Troy Carter on Hollywood's Diversity Problem: "There's Tons of Work to Do"

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for The Rush Philanthropic Art Foundation

The Atom Factory CEO also outlined what properties the investor is high on right now.

On Tuesday night, Russell and Danny Simmons hosted the inaugural Art for Life Los Angeles event benefiting the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and honoring Goldie Hawn alongside music manager and tech investor Troy Carter.

The two were feted for their careers and philanthropic endeavors, and the morning after, those were subjects at top of mind for Carter during a phone call with The Hollywood Reporter.

Well, career, philanthropy and recent honors. Carter, the founder and CEO of entertainment company Atom Factory and content platform Smashd.co, and founding/general partner of Cross Culture VC, joined the board of trustees of the prestigious Aspen Institute last month in a series of new appointments for the organization. 

The educational and policy studies organization named James S. Crown as chairman for a three-year term, taking over from outgoing eight-year chairman Robert K. Steel. Also joining the board alongside Carter are: Bill Bynum, CEO of HOPE, which includes a credit union, loan fund and policy center; philanthropist Penny Coulter, former member of the California Academy of Sciences Board of Trustees; Arne Duncan, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Education; Antonio Gracias, founder, managing partner and CEO of Valor; Kaya Henderson, Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools; Carrie Walton Penner, a K-12 education advocate and chairs the board of directors of the Walton Family Foundation.

THR asked Carter about his involvement with Aspen, what's next for his career and and what properties the investor (known for investments with such companies as Spotify, Warby Parker, Songza, Dropbox and Uber) is high on right now.

You're a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute. What was your time like in the program? And why did you decide to join the board of trustees?

It was a three-year program and I wasn't that familiar with the Institute when I was approached about joining the program. Hundreds of people get nominated (to join) and they take you through a process of making sure you are at an inflection point in your life. It came at a time for me when I was looking at 'what's next' from a life perspective, not just a business perspective. After my initial interviews — this was five or six years ago, now — I thought for sure that I wouldn't get in. But I was, and it has helped shape my outlook on value-based leadership in all areas of my life, from being a parent, a CEO and a global citizen.

What specifically changed in your outlook?

The fellowship class consisted of people who were all pretty much in the same age group (as me), but from a variety of industries —  private sector, nonprofit sector and some from government. The whole program is really built around value-based leadership, and doing business with integrity. How can you build a for-profit business and without it being zero sum game? That helps shape how I run the company and how I see the world.

You had already achieved a lot in your career by the time you entered the program. What pushed you to take the next step with Aspen?

When I entered the Institute, I had four kids. [Carter and wife Rebecca Carter now have five children.] As a family, we had been through many things; my mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away during that time. I also came to an understanding that I probably wouldn't be a career talent manager. So as I looked at the next stage of my life and career, I looked at what challenges I was willing to take on. That's why I joined, because being in the program helped shape those answers.

You're 43 years old, still very young for all that you've accomplished. What career accomplishment are you most proud of?

We just moved houses and I was unpacking boxes recently. I found a a scrap book that my mom had given to me, and inside was a letter that I wrote to myself at age 19. The letter included my goals and dreams for my life, and even then, I was writing about the management company that I built today. At that point in time, I couldn't have dreamed of working with the great talent that I've been blessed to work alongside. I had forgotten about that letter, so to read it again and to have experienced all of these things coming to fruition has been a humbling, blessed experience.

If you don't see yourself being a career talent manager, what other areas of your career will shift for you?

I've been doing a lot of investing over last five years, and with that, I've been spending a lot of time with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. I've noticed — and had a front row seat to see — the disparity between the haves and have nots. (I've seen) a lack of diversity and the lack of access to capital there. I've been really passionate and vocal and working with different programs in how we can change that. I'd like to open doors for underserved communities and monitories in entrepreneurship. 

Diversity in Hollywood has been getting a lot of necessary attention. What is it like for you, both to be working as an executive in the industry and as a minority in the entrepreneurial space?

The music industry really is a meritocracy on a creative level. But I was just having a conversation with someone about the Billboard Power 100 list. It's very disappointing. You have the Apple team at the top and you don't put Dr. Dre on there? That's very strange to me. Or Jay Z? He has built a half-a-billion-dollar empire in entertainment, and is one of the most influential guys in the business — from his dealings with Rihanna through to his publishing catalog. He's not up there. … As we look at Hollywood and the controversy around the Oscars, it goes back to the voting block and the lack of people who come from that culture. For example, the NWA movie is a fantastic, fantastic movie. You need people who can look at a piece of art like that and understand the artistry in it. There's tons of work to do, but I'm glad that people were vocal after the Hollywood controversy came out. But not a lot of people came out about the Billboard oversight. … It's important that young kids see examples of people who have built companies and have had success to show that they don't all need to be artists.

You've successfully invested in so many tech companies. What are you hot on right now?

Thrive Market. It's a great company that we invested in from L.A. and they are having huge amount of success. It's built around the mission of how they can democratize healthy lifestyles, really going after the Whole Foods and Trader Joe's out there at 50 percent of [the] price. They are doing extremely well right now.

Finding that letter is such a great moment. If you could write another letter, this time to yourself at age 65, what would it say?

That my kids did well. That I was able to make a difference in my community. That I did great in business; that's very very important to me as well. And that I inspired people.
 

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