Archive for January, 2009

  • Cover story: Sarah Siegel-Magness

    • Feature article for the magazine of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado

      Cover story, Portfolio Magazine

    11 Questions on Making Movies, Making Money, & Making a Difference

    Leeds School of Business at CU-BoulderPublished in Portfolio (magazine of the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder)

    SARAH SIEGEL-MAGNESS (’95 marketing) just returned from the Sundance Film Festival happy to pay excess baggage fees for her film’s three awards: the grand jury prize, the audience award … read article at ZMags.com

    Web Extra: More Questions for Sarah Siegel-Magness

    Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire [note: later retitled Precious] has Siegel-Magness in the producer’s chair, her second drama with director Lee Daniels (Monster’s Ball). Portfolio caught up with Siegel-Magness the day before what would turn out to be a very auspicious trip to Sundance.

    Portfolio: Do you think that entertainers have a special duty in tough times to lighten the mood, provide an escape, or give people a sense of hope?
    Sarah Siegel-Magness: I do. A movie ticket is an inexpensive form of entertainment: for two hours and a $12 ticket, you can escape. But I think it’s also important for filmmakers to tell stories of the things happening right now. This is more important than ever. Our movie can be deep and dark, but ultimately it’s pertinent for our times. For me, this movie really isn’t about the darkness, but about how darkness sets the stage for light. It puts my life–and hopefully others’–in perspective: people who have problems much greater than any of ours can still persevere through adversity.

    P: How did you get acquainted with director Lee Daniels?
    S: We had some mutual friends and they were looking for funding for our first film together, Tennessee. They were on-site in Albuquerque, it was a week away from production, and an investor fell out. I said: “Okay, we’ll jump on a plane, come down, and see what you’re doing.” I thought the basic story was good but I really wanted to see how organized they were, what his vision was, and where they were going with the story.

    P: What does it take to get an independent film like this noticed?
    S: I’m secondary to the director: Lee’s had other very successful films at Sundance. While that helped get our film noticed, this movie is very daring for him. There are moments in this movie that depict African Americans in a very dark light. He has set himself up for criticism in a major way, but I think that is what a daring director does.

    P: What does financing mean to an independent film like Push?
    S: It’s very difficult to be a ‘silent investor’ in a movie like this. In these smaller niche movies, with budgets of $1 million or less, people are forced to creatively utilize absolutely every resource they have.

    P: Does that make for more creative films, more daring or challenging subject matter? Does it give you the flexibility to do some things that the big budget studios can’t?
    S: Absolutely. I think that studios pass up many great films. [Meanwhile, Siegel-Magness has signed up to produce her third film, this time with a major studio. Based on a popular children’s book series, it will be a far cry from Push, whose heroine was a morbidly obese, illiterate and pregnant teenager]…

    P: You seem to have a knack for going after ambitious new ventures. That’s pretty impressive.
    S: Yeah, it’s tough at times though, I’ve got to tell you. Emotionally, this year has been incredibly difficult, working on an independent film with subject matter such as Push… On the first movie, we were executive producers. On this movie we are actual producers, working on the financial level. The next movie will be my project completely, so it will be, you know, my baby.

    P: Two films completed and a third in the works… does the pursuit ever end?
    S: Well this is my second business. I have a multi-million dollar clothing company I started seven years ago, which I do in tandem. So I am crazy, really!

    P: Your So-Low styles [see sidebar] were in response to the low-rise pant trend… Do you think the fashion biz–and business in general–is forward-thinking or reactionary?
    S: I think people have a wrong view about fashion. Once you’re an insider you’ll understand that it is far more simple than anyone would think. [Low-rise underwear] just happened to be something I needed, something I knew I could make (or figure out how to make). I find inspiration all the time from things that I need; it’s kind of a simplistic view of business, but that’s really the way I think of it. I took one idea, one small idea, and made it happen.

    P: How did it go, starting that apparel business at age 25?
    S: I always had demand for my products, but in the beginning I didn’t understand how to make money. I went through business school; I had a father who was a very successful entrepreneur; but I couldn’t figure out how to make money. When you are in an industry that is full of excitement and you’ve got a celebrity wearing your clothes on the cover of a magazine, you think, “oh, this is fun!” But then one day you realize you are losing money. I had to change my concept of making money. If I could go back to business school, I would say the number one thing is don’t fall asleep in your 8:00 A.M. finance class!

    P: It can seem appealing to aim for business success without formal schooling: “make millions without working hard!” Why go to business school if sometimes it’s about luck?
    S: You know, I don’t believe that luck is ever the factor. I do not believe that any entrepreneurs who make a lot of money ever do it easily. To run a business is very difficult. I believe the function of business school is to set a good foundation for your launch into the business world. Business school should be about setting you up for the dilemmas you’re going to face.

