It was a beautiful summer evening last year in Los Angeles, a perfect night for inspiration. Entertainment finance executives Mark Sgriccia MBA ’08, and Damon Tritt ’01, MBA ’08, were enjoying a cool drink, warm weather and the company of fellow LMU alumni and students at an Entertainment Finance Alumni Network happy hour, hosted by Jim Felton ’98, assistant vice president of the Motion Picture & Television Finance Group at First Republic Bank. “It was like old home week,” said Sgriccia, “great to see old classmates again.”
Their inspiration came in the form of the sheer number of high-level executives in the entertainment industry with LMU ties.
One of event’s goals was to thank alumni for supporting students throughout the year. This gave Sgriccia, vice president of worldwide content operations and strategy at Lionsgate, the idea to attract talented students from LMU for employment opportunities at Lionsgate. By hosting a site visit at the studio’s offices, he and his colleagues could also provide students with insights into careers.
Sgriccia approached David Offenberg, Ph.D., LMU associate professor of finance, with his idea and it blossomed into student visits with alumni at Twentieth Century Fox, Lionsgate, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, and Netflix during the 2017-18 academic year. “I’m thrilled that Mark’s idea grew to create these incredible opportunities for our students,” Offenberg said.
The first company visit was to Twentieth Century Fox in October, timed to coordinate with the beginning of recruiting for their prestigious Financial Associates Program. LMU was the first school the studio brought onto the lot for the school year.
“Fox was excited to meet up-and-coming LMU graduates,” noted Patty Saienni ’98, vice president of accounting and financial reporting for TV distribution. “Their opportunities are endless and they are doing the right things by attending events like this. What makes LMU special is great professors, like Dr. Offenberg, that take an interest in students’ futures and set students up for success by providing them opportunities to network.”
The group, comprised of seniors, started their visit off with a VIP tour of Fox’s lot. Next up, the group heard from an alumni panel including Saienni; Alex Martinez ’00, executive director of finance and accounting for worldwide theatrical; Leanna Rossmann, vice president of finance and accounting for film and TV music; and representatives from Human Resources.
Student John Murashige ’18 said, “The alumni panel provided a lot of great insight on what it was like to work there.”
The next visit was organized by Lionsgate’s Sgriccia in November. LMU alumni at different stages in their careers discussed their roles and respective departments, including Ashley Rounsaville ’04, senior vice president of TV business affairs; Dillon Siler ’14, manager of TV and digital distribution sales; and Tom Sheppard ’15, manager of film and television participations. Representatives from Human Resources also attended to provide students with information about the company’s internship program and tips on how to succeed in applying for jobs at Lionsgate.
Sgriccia said, “I felt like it was a successful event and the students asked some very thoughtful questions. I left the session hopeful that many of them would apply for available internships at Lionsgate and I look forward to meeting a few of them again next year.”
A visit to Universal Pictures Home Entertainment in January kicked off the spring semester. Tritt, vice president of financial planning and analysis at Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, led the discussion along with Alex Burrola ’14, senior financial analyst for digital distribution, and Brandon DiTolla ’05 MBA ’06, vice president of finance at DreamWorks Animation Television. They walked students through their career journeys providing insights into how to achieve career success in a large corporation. Dee Patel, SVP/CFO of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, discussed the challenges of financial forecasting in a changing industry. Recruiters from Human Resources were also on hand to speak with students and provided insights about applying for positions at NBC Universal.
Tritt said, “They [LMU students] were remarkable because they were engaged, asked good, pertinent questions and were generally well put together.”
The school year was capped off in May by a visit to Netflix conducted by four LMU alumni, Katie Rooney ’14, finance operations business partner; Kevin Glomb ’14, M.Ed. ’15, budgeting and forecasting specialist; Ken Sugimura MBA ’16, content strategy and analysis associate; and Patrick Ward ’14, production finance associate. Students learned about the challenges of supporting business strategy, production, marketing and legal functions as a finance professional in a fast-growing company.
Alumni Advice to Students
Saienni said the traits she looks for when hiring include, “Be curious. Don’t hesitate to ask questions; it’s a great way to learn. If I have a new hire who’s not asking questions, I get nervous. I look for employees with great attitudes who are team players, are organized and have attention to detail.” Her advice: “Networking doesn’t have to be forced or uncomfortable. For example, at Fox, I played on the softball team because I enjoyed it and it helped me meet people. It’s easier to work well with people when you truly know them and know them outside of specific work encounters.”
“Connectivity” sums up Sgriccia’s advice. In his 16-year career, he worked to establish a robust network. “Students don’t have a big network but they have drive,” stated Sgriccia. He encourages students to “spend less time in the recesses of social media and spend more time on the positive aspects of social media, such as LinkedIn, and reading trade magazines. Be more constructive on how you view social media, rather than wasting time on Snapchat. You should mine connections you can find [on LinkedIn] and look voraciously on job boards. Ask your professors, friends, parents and your parents’ contacts to connect you,” he advises.
Tritt said he learned a lot in Comcast’s management training program about what the company seeks in employees. “Hard skills get you in the interview but what gets you the job is how you interact with people and your communication style, which is part of your ‘brand’ reputation. Employers ask themselves ‘Can we see this person fitting our culture? Do we want to work with this person? Are they collaborative?’ Students need to start building out work experience to gain a reputation – summer internships are key,” said Tritt.
Once you get a job, what gets you up the corporate ladder? Tritt advises, “Soft skills are what make a career. For example: Do people want to work for and with you? Do you use your abilities to build consensus? Are you collaborative? Make sure your influencing skills are not executed in a toxic manner. A part of your brand is how you react to change. Do you shut it down, say why it won’t work or do you listen, ask questions and try to understand? For most people, telling is 85 percent of an interaction, listening is 10 percent, reflecting is 5 percent, but a successful interaction should be 50 percent reflecting, 40 percent listening and 10 percent telling.”
Tritt believes “two of the most important skills for success students and new graduates should develop in preparation for leadership roles are a flexible management style and resisting an ‘us-versus-them mentality.’”
The End Results
Alumni graciously gave their time to introduce students to their studios and careers in entertainment finance and in return got the satisfaction of making their alma mater better and paying it forward by helping current students. Saienni said, “I am very impressed! Students asked good questions and were motivated. Studio employees were excited to have LMU students visit Twentieth Century Fox and you could clearly see the students were excited to be here.”
For the second year in a row, Jim Felton ’98 and First Republic Bank hosted the LMU Entertainment Finance Alumni Network’s happy hour on June 7, 2018. What new creative programs, collaborations, opportunities, and jobs will come out of this year’s networking opportunities? Stay tuned to find out.