Category: GEMA, GEMA Externship

Title:GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now? – James Grant (C’09), Comcast

In our series The GEMA Externship: Where Are They Now?, we reconnect with past Externs to find out how their careers have progressed since graduation.

James Grant (C’09), Executive Director of Corporate Strategy at Comcast

In our second installment, we catch up with James Grant. James’ work focuses on overseeing the entertainment business strategy of the company. Previously, he worked at Creative Artists Agency just after graduation and later as a partner at Boston Consulting Group before moving over to Comcast this May.

What was your first “big break” into your industry?

My first break was getting a summer internship at Warner Brothers Studios as an undergraduate. I got that opportunity through the Baker Scholars program at Georgetown. It later introduced me to GEMA, and my first professional break post-Georgetown was getting to know a few agents at Creative Artists Agency via my externship. You can pretty much directly credit my ability to get a job there — which is my first job out of college — to my Los Angeles externship experience.

What was your first job?

I worked as an executive assistant in the business development group at CAA. This was in 2009, so Google hadn’t purchased YouTube and Netflix was a DVD delivery business. My business development group was stood up by the founders of CAA to rethink the business model and the services that the company provided its roster of clients, anticipating the convergence and disruption that we’ve seen over the last 10 years. We did a lot of cutting edge projects and stood up new businesses for the agency. We helped integrate a finance team, marketing, sports, and just helped with adjacencies for the agency itself. We were also the first part of a major agency to actually represent digital talent, what are today known as influencers. We helped stand up a few digital-focused businesses on behalf of our clients and the big one at the time was Funny or Die.

What do you do in your job now?

I joined Comcast in May on the Corporate Strategy Team for Comcast Corporation. I’m overseeing our three business units, two of which are pretty much entirely entertainment: Comcast Cable, NBC Universal, and Sky. My boss, who ran the media practice at McKinsey, has four reports. He wanted one of the four reports to be somebody who could be his conduit to the entertainment assets in the business and find ways to support NBCU specifically. So most of what I do is major strategic topics for that business, which includes a really big reorganization going on right now that I’m helping out with as well as a pretty nascent over the top business in Peacock that we are evaluating in real time and thinking through ways to enhance. Like most other major companies, we’re actively contemplating a number of other adjacent growth opportunities, which is everything from organic product launches to M&A.

What is your favorite part of your current position?

I think my favorite part of my job is just the moment that the entertainment industry is in right now. I’m in a seat where a big part of what I’m doing is figuring out how to navigate it for Comcast. Maybe just to say it in short: I love the problem-solving aspect of this job.

What was the externship experience like for you? Did it have an influence on your career/help kickstart your career?

It was great. I’m from Los Angeles, so it was a fantastic excuse to come home. It was an action-packed couple of days and it really opened my eyes to a few things. Number one was obviously the breadth of Hoyas in the industry. Number two was the different career paths that a Georgetown education opens up to you. Number three, which was incredibly important for me, was just the willingness of people in positions of power to help folks trying to figure it out, who come with the right degree of optimism, respect and come from a shared background like Georgetown. It was an amazing experience. I may have gone down a completely different career path had it not been for that experience.

What part of the externship did you find most valuable?

Honestly, the main thing was that I met the person who ended up recommending me to HR at CAA to get a job. I knew from my Warner Brothers experience that I wanted to start out at an agency: it just felt like it was the best training ground for somebody trying to break into entertainment. I explicitly asked the organizers of the externship to set me up with folks at the different agencies. I had meetings at ICM, UTA, CAA. I really got the job because the person I met at CAA and that person’s assistant — who became a very successful agent in the years since — I just kind of hit it off with them. They were the ones that got me started, processed me into the system and said good things about me when I was offered an interview.

What was your experience like attending Georgetown? Were there any particularly formative experiences that were special to you?

To hit the highlights: I met my wife at Leo’s. I played four years of rugby, I was the president of the team, and we went to a final four in California, which was amazing. I got involved in some other really great groups including the Baker Scholars, which was super critical to getting into media. They helped me get comfortable with asking really successful senior executives for advice. It’s a network of kind of like-minded people. To this day, it’s still a huge influence on me.

I was also pretty involved with the Lecture Fund. I got to meet a lot of interesting speakers and stay busy on campus. It’s funny actually looking back, the classroom experience wasn’t at all what I remember. I look back much more fondly and have much more vivid memories about the social aspect of school activities I was involved in.

What’s your advice for an undergraduate trying to break into your industry? Is there anything you would tell your younger self now?

It’s a small industry, and it requires building relationships with people. Don’t put your resume on a pile of paper. Even if you have a 4.0, and you’re involved in everything, don’t assume something’s going to happen as a result of it. Related to that, relationships take time. And you really have to invest in them. You have to be creative and find ways to relate to people or help people or just get people’s interest and attention. I think the good news is that most people, or at least the ones you want to work with, are really receptive to helping out folks that are just starting out. Everybody’s been there at one point in their lives and everybody can point to one or more people that have gone out of their way to help them.

Have there been parts of the COVID-19 pandemic that have been super salient to the kind of strategy you’re doing in your position?

I was really worried when joining the company because my mandate was to find work for our team to do on behalf of my boss. Getting hired in March before this started, and then starting in May, I was worried about the ability to do that and go out and meet people when everything had to be done virtually. Our corporate strategy team is something like 15 people, and the only person I’ve met is my direct boss, and I’ve only met him twice in person. I haven’t met anybody else on my team. But in a way, strategy is one of those functions that is possible to do in a virtual way. I strangely don’t really feel like I’ve missed a beat and I’ve been able to get involved in some really cool stuff.

Interview conducted by Cady Stanton (C ’20)

GEMA launched its annual Externship Program in 2003, a unique experience where Georgetown seniors and graduate students spend one week in Los Angeles or New York during spring break, meeting with a number of alumni from a variety of fields in entertainment and media. Over 200 students and more than 500 alumni have participated in the program over its first 18 years and many of the externs have gone on to roles across the media landscape.