Would you believe it? The Kiss bass player Gene Simmons behind the makeup is a hard boiled businessman? Simmons has many roles – and many names. Born in Haifa, Israel, he was originally called Chaim Witz. When his family emigrated to the US, he became Gene Klein. And later as an artist, Gene Simmons.

Poor childhood
Originally his parents were Jewish immigrants from Hungary. His mother, Florence Klein was a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp. As Simmons describes, his family was dirt poor, especially after his father left the family.
Simmons, born in 1949, started his entrepreneurial career early, as a 6-year-old in Israel. He picked cactus fruit and sold them to people at the bus stop. With bloody scrapes in his hands, he bought his first ice-cream cone with his own earnings. The rest of the money he gave to his mother. “I’ll never forget my mother coming up to me and hugging me and saying, my little man”, Simmons writes. Later, in the US he bought old comics in bundles and sold re-sold them with good profit. Then came music. Simmons’ first band with Paul Stanley, his closest partner in music, was Wicked Lester. That project didn’t succeed. In late 1972, Simmons and Stanley established a new band, KISS. This time they managed the band themselves. Stanley, originally Stanley Bert Eisen, was also a child of modest Jewish immigrant family. Stanley’s mother fled the Nazis from Holland and his dad from Poland.

100 million reasons to listen
Since their first album record in 1974, KISS has sold over 100 million CDs and DVDs worldwide. It manages over 3,000 licensed merchandise items. Simmons owns a professional sports team, a restaurant chain, and a record company. KISS is one most recognized brands around the world. There is even a KISS Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, which is ”perfect for classic rock fans, KISS fans or just someone seeking a fun Vegas wedding”. There is also ”the KISS Monster Mini golf course. Officially named ”Hotter Than Hell wedding chapel” claims to be one of Las Vegas’ ”most fun themed wedding experiences”. 

Simmons is a recipient of the Forbes lifetime achievement award. He has also starred in two hit reality shows. The Gene Simmons Family Jewels was much like more famous reality show The Osbournes. It  portrayed especially the Simmons family life together with his longtime partner and later wife Shannon. According to Simmons, that series saved his family. Simmons had to confront his own infidelity before TV cameras and ask for forgiveness. In the book he explains how he came to realise how self-centered  schmuck he had been for his loved ones.

We don’t need no education
As a self-made man without university education himself, Simmons still does praise reading and free libraries. But then he repeatedly belittles formal education and underlines the loss of potential time from doing business and making money. Same goes with Simmons’ thoughts on family planning: Nothing should stand in your way, when it comes to business. First, make your fortune. Only then should you even consider having a family. Simmons stayed with his mom very late, then lived in a rented apartment for long time even when making good money. It was only when he could pay the sum for his own home without any mortgage, when he finally became a home owner. Why? Because loans would limit his business decisions and risk-taking.

Skipping higher education was his way. But in many lines of businesses, you’ll first have to study hard for years before establishing your own company. With no college education, could you excel in space industry, medical, law or numerous other lines of businesses? Could you innovate space technology without higher education? Possible, yes. But it’s a highly unlikely route to success. Even Elon Musk has  two bachelor’s degrees. He attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1997 from the Wharton School – Donald Trump’s alma mater. Yes, even Trump graduated, somehow.

Try, try again!
Even if you’ve never been a KISS fan – I certainly haven’t – nor have idolized mr. Simmons, this book still has its strong appeal to it. Simmons has easy-to-understand principles for success, drawn from his own triumphs and failures. And there have been plenty of failures, too. One of the author’s lessons is to push and push again. If you don’t try, you will never succeed. He writes about finding the confidence necessary to get started. He strongly suggests surrounding yourself with the right people. It is also important to know when to pull the plug and when to double-down. “These simple principles will hopefully help you attain the freedom and wealth of your dreams”, Simmons declares.

Learn proper English
As an immigrant, with no skills in English when entering the US, Simmons writes a lot about learning to speak without a foreign accent. Assimilate, assimilate, assimilate, he instructs. You can honor your heritage and background in many ways, but deliberate broken English should not be one of them. It will only make succeeding in business harder. Much harder than learning to speak fluent English. Simmons learned Hungarian ja Yiddish at home. English he learned from TV. So much so, that he sounds like a TV anchor with a geographically neutral American English accent.

Hardly a classic
Simmons claims to write with brutal honesty. Admittedly, he does write things you rarely see in written, let alone in business books. Like the blunt opinion on using broken English in US business life. Me Inc. is said to be Inspired by the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Both books do have 13 chapters with 13 teachings. However, I’m rather certain that Simmons’ book will not be read after 1500 years of its publication, as has happened with the Art of War.

So, why should we do what Simmons says? At least the Fortune magazine does recommend it, since Simmons is ”a notorious rock star, raconteur, and business maven”, who has ”a global cultural recognition just a few pegs below Mickey Mouse, Coca-Cola, and Superman”. I’m not sure, if that is enough. But mr. Simmons does know how to motivate and inspire an entrepreneurial soul.

Me, Inc.: Build an Army of One, Unleash Your Inner Rock God, Win in Life and Business
Gene Simmons (Harper Collins 2014)
Review by Jan Erola