Our board members are more than just great visionaries for Taproot. They are also leaders in their own industries and communities and have lots of professional wisdom to share. For the next week, we will be spotlighting the five newest additions to our stellar board of directors through a series of interviews.
Gari Ann Douglass is Chief Operating and Chief Financial Officer of 3ality Digital. Previously, she served as the Chief Financial Officer at Technicolor Entertainment Services . For over fourteen years, she held a variety of executive roles at Paramount Pictures including Senior Vice President, Finance and Operations in the Home Entertainment division and Senior Vice President, Corporate Finance. Gari Ann also serves on the board of First Entertainment Credit Union and the advisory board for the Entertainment and Tourism Management program at Cal State Fullerton . Gari Ann and I sat down to talk about her unlikely path from country girl to entertainment executive elite.
Where are you originally from?
I am a native Californian. I grew up about two hours east of Los Angeles in a little map dot called Nuevo. It was a great childhood. I went to Paris High School, which is a slightly larger map dot, and then I went to UC Riverside for two years. I thought I wanted to be a horse vet but could not hack the science, so I decided it would probably be a good time to switch to something that I could do and knew I was good at: accounting. I changed majors and changed schools and went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and got a degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
Horse vet – where did that come from?
I grew up on a horse, and if I wasn’t riding a horse, I was training them. At a fairly tender age of 14 or 15, the farm owner would go away for weeks at a time and leave me in charge of dozens of horses. I got to be involved with foals being born and watch them take their first wobbly steps, then break and train them. It was a great way to grow up.
How did you get hooked on community service and giving back?
I was active in student government, 4H, and my church, and I think that’s probably where my roots are: being involved in those kinds of organizations and clubs where there is always a focus on giving back and taking a minute to help someone else. My grandparents also set that example as farmers. My grandpa and my uncles were very generous and always made sure that if they had extra, they took care of others. I don’t remember a time when there weren’t strangers at the Christmas or the Thanksgiving dinner, and I like that.
So what does your family think of where you’ve wound up?
Ultimately, I think they’re all proud. I’ve been lucky enough to be successful in my own little nugget of a family. My husband was a stay-at-home parent. When our children were young, he was the guy who got them up, got them fed, got them to school. We called him Mr. Mom. Having him in that role allowed me to aggressively go after my career and community activities. It’s worked.
What have you done to instill in your children the same sense of giving back and helping others that you experienced as a child?
Throughout their lives, Bruce and I were involved in whatever they were taking part in. We weren’t just there as another parent; we were leading the activities. For example, when my oldest son, Mackenzie, was in the high school band, I was on the board of the booster program for four years running. He has said to me a number of times, “Mom, you’ve made such a difference. I’m really glad that you did that. I was proud that I could say, ‘That’s my mom! Look at what she’s done!'” My approach is always to lead by example.
I come from third- or fourth-generation of office professional. How do you feel it being the first-generation of your family to work in a white collar environment?
I’ve never thought of it in those terms. My parents expected good and important things from me. They set the bar really high, and mind you, neither of them have a college degree, but they always instilled in me that there are no excuses, and there are no ceilings. You just go make do. They gave me the confidence and support as a kid to do that. I grew up with a lot of opportunities to provide leadership, whether I was playing sports or managing a horse ranch.
You still have many years ahead of you, but what have been you been most proud of doing or being a part of in you professional career to date?
I have been lucky enough to identify a number of people and hire them straight out of college with little experience. I still think of them of kids, but they’re now senior vice presidents and executive vice presidents. They’re doing good and important things, and looking back now, I take some pride in that. There have been a few other career highlights. For instance, I led the operations team that shipped over 30 million copies of the movie Titanic into North America. My team buckled down and worked together, and we did some amazing, groundbreaking things to make that happen.
Why did you choose entertainment as an industry, and what was the path to getting there?
It was an accident.
Most good things are.
When I graduated from Cal Poly, I went to work for Pricewaterhouse because I had decided I wanted to become a CPA. After nearly four years, of the blue, I got a call from a headhunter. I wasn’t looking for a job and really wasn’t interested in speaking to him, but finally I made a deal with him: if you’ll leave me alone, I will go on this one interview to Columbia Pictures. I didn’t have an updated resume, and I didn’t mean to be late, but traffic was horrible. It was a windy day, so I was disheveled when I walked in. It was the perfect storm for how NOT to approach an interview. But it went really well, and so I went to work for Columbia Pictures as director of contract accounting. I was there for about three and a half or four years. Then I spent close to fourteen years at Paramount. I finished my MBA at that point, and I moved up quickly. I took a degree in accounting, and I parlayed it into some really solid management positions.
Tell me a little bit about where you are now and what you’re doing in the world of 3D.
I’m in this little company called 3ality Digital, which is in the business of creating and selling technology to enable the live capture of 3D. We actually have platforms with a whole bunch of automation technology that have two cameras, one for the right eye and one for the left because that’s how we see. It’s putting those tools in the hands of filmmakers to allow them to shoot live-action 3D on a 2D budget and create images that are pixel-perfect coming out of the camera so they don’t require a ton of post-production.
What movies or shows have been filmed with this technology?
We just finished Spider-Man , Peter Jackson is using all 3ality Digital gear on The Hobbit movie that he’s busy on. A few others coming up. We made a movie U2 3D , which was released in 2008, and it’s still held out as really the high-water mark in quality for live-action 3D. We’ve been involved in a number of broadcast events. The gear was really designed to facilitate live broadcasts where you don’t have an opportunity to post-produce. We’ve got customers all over the world using it.
How did you first hear about Taproot?
One of my former colleagues from Paramount Pictures–a smart woman named Frances–approached me about it and asked if I would be interested. I did some research on my own and talked to a few people, and I liked the organization, so Frances very kindly recommended me to the board.
Have you found much of a service ethic at the companies where you’ve worked?
To different levels, companies I’ve been involved with have been supportive of community activities. Paramount, for example, had a mentoring program, which was fantastic because you could just see the difference in kids starting from their first exposure to the studio and to their mentors, and then watching them blossom and lead meaningful lives. Paramount was always very supportive of anyone who wanted to teach at whatever level and provided resources and the time off to spend in the classroom.
How prevalent do you feel the pro bono ethic–the idea of using your financial skills to help nonprofit organizations–is in your profession?
I have to think that there are people like me who are financial executives and who feel the same sort of calling to give back and to help others. I have to think they’re out there. It may well be an untapped reservoir.
When you think back on your career when you retire many years from now, what do you want to have felt your contribution to both the business community, but the broader community as well, will have been?
I like to think I was able to share the benefit of my education and experience to make organizations better so they can better serve their membership. I like to think I’m helping to engineer improvement for the greater good.
What’s one little factoid you want everyone on the Taproot board to know about you that they wouldn’t get from your bio.
When I do have more time, one of my activities will be to get involved with being a docent and leading hikes. I love to hike.
Aaron Hurst is the President & CEO at the Taproot Foundation.