Make It

3 lessons IMAX's CEO learned by saving his company from bankruptcy

IMAX Corp. signage displayed outside the NYSE in 2011 when the company went public.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
IMAX Corp. signage displayed outside the NYSE in 2011 when the company went public.

When Richard Gelfond became the CEO of IMAX, the company was $250 million in debt and operating with no cash flow. That was over 15 years ago, and it's a far cry from the IMAX we see today with "several-hundred million dollars in cash" and operations in 75 countries.

So how did Gelfond turn it all around? The answer is pretty simple, he turned his "adversity into an asset."

Here are three key takeaways the entrepreneur learned from his experience.

1. Live life as an optimist

When other people looked at IMAX, they saw a business on the brink of bankruptcy. When Gelfond looked at the company's problems, he "refused to believe it was as bad as it seemed."

"People tend to be very short-term orientated in their emotional reactions," Gelfond told CNBC during a Life Hacks Live interview. "I always see the glass as half full, and I try and live my life as an optimist."

2. Tackle problems bit by bit

That optimism meant that Gelfond didn't get totally overwhelmed when he started devising a plan to overcome the obstacles facing IMAX. Instead, he chose to break up the problem and tackle it bit by bit, step by step.

"I didn't know what the end-game was, but I thought along the way, if I lessened the problem I would eventually get it to a place where it was surmountable."

People expected both Gelfond and the company to go under, but neither did, and the entrepreneur had his contract as CEO at IMAX extended again last year – keeping him at the company until at least 2019.

3. 'It's never as good as it looks or as bad as it seems'

Gelfond worked as both a lawyer and an investment banker before going into business, so he's no stranger to high-pressure work environments. One lesson that has really stuck with him over the years though, is that things aren't always what they seem.

"It's never as good as it looks or as bad as it seems," he said, a philosophy which has helped the multi-millionaire keep his emotions in check when things get tough.

Although Gelfond readily admits that he wouldn't put his hand up to save a failing company again, he does say that bringing IMAX back to life was both "scary and invigorating."

Life Hacks Live is a series produced by CNBC International for Facebook, where tomorrow's leaders get to ask some of the world's biggest influencers for advice. You can watch the full interview here.