Senior Vice-President of Human Resources, Paramount Pictures
Master of Education (Adult Education), 1996
In 1994, after attending his first lecture at UTS, HR executive and social advocate Jim White was pulled aside by the Dean, who said to him, “Why are you here? I don’t mean to offend you, but we don’t get many American students here.”
Jim’s reply? “That’s exactly why I’m here.”
He explains, “I could have applied for Cambridge or gone to Oxford; schools that everybody else goes to."
But the fact is UTS has an amazing education program, particularly in terms of diversity and inclusion, and there aren’t many Americans who’ve done it, which means I have a unique, specialised experience.
At the time, Jim was Director of International Human Resources at Blockbuster Video. He’d been spending time in Australia, assisting with the global chain’s local rollout.
In some ways, this was a return to the past for the senior executive, who’d worked behind the counter at a ‘mom and pop’ video store while completing his undergraduate degree in Nebraska in the 1980s. He says;
I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was one of the few people on the planet who really understood video stores.
Jim agreed to work for Blockbuster in Australia for 12 months, taking the opportunity to study Adult Education at UTS while he was here. Then after Blockbuster, he went to work for Napster, which was then acquired by Universal Music. He then transitioned to be the VP of HR for the video gaming arm of Universal Studios, until he eventually went to work for Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of global media conglomerate Viacom.
Some 35 years later, Jim is still in the entertainment industry. Today, he’s Vice-President of Human Resources at Paramount Pictures, where a background in business and adult learning — “I evolved my HR skills along the way” — makes him a unique hire.
Jim says his Masters of Adult Education continues to have an invaluable impact on his work.
Much of the research I did while studying at UTS is something I use in my current role as SVP HR for Paramount - especially now, during a time when diversity and inclusion are such important issues in the entertainment industry.
Jim assists with restructures and sourcing executive talent, but also acts as a business counsellor, helping senior executives make operational decisions.
The role at Paramount brought him to Los Angeles and, in turn, set him on a mission to combat homelessness.
“I actually ended up living in Skid Row, an area of extreme poverty,” he says. “When I went out in the evening for the first time, there were roughly 2000 people sleeping on the street.”
Recalling his time studying education at UTS, Jim says;
I remember learning about Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and philosopher who was a leading advocate of critical pedagogy. Studying Freire's philosophy was instrumental. It encouraged me to engage in my 'ending homelessness' work.
Jim decided to go out and do something about homelessness in LA, and today, he represents the entertainment industry on the Business Leaders TaskForce, a group that works with various sectors to come up with housing solutions.
Over the past decade, the Business Leaders TaskForce helped house thousands of LA residents. Jim sits on several boards and undertakes pro bono HR work, but he says the task force, with its unique take on poverty, has been the most effective.
"We look at how homelessness impacts businesses from a monetary perspective,” he says. “We’re not saying the humanitarian part isn’t important, but we’re getting business leaders to understand that, as taxpayers, we pay for this anyway — and the way we’re currently spending that money isn’t smart.”
What’s your best career advice?
I tell people, “Only do the things you love.” If that’s the only thing you look for, you’ll always be happy in your job, your life and everything else.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Being able to communicate with people who are US-centric just how big, amazing and diverse the world is. People can be myopic in their thinking about the world, their job and their lives.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I didn’t fully understand the potential of the skills I’d obtained at the video store. Everything we do in life is important, and we never know how what we’re learning today will be valuable in the future.
Who are your role models?
My mother, Florence White. She was a Polish/American immigrant born in 1932. Even with all the challenges she went through, her whole outlook was about helping others.
Do you have a secret skill?
Fitting it all in. I don’t wear a watch. When you don’t worry about time, things just happen.
This profile was originally featured in the Spring 2019 edition of Tower magazine, published by UTS Advancement.