Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero are the married founders of California restaurant chain Mendocino Farms. In this episode, Ellen and Mario describe the many changes eateries like theirs were forced to undergo over the past year, including migrating a huge percentage of their business “off-premise,” which meant leaning heavily into both technological innovation and a defined employee culture and set of core values. Ellen and Mario also discuss their families and backgrounds. Ellen, a Taiwanese immigrant, has roots in manufacturing and management consulting, while Mario is a third-generation northern California agriculturalist. Despite their differences, Ellen and Mario represent a unique partnership, having harnessed their disparate skills to successfully lead Mendocino Farms’ evolution from a confined urban gastropub to the thriving suburban family oasis of today. Ellen and Mario cite restaurant industry mentors Tom Simms and Dee Stein, as well as USC professor Steven Lamy, as inspiring life influences.
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Jon Wimbish is Head of the Middle School at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, Jon takes us back to March 2020 and the week that changed everything—from on Tuesday, March 10, telling the middle school faculty, “so there’s this thing called Zoom”—to the school’s entire mode of instruction being shifted to Zoom just six days later. What did those days in between look like? How did the school’s unsung heroes, like Mike Grier and Jeff Snapp, enable the school to pivot, on a dime, in such a fundamental way? Jon also speaks about growing up in Huntington Beach; a three-sport athlete at Huntington Beach High, Jon was recruited to Princeton for football before eventually finding his way to volleyball. A constant for Jon, however, was the presence of brilliant English teachers, whom Jon credits as inspiring him toward a career in the same vein. Jon cites Harry Gordon of Huntington Beach High School, Larry Danson of Princeton University, Paul Thomas of Costa Mesa Church of Christ, and most importantly, Mark Wimbish of Narbonne High School, as profound influences.
Chris Jones, or “CJ” to his colleagues, is Head of the Upper School Deans at Harvard-Westlake. In this episode, CJ speaks about how the college admission process changes in a pandemic. For example, how do students choose colleges when they are unable to tour campuses in person? And what impact might “test-optional” policies have on the way applications are evaluated? Is “test-optional” here to stay? CJ also talks about growing up on the south side of Chicago and being the only boy in his neighborhood to attend and graduate from college. Despite losing his father at age seven, CJ cites the many inspiring figures who appeared at critical times throughout his life to guide him in the direction of education. Among them were paternal grandmother Annie Lee Jones, Father Thomas Swade of LINK Unlimited Scholars, Arthur Reliford of St. Ignatius College Prep, and Kevin Brown of Williams College. In turn, CJ has made his life’s work becoming that same type of example and guide for others.
During her groundbreaking career in entertainment, Stacey Snider became Chair of three major movie studios—Universal (1999-2006), DreamWorks (2006-2014), and 20th Century Fox (2014-2018). In this episode, Stacey shares how attending a Philadelphia-area Quaker school instilled in her a spirit of egalitarianism, which, ironically, helped her to navigate a famously hierarchical industry. In describing her path to leadership, Stacey offers a master class in how to manage power, ego, the creative process, and creative people—so many of them men—where Stacey, often the only woman in the room, had to apply subtle and imaginative strategies to gain respect and then influence. Stacey’s list of mentors is also prodigious, from Marc Platt to Ron Meyer to Barry Diller to Steven Spielberg. Stacey took something from each of them and then applied it the craft of shepherding great films—the most meaningful to her being Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. In addition to her many bosses and mentors in the film industry, Stacey cites educators Mr. Dorrance and Mr. Ely from Friends Central School and Professor Dortmund from the University of Pennsylvania as profound influences.
Over 27 years at Harvard-Westlake, Ed Hu has assumed many roles, from college counseling to advancement to currently as its Head of External Relations. In this episode, Ed speaks about growing up in Bucks County, PA, as the child of Chinese immigrants, and how working in his family restaurant, Hu’s Chinese Kitchen, forever impacted Ed’s appreciation for the interchangeability of work life and personal life. Ed also discusses Harvard-Westlake’s fascinating and evolving relationship with China, how Brown University helped Ed set an entirely new course for his academic and professional life, and how moving to Los Angeles in 1987 empowered Ed to finally “come out,” in his words, as both an Asian American man and a gay man. Ed cites Pam Cressman of Holicong Junior High School and Ted Sizer of Brown University as profound educational influences.
