TOM LEACH ’10
Forbes has deemed TOM LEACH ’10 amongst “the entrepreneurial, creative and intellectual best of (his) generation.” Leach has a proven track record as a visionary storyteller, television producer, & master executer of world-class ideas (across TV, digital, startups, real estate, & more). Leach currently serves as the CEO, founder of Media RED.
Interviewed by Monique Beals • January 24, 2019
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
I went to UCLA for graduate school in the Producers Program. It was really wonderful to have teachers, faculty and professors that were doing such amazing things across entertainment. During my studies, UCLA allowed me the amazing opportunity to intern for both Tom Hanks and Jerry Bruckheimer’s production companies.
My first job after UCLA was at the Discovery Channel. I spearheaded internal development there, and helped develop documentary content viewed in over 200 countries and by tens (if not hundreds) of millions of people. I learned a lot working for the global, publicly traded company that is Discovery, and how to operate within a corporate system. From there, I had the opportunity to work for Mark Burnett. Mark is one of the most successful unscripted television producers in the history of television. He is the man behind Survivor, The Apprentice, Shark Tank, and The Voice. These experiences taught me how successful entrepreneurs run their companies and the differences between how big and smaller companies operate.
In 2014, I was finally ready to start my own company. I had always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, but I needed six years learning as much as I could before I was ready to dive in. UCLA was a great pathway to not only prepare me to be a great executive and employee, but also be an entrepreneur and successful leader at my own company as well.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
When people ask what I do for a living, I don’t say television producer. I don’t say marketer, even though I touch upon those things every day at my company. I consider myself a storyteller. I love stories. I grew up watching I Love Lucy. I loved listening to my parents tell amazing stories at the dinner table. I have always been fascinated with stories about successful people throughout history. I love stories that were being produced in and out of Hollywood, on television, in sports, and by successful companies like Apple.
I realized early on that stories are powerful, and they can be inspiring. I knew that I wanted to be a part of telling great stories to drive great outcomes.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
I think what is so great about UCLA is that both the students and the faculty have an amazingly advanced and diverse point of view. UCLA allowed me to meet people from all different walks of life with different experiences and backgrounds. Getting to work alongside so many diverse personalities allowed me to really learn a lot. I borrowed a lot of their wisdom. I pick up the phone and call many of them to this day. The fact that UCLA captures these people and attracts them to such a prestigious and historic university really helped shape my success and outlook on life.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
I still engage with mentors of mine who were my teachers and working producers. One that comes to mind is Brad Fuller. Brad is an very successful producer and he is also a wonderful father, husband, and human being. Having a former professor that is so knowledgeable and intelligent in this industry who will still take my call or take a meetings with me is amazing. Simultaneously, when I’m working on different projects or teaching my class at Loyola Marymount University (where I went for undergrad), I am constantly picking up the phone to ask for advice or calling on former colleagues and classmates to come in and guest lecture. I’m always looking for ways to collaborate with the wide array of people in my alumni network.
UCLA is a great connector when I’m networking and meeting individuals to grow my business as well. It’s very helpful when I reach out to people that I don’t know. The fact that UCLA has so many successful people across so many different industries makes referencing being a Bruin a point of pride. It is a great way into new relationships.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
My greatest career challenge has also been my greatest career opportunity. That challenge was figuring out at what point do I go from being an employee with benefits, a wonderful salary, and support of big organizations, to taking the mighty leap and start my own company. I self funded my own business. I didn’t take any outside capital. I have employees and overhead, and I think the greatest career challenge was deciding if I was ready. The way I overcame that was through the help of an amazing team that works with me every single day. I get to work with my college roommate and former students of mine whom I trust at my own company. I really believe in the vision of Media RED, my company, not only as a business, but also because it is a group of really great people doing great work towards accomplishing great dreams. Having a team of kind people and encouraging to live their best life inside and outside of work has allowed us to find success.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?
First and foremost, passion is immensely important. There are too many people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s who on paper appear to be relatively successful, but if you ask them if they love their job or if they love going into work everyday, you’ll get mixed answers. People might say they get paid well or their job is good on paper, but they aren’t happy. I think if you’re persistent and unshakable in terms of that passion, over time you will succeed. It’ll be a lot easier when you hit those struggles and challenges, because you love what you’re doing.
Secondly, I would tell students that they should work for good human beings. As crazy as that sounds, working for big, powerful companies can be appealing, but if your boss is not a decent human being it will affect you and your life outside of work. Try to collaborate and work with people you align with creatively, and those you respect and admire personally. I think that makes work life a little bit easier.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
I’m a big supporter of the Producer Program. I always say yes when former professors or faculty ask me to come in as a guest speaker. I’m a mentor and judge student projects through those classes. Any time UCLA asks anything of me, it is a quick yes.
I’m a proud advocate for the community, whether it is TFT @ UCLA, the amazing medical school, or the sports programs in general. Having that allegiance both in the classroom and in the community is something that I am all for, whether it’s donating time, money, help, or anything that you can.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
People who are blessed with the opportunity to become part of the Bruin family are leaders in their field. You don’t get to come to UCLA if you aren’t a talented, hard worker. I’m grateful that I can be part of such a diverse and amazing community of people that are out changing the world and making an impact. UCLA has a history of doing that for a century now. Just to be a part of a network that spans the globe with people who are making advancements and helping humanity, business, science, and all of the above is an amazing honor, responsibility, and something I’m really proud of.
And finally, what’s next?
My company, Media RED, has experienced tremendous growth over the last five years. We are reinvesting our resources in finding people and companies interested in making a positive impact on the world. I call it a double bottom line. It is great to run a successful company, but it is also great to make a positive impact on people’s lives. We are most interested in finding companies that we not only help grow revenue for, but also help change the world. We want to offer our resources to amplify those companies to achieve success. Our next chapter is continuing to find big and bold companies with ambitious goals and continue to chip away at making a positive impact on the world.
Lastly, to anyone that out there that is part of the UCLA community and doing amazing things, I would encourage you to reach out. I’m interested in companies and organizations that want to help use storytelling to create positive outcomes. I’d like to extend an open invite to anyone within the community to feel free to reach out to me via LinkedIn and send me a message.
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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