Head of the Family

As film executive Richard Cook takes on the presidency of the USC Alumni Association, he's counting on strong family ties.

DICK COOK ’72 likens the experience of change that’s taking place in the USC Alumni Association to, appropriately enough, change in a family.
As the new head of the Trojan Family, the association’s president predicts that any growing pains felt by family members will be set aside at the end of the day.
“Change is always tough,” says Cook, who is chairman of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. “But our common interest is the association and the university. USC has established a culture beyond its physical presence. It’s a state of mind. That’s a very strong bond.”
On the heels of last year’s name change – from the General Alumni Association to the more inclusive USC Alumni Association – another fundamental change quickly followed: the adoption in January of a new, five-year strategic plan.
“The association is keeping in step with the university at large,” Cook notes. “Our new plan strengthens outreach and diversity, among other things. We have a very large and diverse group of alumni. We want to reach out to all our alumni and bring them into the family.
“My predecessor, Bill Allen, coined the phrase ‘lifelong and worldwide,’ meaning alumni from all over the world should have a connection to USC for their whole lives. I think that sums it up.”

COOK HIMSELF CERTAINLY exemplifies an energetic and dedicated alumnus. Born in Bakersfield, Calif., he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from USC’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1972. While still in school, he worked as a ride operator at Disneyland – his first job in what has blossomed into a 28-year career with the Walt Disney Co.
He rose through the ranks and moved to the studio in 1977, where he served as manager of pay television and non-theatrical releases and was involved in the early development of the Disney Channel. He was named assistant domestic sales manager for Buena Vista Pictures in 1980 and was later promoted to senior vice president for domestic distribution.
Cook was president of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution from 1988 to 1998, overseeing the theatrical distribution of all motion pictures released under the Disney Pictures and Hollywood Pictures banners. He also served as president of worldwide marketing and distribution.
Under his leadership, Buena Vista released an unprecedented number of box-office hits – including Down and Out in Beverly Hills, The Little Mermaid, Pretty Woman, Beauty and the Beast, Dead Poets Society, Sister Act and The Lion King.
“I enjoyed movies as a kid,” he says, “but I never dreamed I’d have a career in the film business. I have to admit it just happened.”
While living the proverbial Hollywood mail-room-to-mogul story, Cook maintained his ties to USC. He is a life member of the USC Alumni Association and a member of the USC Associates, the Trojan Club, the USC Friends of Cinema and Skull and Dagger. He was also recently elected to USC’s Board of Trustees.
This experience gives Cook valuable tools for his term as president of the alumni association, he notes. Cook says he especially wants to strengthen alumni clubs, encourage volunteerism and develop new revenue sources. His work often takes him to the East Coast, as well as Europe and Asia, where he plans to visit alumni.
“The entertainment field is collaborative,” he says, “drawing on the talents of many people. Similarly, USC has unbelievable talent to draw on among alumni. One of the things I hope to do is bring that talent together and let it flourish.”



Dick Cook: "USC has established a culture beyond its physical presence. It's a state of mind. That's a very strong bond."

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Photography by Debra Dipaolo

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