Paul Stanley is the lead singer, guitarist, and co-founder of the legendary rock band KISS, which has sold more than 75 million records worldwide in a career spanning nearly five decades. Even today, Paul still tours the world, wearing his trademark “star child” face makeup, and eight-inch heels — but that is only part of the story. Born “Stanley Burt Eisen,” the child of Jewish immigrants who fled Europe during WWII, Paul was also born without a right ear, leaving him deaf on his right side. The subject of childhood taunting, Paul vowed in his youth to become a rock star, and then did. Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Paul describes the origins of KISS’s attitude and aesthetic, his successful and complicated partnership with Gene Simmons, and how the values of work ethic and gratitude have imbued his entire life, both as an artist and a father. Paul cites inspirational artists like Beethoven and Picasso as profound influences on his unlikely journey to stardom.
Beth Slattery is amid her 17th year at Harvard-Westlake, but first as Head of Upper School. In this episode, Beth speaks about the challenges of starting this new role during a pandemic, including her most profound challenge—how does one identify, from a virtual distance, when a student is struggling? Beth also engages on the topic of gender, discussing both her doctoral research into single-gender schools and the importance of supporting and encouraging girls and women in every context. Beth also describes growing up the child of educators in Brockton, MA, and how her career ambitions migrated from Senate politics to USC admissions to college counseling. Finally, Beth’s advice on parenting, which has been quoted by several guests of The Supporting Cast (including Rick Commons), will leave you inspired. Beth cites Sue Szachowicz of Brockton High School, Jane Hopkins Carey of Georgetown University, and Robin Doran and Joe Allen of USC as life-changing influences.
During his 16-year NBA career, Robert Horry won a startling 7 NBA championships, more than any other player outside of the 1960s Celtics. In this episode, Robert speaks about the three coaches (Rudy Tomjanovich, Phil Jackson, and Gregg Popovich) who led these championship teams, in addition to the big games and critical plays that earned him the moniker “Big Shot Bob.” Robert also speaks about growing up in rural Alabama, discussing some of the racial tensions and segregation around youth sports in Alabama, before playing for the University of Alabama. Now a Harvard-Westlake parent, Robert cites Wimp Sanderson of the University of Alabama, in addition to Tree Rollins and Otis Thorpe of the Houston Rockets, as profound teachers and mentors.
Natasha Case ’01 is Co-Founder and CEO of Coolhaus Ice Cream, which you may have noticed lining the frozen food section of your local Whole Foods. In this episode, Natasha speaks about being raised by an animator and architect, the multifaceted nature of her Harvard-Westlake experience, building a business at the cross-section of food and architecture, and how unveiling Coolhaus at Coachella in 2009 changed the brand forever. Natasha also speaks about the importance of setting an example as a female and gay entrepreneur, and how opening doors for others like her is central to Coolhaus’s mission. Natasha cites Harvard-Westlake teachers Katherine Holmes-Chuba and Jerry Margolis as profound educational influences.
Spencer Rascoff ’93 is a serial entrepreneur, from founding Hotwire and Zillow in this 20s and 30s, to his two current ventures, Pacaso Homes and dot.LA. In addition to describing the details of each, Spencer traces many of his entrepreneurial qualities back to Harvard-Westlake, both in the form of a spectacular teacher (HW Chronicle advisor Kathy Neumeyer) and an unimaginable tragedy (the sudden death of brother Justin Rascoff ’91). In this episode, Spencer speaks about the community that rallied around him during this difficult time, in addition to the influence of his father’s innovative spirit and why he believes the notion of mentorship can be “hacked.” Spencer credits Kathy Neumeyer, in addition to numerous other Harvard-Westlake writing teachers, as profound influences on his life and career.