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Rich Ross Credit: Yolanda Chen , Yolanda Chen

It’s not just Wharton graduates taking the lead in business.

When Rich Ross left Penn in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and International Relations, few would have expected him to become the CEO of a major entertainment company.

Ross himself, whose company Shine America has produced both scripted and reality shows like “The Biggest Loser,” “The Bridge,” and “Master Chef,” was less surprised. “I knew what I wanted to do when I was 12,” Ross said. “I knew I wanted to be part of that world.”

Prior to his time at Shine America, Ross was the chairman at Walt Disney Studios and worked at Nickelodeon, where he was executive producer of the “Kids Choice Awards,” among other shows.

Ross chose to attend Penn to stay grounded. He wanted to “leave college and be able to succeed” and thought he received a “great education surrounded by very pragmatic people.”

“Entertainment [is about] telling great stories,” Ross said. He noted that his English degree “fostered an appreciation for literature,” while his studies in IR “gave [him] a well-rounded approach.”

Co-director of the International Relations Program Frank Plantan Jr. said that College students like Ross stand a good chance of being successful in business. “Business today is looking for people who can do research, who can write well … and who have strong analytical skills,” he said. “We find those students are in high demand.”

This Tuesday, Ross came to campus for a mentoring meal and larger talk hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, as he has for more than 25 years. Ross shares his email address with the students every year.

“The degree to which he has committed time and energy to Penn students is astounding,” former Senior Associate Director of Career Services Peggy Curchack said. Claire Klieger, who currently holds Curchack’s position added, “He is a real champion of Penn.”

Ross has also mentored several Penn students over the years, including Bing Chen, a 2009 College graduate and current YouTube Global Creator Development and Management lead at Google. Ross encouraged Chen to pursue a degree in English and take a minor in Wharton rather than getting a second degree like he had planned.

Upon graduation, Chen became the only Penn student to join Google’s accelerated leadership program, beating out applicants from Wharton.

“[The study of English] broadens your mind and gives you a way to operationalize abstractions,” Chen said.

After Chen met Ross for the first time during his sophomore year, he carefully crafted an email. Three weeks after the talk, Chen finally sent the email, and he quickly received a response.

Ross said Chen was one of only four students to email him that year, and Chen was shocked almost 200 other students who attended the event missed this opportunity.

This led to a seven-year mentorship.

Chen remembered the most valuable piece of advice Ross has given him. “Being well-liked is more impressive than being a walking resume … especially in entertainment,” Chen said.

As a charismatic Penn student at the time, Chen had considered himself to be fairly likable and was surprised by this statement. Ross clarified that when he asked how Chen was, Chen had instead listed his activities.

Ross’ ability to pick up on people’s traits, as he did with Chen, comes from his belief in the strength of listening. “The most powerful superhero tool you can have is listening,” Ross said. “Decisiveness is vital, but it all starts with actually listening.”

“There are two types of listeners: one type who listens and hears you [and the other type] who listens, hears and understands everything you say,” Chen said. “Rich is the latter.”

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