    P: A new course at Leeds is called “Leadership Challenges: Exercises in Moral Courage.” In a profit- and success-driven world, can morality and courage actually weigh in on business decisions?
    S: In the entertainment and fashion industries, there are moral dilemmas every day! In fashion, do you keep your profits by sending work out for teenagers to sew in China? Or do you tack on the extra costs to do it here? I chose to do my manufacturing here. I tried manufacturing in China, and ultimately I didn’t feel good about it. It didn’t work for me.

    P: How would you improve business schools around the country?
    S: I am building my businesses to the point where eventually I plan on giving back more to our educational systems. There has to be that synergy between corporate America–or local entrepreneurs–and the educational system.

    “Money is not my world. It can’t be your world because if it is, then you are not living.”

    P: You’ve had involvement in both humanitarian causes and cultural charities—and now you want to support education, too… Is there a common theme to these diverse causes?
    S: It is really important to have diversity; but, more importantly, be passionate about where you’re giving your money. And then you need to give your time. For example, I did a movie with Mariah Carey who has a camp for inner-city kids that teaches them real-life skills. I taught a class on fashion and then I hosted those same inner-city kids on our sets in New York for Push.

    P: In a tough economy, many good causes are hurting for money. Are there other ways to support them?
    S: There are many philanthropists who just give money and have no idea where it is going. I hope I can inspire people to do more than just give money. This year for one of my projects, I decorated two homeless shelters for Christmas. I found out that people were giving staples: food, clothing, toothbrushes… but you went to the rescue mission and there was not one element of Christmas there to celebrate the season. So I organized 40 volunteers and we decorated the chapel and the homeless shelter, and then a family shelter. It wasn’t about the money; I had everybody work together to donate items they needed. You know, I am lucky enough to be in the position where I have a lot of resources and people to help. It’s about utilizing your strengths and helping the cause. You can be a strong philanthropist without popping out your checkbook all the time.

    P: Your own multi-million dollar clothing company, a third film in the works, philanthropy galore: sometimes don’t you wish you could slow down?
    S: Being an entrepreneur is like a never-ending story. I think, “Why don’t I just retire?” but it’s never ending. You just want to keep achieving. I think a true entrepreneur is never finished.

    P: It’s refreshing to hear somebody who is part of a famous family, often listed among Forbes billionaires, who says: “I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
    S: Again, that’s why I like to do philanthropy and all those other things, because it grounds me. Money is not my world. It can’t be your world because if it is, then you are not living.

  • MGM Exec Controls World’s Largest Modern Film Library …

    • Greg

      Feature Article, Spring 2009

    … and He’s Giving them Away?

    Leeds School of Business at CU-BoulderPublished in Portfolio (magazine of the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder)

    “OH, NOT THAT DEAL AGAIN,” says a suddenly exasperated Jim Packer (’85 marketing), President of Worldwide Television Distribution at MGM. “I was the first person to ever put a feature film on YouTube, and you’d think I created YouTube!”…
    read article at ZMags.com


    WEB EXTRA – Jim Packer (BS ’85, marketing), heads up Worldwide Television Distribution at MGM. Here he shares his perspective on: the entertainment business in a recession, quality programming vs. the infomercial, and, yes, the 24-hour “American Gladiators” channel.

    Portfolio: How did you turn a business degree into a career in movies and TV?
    Jim Packer: I got interested in the entertainment business in a number of ways. One was growing up in Los Angeles. Two was my experience at CU: I went to the film school and learned a lot about the art of film, if you will. But I realized I wasn’t into making films; I wanted to be in the business side. I transitioned to ultimately becoming a business student when I realized that’s where I wanted to focus.

    P: Is the entertainment business recession proof?
    J: It’s shielded. It’s not recession proof, because people aren’t buying as many DVDs. They don’t have as much disposable income, so the economy still does affect it. What the entertainment business has–that other businesses don’t–is that in good times and bad, people want to be entertained. Some will say they do it more in bad times than they do in good. And that translates to a better business base for us.

    P: Are infomercials starting to win out over quality programming?
    J: It’s complicated, but the easy answer is: they aren’t necessarily winning, but they are definitely competing for eyeballs. People have more choices. Back in 2000 you might have sat at your house and watched the local TV station while probably 30% of the market had over-the-air TV. Cut to today, 80-90% of almost every market has cable or satellite and 300 choices. So while the paid programming may be taking time periods, that does not necessarily mean that quality programming doesn’t exist… because the viewers can go get it on cable.

    P: Arguably that puts more pressure on having quality programming so eyeballs come to your channel instead of your competitors.
    J: Exactly. Some people will try to compete with quality programming. Some will decide that in certain time periods they just can’t compete, and they just sell an infomercial. There are enough outlets trying to compete that there’s always going to be good quality programming. The market has shifted even for quality dramas. In 2000 if you wanted to watch a quality TV show you went to the networks. Today you’re just as apt to find one on TNT. Even going to AMC, you’re watching “Mad Men” which won a Golden Globe® for best series. So this is actually a good time: all these other outlets having grown and matured, they can actually afford to put on good quality programming.

