
"I was 27 years old," he said, "and it was a very maturing process. I learned a great deal about corporate morals and political morals and the rest of it."
Clark estimated that had he kept the record businesses, they probably would be worth "hundreds of millions of dollars.
"I don't want anyone to think I am complaining, but nobody asked Lawrence Welk to leave the music business, and he was on TV playing his music," he said.
Clark added that the avuncular Welk played "the right kind of music," while he played rock 'n' roll.
The divestiture, however, forced Clark to focus more seriously on his production company. Even John A. Jackson, who has written a critical biography of the entertainer-businessman, "American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock 'n' Roll Empire," gives Clark high marks for his financial wizardry.
"He is a very astute businessman: shrewd, clever, hard-nosed," Jackson said. "He seems to be very successful at whatever he sets his mind to do."
Jackson said the amiable Clark "downplayed this image, which he used to his advantage."
Business acumen aside, Clark's ability to remain on top may be his most successful trait, especially in a world where many popular disc jockeys, music stars and actors have disappeared after their initial successes.
"Very early in my life, before I was 30, I became very well known and for those days I made a great deal of money," Clark said. "In '90s terms, millions of dollars. It didn't change my lifestyle. In the music business, I have seen instantaneous fame do terrible things, and it is usually with people who are not prepared for it."
At 66, Dick Clark has no plans of retiring. He and his wife remain busy at their Burbank offices, just across the street from NBC.
"I don't know how to play golf,'' he said. "This is fun. You never know what the next challenge will be."
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