Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed
Shane McMahon was 15 the first time he quit the family business. It was his third summer working in World Wrestling Entertainment’s Stamford, Conn. warehouse, stuffing programs, mailing merchandise, learning the business from the bottom up just as his father Vincent Kennedy McMahon had from his dad Vincent James McMahon. But he was barely making a dent in his car fund, and his dad refused to give him a raise. So he hit the pavement.
On his third day of job hunting, McMahon landed a construction gig starting at around $400 a week, triple what he banked at the WWE warehouse. He recalls the look on his father’s face when breaking the news to him. He saw pride.
McMahon soon returned to WWE, initially toiling on the ring crew and as a referee. After college he became a full-time employee working in marketing, production, sales, and at the print magazine. He went on to work in digital, which he launched in 1998, in creative, where he assisted in writing storylines; in international, where he helped expand the company into 150 countries; and occasionally as a wrestler, where he was blasted with Singapore canes and German suplexes and once dropkicked a trash can into his dad’s face.
Seen early on as a possible heir to the throne, Shane, nicknamed “Simba” and “The Crown Prince of WWE” on television, eventually ascended to Executive Vice President of Global Media. But on Oct. 16, 2009, McMahon resigned from WWE, and not to “spend more time with his family,” a stock alibi often trotted out for sudden departures like this one. “I wanted to do it on my own,” McMahon says today. “There was always that one little question: Can I get it done outside of the company? My dad, although I learned so much, he cast a big shadow.”
So big, in fact, McMahon went to China to escape it. As Chairman of YOU on
Demand, a video-on-demand company often dubbed “the Netflix of China,” McMahon has found his second act. But he’s finding out — as other sons of great, rich, important men before him — that leaving the nest for your own kingdom is not without difficulties.
And it’s all happening during a historic time for WWE. The recently launched WWE Network — an online streaming service combining traditional programming, 100,000-plus hours of archived footage, and a full slate of pay-per-view events — has tripled WWE's stock since September making Vince McMahon, once again, a billionaire.
But on the day the WWE Network was announced with a flamboyant presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Shane McMahon was more than 2,500 miles away at Indian Larry Motorcycles, the bike shop he co-owns in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. McMahon seemed detached when informed the big announcement was scheduled for later that day. “Oh yeah, OK,” he says nonchalantly.
McMahon, 44, is at Indian Larry’s to check on his bike, the “Sweet Marissa,” (named after his wife, the film producer Marissa McMahon), a lime green, black, and chrome monster that hits over 130 MPH; his father’s Boss Hoss 502, the “Invincible,” is also at the shop on the disabled list with a broken band. McMahon learned on dirt bikes before graduating to his father’s 1986 Harley Softail. Soon, like most motorcycle aficionados, he got into tinkering with the bikes — taking them apart and putting them back together again. “Remember, I’m a builder,” he says smiling.
Like a lot of businessmen, McMahon calls himself “a builder,” loves using the word “entrepreneur,” and casually, earnestly exudes maxims like, “I bet on myself a lot." Still, up until now, he’s best known for something his father built. When Vince McMahon bought WWE (then called the World Wrestling Federation) from his father in 1982, it was a regional promotion mostly handling the northeast. Now WWE is a publicly traded company worth approximately $2.3 billion.