From Video Store Clerk to VP at Paramount
From Video Store Clerk to VP at Paramount
By Dan Silvia, Communications Manager
Sitting behind the counter at Applause Video, Jim White was surrounded by Hollywood dreams. Thirty years later he is living those dreams as the Vice President of Human Resources for Paramount Pictures.
White has been in that role at Paramount for close to nine years. He began his journey in the mid-80s working at the video store just across the street from Bellevue University (then Bellevue College), where he was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in art.
“I started as a video clerk across from the school and it was perfect. I could work part-time. Through my whole time at Bellevue I continued to work there,” said White, who grew up in Carter Lake, Iowa and graduated from Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson High School.
White had an eye on teaching when he enrolled at Bellevue.
“I was really impressed with the school. I had opportunities to go other places, but I wanted to stay local. The thing that stood out the most was the quality of the instructors and how much they really cared -- the one-on-one assistance, availability and approachability. The one-on-one connection with the faculty was fantastic.”
Now-retired Professor Dr. Joyce Wilson stood out for White.
“I love Joyce Wilson. What an educated, wonderful, talented, caring, loving, humorous person,” he said.
White earned his degree in 1987 and that’s when things started to get interesting. An up-and-coming company called Blockbuster Video wanted to tap into his experience to help grow their business.
“They kept pushing to have me work there. I didn’t realize that I was one of the few people on the planet that understood video stores. They offered to pay all my student loans if I would work for them for one year,” White said.
One year turned into a 14-year stint that took him across the country and around the globe. White helped with acquisitions in places like San Diego, New York, and Miami. When Blockbuster went international, he helped lead the charge working in London and Australia. While in Australia, he earned a master’s degree in Adult Education and Cultural Diversity from the University of Technology in Sydney.
Once back in the states, White was ready for a change and took a job with Universal Music which took him to New York City and, eventually, Los Angeles. He spent some time working for Vivendi Games before taking his current position with Paramount Pictures.
While he will occasionally run into people like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, and Mark Wahlberg, much of White’s job responsibilities mimic those of HR executives at other businesses.
“I’m a business partner to the business leaders,” White said. “I’m an advisor, a counselor, a coach. I get integrated into the business to thought partner with these business heads about things that they’re doing. They can be business-related, people-related, or issue-related.”
Paramount is 102 years old and responsible for producing classics like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The 10 Commandments, and Titanic. Among its most recent releases are 13 Hours and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Paramount will also be distributing the Alexander Payne feature, Downsizing, which recently filmed scenes in Omaha.
In addition to his work at Paramount, White is heavily involved in PATH Beyond Shelter, an organization dedicated to developing systemic approaches to combat poverty and homelessness among families with children, and to enhance family economic security and well-being.
“I did not understand the problem when I first got here,” White said. “I got actively involved with Beyond Shelter which helps homeless women with children get off the streets. We worked with the Obama administration and Michelle Obama specifically in trying to end chronic veteran homelessness in Los Angeles.”
He’s written a book, The World Is A Safe Place, to benefit the homelessness cause.
Through it all, White’s Bellevue University education continues to inform his decision making.
“The education that I received at the University and the fact that I worked for (my degree) really set a strong foundation for what I do now,” White said. “The importance of education and the importance of actually doing it yourself and having to work for it -- It creates a whole new level of appreciation.”