    P: With all these new outlets for MGM’s 4,100 movies and 10,000 hours of TV, you’ve got a pretty big job.
    J: Whether it’s starting the cable channel [MGMHD, a 24-hour channel in 1080i high definition, featuring selected MGM films], selling something to HBO, putting it on KUSA in Denver, or putting it on YouTube, if I can monetize it and get it in front of somebody’s eyeballs, then I’m doing my job. The trick is picking the appropriate product; putting the right properties on the right space. We use spreadsheets… I have a whole team, a rights team, of three or four people that have been with me for a long time. But you still get down to: “should we do that movie on that platform?”

    P: So where can I watch “American Gladiators” these days?
    J: YouTube! Why? Because one of the highest clips, as far as views, was from this bodybuilder called Malibu. It was this pirated clip from some fan and it had over a million views. A light bulb went off and I said: “If a million people watch this cheesy clip, then I should give the people what they want and put the series up.” You know, it’s not rocket science. Sure enough, we started an “American Gladiators” channel on YouTube and it’s done really, really well!

  • Mercury Rising

    • Greg

      Feature profile, spring 2009

    Arizona’s Top Female Sports Exec Touts the Uplifting Power of Sport

    Leeds School of Business at CU-BoulderPublished in Portfolio (magazine of the Leeds School of Business at CU-Boulder)

    ONCE UPON A TIME SPORTS were about wholesome entertainment, about human achievement, about the superheroes among us who could become our role models. And then came steroids, blood doping, dog fighting … read article at ZMags.com

    WEB EXTRA: Jay Parry (BS ’80, finance) serves as President and COO of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, holding an unwavering commitment to the positive potentials of her team and their sport. Portfolio reached Parry for a few thoughts from her office in the U.S. Airways Center.

    Portfolio: What’s your mission as head of one of the WNBA’s original teams?
    Jay Parry: I got into the business to make a difference in the only professional women’s team sports league: to help build it and to have it flourish as a community asset. The WNBA and the Phoenix Mercury are about: leading, inspiring, and creating change. That’s something I can get really excited about as a mission statement!

    P: Do you get hassled in the world of pro hoops for not being a lifelong player?
    J: I haven’t found that not being a basketball star is a drawback. In fact, it may be just the opposite. I bring a different perspective of what basketball brings to our Arizona community, marketing partners, and fans without being completely enmeshed in the traditions of basketball like some of the purists! As with any business, sometimes we have to separate the passion from the bottom-line to figure out how to differentiate ourselves and build a compelling marketing message. And then of course, weave the passion back into it–because that’s one of the powerful cornerstones of sports: fan avidity. I was brought up in a family where we were always active, in fact my father encouraged me to attend CU so I could learn how to ski! And that ski class at Eldora was very memorable! So I’m a believer in the value of sports at all levels and at all ages.

    P: Can sports participation and viewership counteract unhealthy American trends like obesity?
    J: It really is alarming when you hear the stats about childhood obesity (as well as adults) in our country. We do lots of clinics and health/fitness events to get kids and adults up off the couch. There is tons of research that shows when kids are involved in athletics, their self-esteem and confidence is boosted and overall they are more “successful” in life. There is something special about hearing from a professional athlete and it really resonates with kids.

    P: Do you think it’s possible to create business success without formal schooling? What is the function of a business school if sometimes “success” seems to be about getting lucky?
    J: I believe that everyone has some luck in their life. I feel like I was lucky to choose CU and then to stumble into the business school. Maybe that’s not the text book answer you were looking for! Most of us don’t exactly know what we want to be when we grow up. So the idea of preparing ourselves, or our children, to the best of our abilities seems like the best way to get ready for what life brings us. There’s a silly little saying that I picked up when I got certified for scuba diving (with a friend from CU after college): “plan the dive and dive the plan.” It fits a lot of circumstances. We certainly make our own success, financial and otherwise, and the business school provided a good foundation and jumping off point for the rest of my life.

    P: In pursuit of profit, can ethical factors actually weigh in on business decisions?
    J: There is no doubt in my mind that we can operate with strong business practices AND consider what right for our employees, our environment, and our local communities. We all have to step up and do a little bit (or more) to make a difference. I was lucky to spend the early part of my career with Bank of America. And that provided me a solid foundation in corporate responsibility. I worked with some tremendous leaders that were great mentors and also set a great example for leading people and being involved and giving back to the community.

    P: What would you whisper in the ear of each new student at the Leeds School?
    J: Participate: in clubs; class; activities; working with other students, faculty, advisors, etc.. Your ability to effectively work with others and lead groups of people is invaluable. Much more can be accomplished as a team than individually.

