At Cal, classmates might remember Class of 1987 alumnus, Jeff Shell, for his role in student government, Cal in the Capital, or for his political interests on campus. Now, thirty years later as Chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment, one might recognize Jeff in Hollywood news, attending movie premiers with A-list celebrities and even receiving acclaim for leading Universal studios to its best year ever with hits like Jurassic World, Furious 7, and Minions. This year, as Jeff celebrates his 30th reunion and serves on his Class of 1987 Reunion Committee, he shares his career path after Cal, his down-to-earth principles, and his everlasting enthusiasm for the Golden Bears.
Raised in Los Angeles, CA, Jeff didn’t initially dream of working in the media business. Graduating from Cal with a B.A. in Mathematics and a B.A. in Economics, he worked in investment banking on Wall Street for two years before switching to work for a company that sold a product. Upon returning to Los Angeles, he joined Disney’s strategic planning group and then worked his way up at FOX cable networks. “It was like a corporate version of Cal then,” Jeff says of working at FOX, “and I loved it.” While working in London, overseeing international television business, he describes one of his highlights as having the opportunity to broadcast Cal medal winners at the 2012 Olympics. “It was a phenomenal event”, he says, “If Cal had been its own country, it would have been number seven or eight in medal rankings.”
Jeff’s long career running television network groups like FOX and Comcast saw another transformation in 2013 when he was promoted to run Universal Studios and confirmed Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent federal agency that oversees all U.S. civilian international media. He joined Universal’s top executive team at a time when theater attendance was in decline and DVD sales in a slump. But, under his guidance, Universal Pictures attained its best year ever in 2015, generating $5.8 billion in film revenue during the first nine months according to the LA Times.
At work, Jeff is remarked for his humility and genuine kindness. When asked what it’s like working in the movie industry, Jeff explained, “One of the amazing things about the entertainment business, particularly the movie business, is that at the core of it is art. To be successful in this world, number one, respect the artist – at the core, art is what makes your product successful. It’s not the business strategy and it’s not the pricing, it’s how good the movie is. And number two- keep your ego in check. As a business person, when I focus on making the best business decisions and on everybody making as much money as they can, you can be more successful in this kind of world.”
Additionally, Jeff stresses the importance of family. Not only did he move back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family after earning an MBA from Harvard, but spending time with his wife and daughter is crucial. “In my position, maybe the hardest thing of anything is there are a lot of night-time commitments and events. So people scheduling meetings with me know I never do a work dinner,” he explains, “They know that when I’m not working or travelling, I spend time with my family. My daughter will go to college in three to four years, and the reality is that I can’t get back the missed softball games or missed school performances. So work for a company that supports that, because family is important, whatever your family situation is.”
Lastly, Jeff advises finding fulfillment both inside and outside of one’s profession. “You spend a lot of time at work. Work for a company that has the same values and integrity as you do. And when you have things you are interested in outside of work - that makes you a better employee. When people want to get involved with non-profits and take time off of work, I encourage it because I think it’s a good thing to turn your mind off for a day or two to focus on something else. You come back refreshed as opposed to working 24/7 on. I do believe finding other things to put your talents and energies towards is very important. And I’ve always done that in my life. ”