Rich Ross Reveals Why Mentoring Is a Passion (Q&A)

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The Walt Disney Studios chairman will be honored Nov. 1 by the Fulfillment Fund for his charitable efforts.

On Nov. 1, Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross and Madeleine and Tom Sherak will be honored at the Fulfillment Fund STARS 2011 benefit dinner at the Beverly Hilton.

While the Sheraks have long been active in this type of fundraising, it’s not something Ross has done often. He says he agreed because mentoring is something he deeply believes in.

What he’s supporting with the Fulfillment Fund is a program Dr. Gary Gitnick began in 1977 to help L.A.’s low-income students graduate from high school and go onto college. It seems to be working. Ninety-one percent of the students in the program graduated from high school, and of that group, 93% percent went on to college.

Ross talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his interest in mentoring.
The Hollywood Reporter: You must get asked all the time to do fundraising dinners, why choose this one?
Rich Ross: The cause I believe in more than anything in the world is mentoring, whether it’s colleagues or youth making the leap into adulthood. With something like this, you raise money and awareness. To me, that’s a no-brainer.
THR: You’ve had mentors yourself?
Ross: Absolutely. My first and probably the greatest was my dad. My former boss Anne Sweeney and current boss Bob Iger are also incredible mentors. I could never have done what I’ve done without the three of them.
THR: Does Disney have a mentoring program?
Ross: We’ve had a couple of mentoring programs at the studio for the past two years including an executive mentoring program and a studiowide one. It’s a core part of my management style. The Fulfillment Fund is community mentoring, but all the pieces of the puzzle add up. It’s all connected.
THR: What do you think is the key to mentoring?
Ross: The ability to listen. We all need confidential places to be able go through challenges and opportunities. You need a mentor who can give feedback and that comes from the ability to be a patient listener.
THR: What interests you in the Fulfillment Fund program specifically?
Ross: In the last few years, things certainly haven’t been getting easier for students in the L.A. schools. Dr. Gitnick approaches the problems in a broad way of “no one can be left behind.” They recognize that students need help more than ever and continue to double down on the initiative. There are real issues that affect boys and girls differently that can affect their rates of graduation. The Fund takes a tailored approach to each student.
THR: And you think the program works?
Ross: You make a difference in each student’s life -- mentoring is not throwing a pebble in the ocean. The thing that’s so special about the Fulfillment Fund is how it brings back the alumni to be mentors themselves. It gives them the tools to succeed and they in turn feel compelled to use what they’ve learned to help make a difference in someone else’s life.