At the height of his time hosting NBC's "The Tonight Show," Jay Leno reportedly earned a $30 million salary. But in 2012, he took a 50% pay cut — bringing his salary down to about $15 million, the Wall Street Journal reported — in order to prevent staff layoffs.
"We managed to keep all our people and just spread the money around a bit," Leno tells CNBC Make It.
It's a decision Leno would make again. "We had a really loyal staff," he says. "We had the same people for 22 years — almost nobody left. I had the same writers, same producers, same talent coordinators."
Above all, Leno, now the host of CNBC's "Jay Leno's Garage," aims to keep his employees happy and fulfilled at work. He believes loyalty is crucial in creating a positive work environment.
Building and maintaining that kind of atmosphere requires more than the occasional grand gesture, however. Leno also instituted an open-door policy and always contracted writers for a full year, rather than a 13-week run, he says.
"When people felt they were confident and secure in their job, then they tend to work a little bit harder," Leno explains.
Giving employees a sense of ownership over their work goes a long way, Leno found: "When people feel they're part of the process, and their livelihood depends on your livelihood, they're more likely to do a good job."
Another key aspect of Leno's leadership philosophy: He made sure to visibly carry his own weight on the show, rather than coasting on the efforts of his writers and producers.
"I try to get there early and leave the latest," he says. "People don't begrudge you how much money you're making if they think you're working for it. You're coming in before them and you're supporting them and then you leave at the end of the day after they leave. I think that inspires loyalty."
CNBC's " Jay Leno's Garage ″ airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET.
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