1990 Wharton graduate Richard Gay has a saying. “If you can find something that you love, that you’re good at, that somebody’s willing to pay you for — you win.”
The vice president of strategy and operations for VH1 and MTV — part of Viacom Media Networks — hoped students could take that away at his talk, “The Business of Entertainment,” last night.
Penn Alumni Relations’ Multicultural Outreach hosted Gay and an intimate gathering of students in the Sweeten Alumni House. The audience came to listen to Gay’s professional trajectory, hear his thoughts on the future of entertainment and network with a big name in the industry.
Gay, who received the Next Generation Leader Award from The National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communication in 2007, started with a reassuring message. “One of the themes that you’ll hear from me today is, sometimes it’s okay not to have a plan.”
Gay played football and dabbled in theater at Penn and nearly wound up in the amusement park industry. He had found his way to Viacom through consulting, making his way to partner at Booz Allen Hamilton before switching into the industry.
He stressed the importance of following your gut, making connections and playing cards well along a professional trajectory. Gay loves his job and doesn’t deny that it pays well, too. “Cable television — crack and spices are the only things that have that kind of margin,” he said.
Gay emphasized adaptability in an age of evolving mediums, at one point asking the audience how many still watched commercials to illustrate how internet and DVRs have transformed entertainment.
He also spoke on the growing importance of accommodating new demographics. “The faces of the audience are changing,” he said. “MTV will not be the place for youth if it doesn’t figure out how to serve Latinos.” He mentioned MTV’s “Teen Wolf,” a show that’s drawn attention for its Latino protagonist.
Gay shared his own experiences with race in the media industry and a sense of responsibility for acting as an underrepresented voice. He said, “There are a lot of rooms where I’m the only person of color.”
The event was hosted by Multiculural Outreach, the Alumni Relations team committed to connecting LGBT and minority students and alumni. The team also hosts Penn Spectrum conference.
Gay’s talk attracted a wide range of students hoping to enter or explore careers in entertainment. “I actually worked at BET before, so I love media and entertainment and I want to make sure I can get back to it,” Wharton junior Kelsey Taylor said.
Elise Betz, executive director of Penn Alumni Relations also spoke on the importance of bringing in speakers of color to show the diversity of Penn’s successful alumni network. “It is so important to take advantage of the alumni network,” she said, pointing to the advantage alumni offer students professionally. “We have almost 300,000 living alumni in every country in every corner of the earth. You get them talking about Penn and they will share advice.”
College senior Jacob Stock agreed. “I definitely keep my feelers out for events like this,” he said. “Especially for the entertainment industry where there’s no clear path for pursuing this career, I think the alumni network is even more necessary,” he said. “It’s so beneficial to have someone that’s so successful at what they do guide you.”