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There were more famous, rich and powerful names of the list of March 12 indictments in connection with what’s alleged to be the nation’s largest college admissions scam ever. But none was more ironic than that of Jane Buckingham, a pioneer in corporate trend forecasting who has spent a career, launched while still in high school, positioning herself as a sensible, sagacious authority in discussions about the lifestyle anxieties of adolescents and their parents — particularly those among America’s upper classes, who can afford to seek her counsel.
Buckingham, 50, stands accused of paying $50,000 for an ACT proctor to take the test in place of her son Jack in July 2018, as well as considering the same action for her daughter Lilia. “I know this is craziness, I know it is,” she confided in a staffer involved in the purported testing scheme. “I need you to get [Jack] into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”
Jack’s apology for being “unknowingly involved in a large scheme,” which he sent to The Hollywood Reporter the day after the scandal broke, was skeptically received in the Brentwood School community, with some wondering if it were written for him. THR has learned that the school had previously hired Buckingham as a consultant in a bid to remedy its perception as a spoiled citadel among the topmost echelon of local private academies. (“It is common practice for our school — and other independent schools — to conduct periodic market research and brand analysis to ensure competitiveness within our market,” says assistant head of school Gennifer Yoshimaru.)
As it happens, Buckingham first gained national notice as a private school student at Manhattan’s exclusive Horace Mann when she published a well-received book called Teens Speak Out, about adolescent attitudes toward everything from women in the workplace to sex. Its research, derived from surveys of her then peers, later grew into a trend-hunting business. Buckingham’s companies the Cassandra Report, Trend Central and the Intelligence Group were sold to CAA in 2003. Her current firm, Trendera, has offices in L.A. and New York, and her entertainment industry social circle includes Reese Witherspoon as well as Shannon Rotenberg, who runs Matthew McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin Foundation, and Trisha Cardoso, who heads up TV producer Chuck Lorre’s family foundation.
“[Buckingham] has always been known in the community as one of those driven, active parents in her kids’ schools and lives,” says a parent in the private school community. (Buckingham did not respond to a request for comment.)
Buckingham, born Jane Ruth Rinzler and the daughter of a New York City psychiatrist, married Marcus Buckingham in 1996. The groom was a Cambridge grad who at the time was a vice president of the Gallup organization.
Her husband went on to pen several books on management strategy, including 1999’s First, Break All the Rules, which became a best-seller, with more than 1 million copies in print. In 2006, he founded the Marcus Buckingham Company, a leadership coaching outfit dedicated to “strengths-based talent development.” Like his wife, he became a semi-regular fixture on daytime news programs like The View, Good Morning America and Today, where he’d share his formulas for succeeding in the business world.
At times, the Buckinghams would come together to offer a unified brand of buzzword-heavy expertise. In 2012, they co-wrote a story for Time magazine about the dangers of helicopter parenting. “For years, they have regularly been given pats on the back, often just for showing up,” the couple wrote. “They took a test — how amazing! When they finally join the workforce, it’s no wonder members of Gen Y expect a promotion just for being on time to work for six weeks straight.”
The couple, who lived in the flats of Beverly Hills, divorced in 2017. “Marcus had no knowledge of or involvement in the activities for which his ex-wife has been charged,” says a spokesman for the Marcus Buckingham Company. “He and his children first learned of this on [March 12] and are devastated, and so his focus at this time is on caring for their emotional well-being.”
Lilia, who previously attended L.A.’s elite Harvard-Westlake School, is a social media influencer with 1.4 million followers and a burgeoning actress, set to appear in a short-form video series called Spring Breakaway from Brat, a digital media network, available on YouTube. (When asked by Entrepreneur this past November about macro trends she was seeing in 2019, Buckingham praised Brat without mentioning the brand’s connection to her child: “They’re getting, like, two million views an episode.”)
In recent years, Buckingham has expanded her portfolio include “parenting guru,” publishing how-to books and giving lectures. At a retail conference in 2016, she held forth on millennial entitlement, observing, “It’s not their fault, it’s their parents, because that’s what happens when you give them a gold star for going to the potty and a trophy for not participating and telling them they are fantastic every day of their life.” She added, “Now, 10 years later, we are mad at them. We made our beds. We have to lie in it.”
In an online chat with Soleil Moon Frye to promote the 2010 release of The Modern Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations — Jessica Alba, Aaron Sorkin’s ex-wife Julia and fellow alleged admissions scam participant Felicity Huffman attended its launch party at Soho House West Hollywood — Buckingham expounded on her insights. “Any situation you approach with confidence, you are going to get out of more gracefully,” she explained. “Confident parents make confident children.”
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