    P: How about its graduating students?
    J: Build relationships. You will be surprised and excited to find out how your business and personal relationships will mold you and direct you through life. I’m convinced there are way less than six degrees of separation!

    P: You have been very active in a wide range of volunteerism and advisory boards, from the Diabetes Foundation and an Animal Center to the Super Bowl Host Committee. Is this level of involvement necessary for business leaders?
    J: I think that everyone should give back in some way. It’s a win-win situation. I definitely get fulfillment and satisfaction out of seeing that I, or my team or players have helped make someone’s life better. In a way, it’s a privilege to be in a situation to volunteer. I feel lucky.

    One of my favorite Phoenix Mercury programs is Adopt-A-Team. With the help of a big fan, we adopted Camelback High School girls basketball team. For the past year, we have mentored them with life and basketball skills, outfitted them with new gear, and (with the help of WNBA Cares) provided a new, beautiful basketball court at their school. Just seeing the girls’ faces when the players did a skills clinic with them, when they came to their first Mercury game on Opening Night, or when we took them to the governor’s office with us for an official team visit, I know we’ve changed their outlook. And hopefully their aspirations for life.

    A few years ago I learned of a fantastic quote from Madeline Albright, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” That is priceless.

  • Vail Resorts & Leeds Seek Sustainable Answers

    • Greg

      Feature profile, spring 2009

    Projects Bring Together Faculty, Students, & All Levels of Company, from CEO to Interns

    Leeds School of Business at CU-BoulderPublished in Portfolio (magazine of the Leeds School of Business, CU-Boulder)

    IT’S A SHAME the word ‘sustainability’ has been misused and misinterpreted so often recently, because the heart of the concept may be exactly what business needs right now … read article at ZMags.com

    WEB EXTRA – Breaking in to the Ski Industry: Recent Alum Discovers Mountains of Opportunity at Vail Resorts

    For Kevin Snyder (BS ’07, management), it was a dream come true: he landed a job at Vail Resorts, fresh out of the Leeds School of Business. It all started by volunteering as project manager through a class at Leeds. The project was a sustainability initiative which required that he work closely with Julie Klein, Vail Resorts’ director of Environmental Affairs. Following the success of that project, Snyder took a systematic approach based on building and maintaining relationships, leading up to his job offer fresh out of the school of business. He now works for Aaron Rubinstein, a senior procurement analyst in Vail Resorts’ Broomfield corporate offices (just 11 miles from the University of Colorado’s Boulder campus).

    Like Snyder, Rubinstein’s own career path started with his belief in pursuing companies and industries about which he was passionate. His philosophy consisted of getting a foot in the door and then working hard to prove himself. Rubinstein explains: “For me, that meant a job sorting mail for eight hours a day at our corporate office!”

    Two years and six promotions later, he found himself in a position to hire new employees like Snyder. Rubinstein cites real world business experience as a critical deciding factor for new hires fresh out of business school: “Not only will the experience give their coursework more relevance, but it will give them a significant edge as they seek out employment opportunities. As someone who has hired for entry level positions, I can say that a degree alone is often not enough to differentiate an applicant from the crowd. Being able to demonstrate relevant business experience, however, can set a candidate apart.”

    This kind of relevant experience is precisely at the core of Leeds curriculum, especially in light of the university’s Flagship 2030 initiatives, which include enhanced experiential learning for all students. Rubinstein is bullish about the types of programs Leeds is currently fostering: “One of the larger challenges for business students is seeing application and meaning in what they’re learning, without having any exposure to the subject material in a real world environment. I often think back to particular courses and wish that I could have taken them with the perspective I have now. That’s one reason I think programs such as the Leeds Project Management Course are so valuable; the students are immersed in an environment where they can start to make connections between actual business challenges and the skills they are developing in school.”

    Snyder agrees: “I think the cycle from student to client and client to student is a very important piece of the relationship between Leeds and Vail Resorts.” And what has this relationship meant to him, personally? “Long ago, I made the decision that no matter what I ended up doing as an adult, I would have to be passionate about my work. Vail Resorts is a perfect fit for me because I’ve been a voluntary evangelist for the company since I was a kid.”

    “In turn I am a perfect fit for Vail Resorts,” continues Snyder, “because I bring that passion with me every single day that I work. Skiing and snowboarding are not only incredible forms of physical exercise but are also invaluable activities for the soul. They require discipline, mental clarity, and self-awareness; all of which are directly transferable into one’s career life.”

    His advice for students and graduates who would like to follow his lead, to a career at a company like Vail Resorts? “Build and maintain relationships, and opportunities will follow. I’ve been unbelievably impressed by how many doors the Leeds School of Business has opened for me.” Or try the mailroom.