On March 10, Blair’s alumni office hosted its first-ever networking event at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City, California. The program, designed for those interested specifically in the fields of media, technology, entertainment, marketing and public relations, was coordinated by founder and CEO of Dynamo Events Chrissy (Devenny) Thompson ’08. The evening began with a keynote address from Blair Kohan ’85, partner and board member at United Talent Agency, followed by a panel discussion moderated by Blair Trustee Derek Peachey ’93, who steered the conversation, engaged with the audience and offered his perspective as managing partner at Floodlight Digital.
Panelists included Charisse Manzi ’98, senior producer at Trailer Park; Will Neff ’08, screenwriter and digital influencer; Jaya Vadlamudi ’95, vice president of marketing and communications at Make-a-Wish Greater Los Angeles; Dan McClung ’99, co-founder and chief operating officer at Pureplay Entertainment; and Tim Peacock ’08, product manager Google Cloud.
“The impressive standing of our alumni and parents in law, finance, government and other industry verticals is well documented, but I am not sure that many in our community are aware of their outstanding accomplishments in e-commerce, production, entertainment, artificial intelligence and other areas,” Mr. Peachey said. “Our panel discussion not only highlighted the fascinating work being done in these fields, but also generated excitement about how Blair is developing leaders in this innovative segment of our economy.”
The program’s 25-plus attendees not only had the chance to network with one another at an evening reception following the formal part of the program, but they also enjoyed an hourlong walking tour of Sony Pictures Studios—a definite highlight of the evening.
Presenters and participants alike would like to see this forum continue on an annual basis, and Blair’s advancement office is exploring other industries that could be the focus of similar events in the years ahead.
Read on to learn more about the evening’s keynote speaker, moderator and panelists.
Blair Kohan ’85
Partner & Board Member, United Talent Agency
After graduating from Blair in 1985, Blair went on to attend Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she studied writing and met her best friend, actress Julianna Margulies, with whom she moved to Los Angeles in 1989. She began her career as an agent trainee at the Bauer-Benedek Agency, which later merged with United Talent Agency.
Shortly thereafter, she left to become a feature development executive, serving in that capacity at Brillstein Grey; as vice president of production for Oliver Stone and Dan Halsted at Illusion Entertainment; and as a production executive at 20th Century Fox-based Horizon Entertainment. In 1997, Blair joined United Talent Agency and returned to her first passion: representing top creative voices in entertainment and promoting the art of storytelling.
As an agent at United Talent Agency, she works closely with some of the industry’s most accomplished actors, directors and writers, including Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen.
Derek Peachey ’93
Managing Partner, Floodlight Digital
Since graduating from Blair in 1993, Derek has remained engaged in all things Blair, serving as a class rep, a Blair faculty member, a member of the Board of Governors (2006-2010) and a Blair Trustee (2016-present). As a Trustee, he continues to work as a liaison to the Board of Governors, and brings to bear his extensive experience in strategic business development and digital technology.
After completing his undergraduate work at Dickinson College in 1997 and earning an MBA at Texas Christian University in 2002, Derek began his career in the technology sector, first as senior director of business development at Handango, then as vice president of sales and business development at July Systems. In 2008, he continued his work in wireless content solutions at Nokia, where he worked extensively in the Latin American market, before returning to July Systems as a member of the executive leadership team in charge of sales and corporate development.
In 2010, Derek became managing partner at Cathcart Ventures, LLC in the San Francisco Bay area, a media strategy business in the digital technology arena that provides a range of services, including expertise in sales, distribution strategy, digital product development, capital raises, business development and mobile marketing. Derek, his wife, Stephanie, and their two sons reside in Healdsburg, California.
