A Touch of Hollywood on Campus

Hollywood glam came to HBS last Wednesday, as the Entertainment & Media Club presented Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios, to a packed aldrich classroom. Mr. Meyer opened on a line of hope for all those budding media magnates at HBS: “If I can make it, there’s hope for everyone, he said, proceeding to extol the benefits that MBAs can bring to today’s media companies. However, while Mr. Meyer admits he would be “lost without MBAs”, he also warned his audience about the rocky road to success. He worked for six years as a messenger, on call 24 hours a day 7 days a week, before becoming an agent himself; and he draws a general lesson for students: “Take what you can get in the media sector, even if it’s not exactly what you were looking for. The trick is to get in the door. After that, all’s fair game.”

This strategy clearly worked for Mr Meyer, who founded his own agency in 1975, working with stars such as Tom Cruise and Goldie Hawn, and then in 1995 joined Universal Studios, responsible for overseeing the TV, theme parks, and motion picture divisions. He considers himself a “mayor-goodwill ambassador-boss”, who spends his time travelling, attending meetings, and watching film previews, “many of which I wish I hadn’t seen”.

Mr. Meyer also touched on industry trends, noting that e-commerce and digital music should ultimately improve studios’ bottom line, as long as piracy could be prevented. He predicted that studios would indeed form alliances for digital music distribution, but left open the question of whether this may be under the umbrella of Napster, the enormously popular download service that “even my kids use, when I’m not watching”. He further named Video-on-Demand as a future growth area for Universal, subject to the resolution of technological complications.

Finally, Mr. Meyer shared some of the tricks of the trade with his audience: Full commitment to one’s work and one’s promises, care and attention for the stars, round-the-clock availability and a good portion of luck were all important in getting him to were he was today. With so much success under his belt, was there any decision that Mr. Meyer regretted in his long career? Yes, there was one: “Telling Goldie Hawn not to do Thelma and Louise”.