Jaya Vadlamudi ’95
Vice President, Marketing & Communications
Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles
Jaya is vice president of Marketing & Communications for Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. In her role, she prioritizes storytelling through media and technology for the purpose of connecting individual and corporate donors with this worthwhile mission. Before joining Make-A-Wish, Jaya headed up communications and media efforts for global humanitarian organizations Team Rubicon and International Medical Corps, traveling to sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and flood-ravaged areas of the United States to relay the life-saving work being carried out by disaster response teams. Prior to her time in the nonprofit sector, Jaya worked in New York City in marketing for global organizations including Morgan Stanley, Sotheby’s Auction House and Zagat Guide. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University with an MA in communications and a BA in international studies, Jaya remembers her time at Blair Academy fondly. She credits Blair’s amazing faculty with developing her communication and people skills, as well as her curiosity for global communities.
Tim Peacock ’08
Product Manager, Google Cloud
As a product manager at Google, Tim works on security products for Google Cloud. His work, always aimed at keeping the Internet safe, is designed to protect Cloud workloads at scale with low latency and high signal-to-noise. He was previously a product manager at Stripe and Shape Security, where he helped grow the gross domestic product of the Internet and protect the country’s largest banks, airlines, federal agencies and consumer brands.
His career began in Washington, D.C., at the Brookings Institution, where he was a research assistant. After graduating from Blair in 2008, he studied political science at Brown University. Since then, Tim has remained connected to the School and, in particular, to Blair’s longest-serving teacher, Wayne “Razz” Rasmussen, who shares his love of motorcycles.
Dan McClung ’99
Co-Founder & Chief Operating Officer
Boston-bred Dan co-founded the production-forward outfit Pureplay Entertainment in 2016, after a decade of working in physical production across varied media platforms in Los Angeles. He currently manages day-to-day operations and directly oversees all physical production for the company. Previously, Dan served as an in-house producer for both Relativity Digital Studios and BermanBraun, where he helped build out internal infrastructure to support video production across multiple departments, managed development slates, and created content for the company’s brand partnerships, original channels and series.
As an independent producer, Dan has worked for the multi-channel network Fullscreen, the music video house Anthem and the agency SAV, and he has executed several features and award-winning short films. He has worked with many prolific brand clients such as Evian, Lexus, Absolut, IKEA, Lenovo, Mercedes, Hasbro, Miller Lite, Edmunds, MSN, YouTube and Vans Warped Tour.
Dan has been at the intersection of technology and content for most of his career, and has taken a hands-on approach to shaping the landscape since the industry began its significant shift in 2010. His company is now helping to bridge this gap for streaming networks like Amazon and a variety of independent clients.
Will Neff ’08
Screenwriter & Digital Influencer
Will studied communications and interactive media science at Elon University in North Carolina, receiving a BA in 2012 and MS in 2013. He has honed his skills as an improvisational actor at Chicago’s Second City Theatre, Hollywood’s Laugh Factory and the iconic Groundlings acting school in Los Angeles. During seven years in California, he has worked as a researcher with the Reason Foundation, a writer, actor and producer of video entertainment at Buzz Feed and Full Screen, and as producer of his own screen stories. Having recently sold his first feature-length script, Will continues to advance his own video and screen compositions. He currently serves as a partner at the innovative livestreaming platform known as Twitch.
Charisse Manzi ’98
Senior Producer, Trailer Park
Upon graduating from Fordham University with a degree in communications and media studies, Charisse remained in New York City, where she worked for several networks including MTV, Discovery and Oxygen. A move to Los Angeles changed the trajectory of her career, when Charisse and her classmate, Marcel Wepper ’98, founded Marcel Wepper, Inc., in 2011. This endeavor expanded her career into the commercial world, where she focused on branded entertainment with clients such as Elle, Benefit Cosmetics and Kate Spade. In 2015, she helped create the branded entertainment division at Windowseat Productions, producing content while overseeing its day-to-day operations. Three years ago, she created the branded content division at Herzog & Company, where she developed content across all spaces, from short form to original docu-series to feature documentaries. She recently wrapped two docu-series for ESPN celebrating 150 years of college football. In 2019, Charisse took all of this experience to her current position at Trailer Park, a leading entertainment marketing company, where she is building out their custom content division to include branded and original work. Her ability to think outside the box and bring new creative ideas to the table give her an edge when working with her clients to share engaging and impactful stories.