Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell was the man of the hour at the Fulfillment Fund’s 22nd annual Stars Gala. This year, the org veered away from its traditional sit-down dinners in Beverly Hills and delighted guests with a relatively brief awards program and auction followed by a late-night adventure at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.
“In fact, that’s how you know how intimately Jeff is involved in the Fulfillment Fund — always looking for those savings,” quipped CNBC’s Julia Boorstin during her opening remarks inside the theme park’s Globe Theatre.
In a night of firsts, the org also introduced donors to a new system of texting bids during the live auction. Attendees could simply raise their hand and text a dollar amount to a number provided. More than $1.9 million was raised with the new tech addition.
Although the Chicago Cubs were making history during Game 7 of the World Series, the room was filled with a number of Shell’s colleagues, including Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley, NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer, Illumination Entertainment CEO Chris Meledandri, and Blumhouse Productions founder and CEO Jason Blum. Additional attendees were the Fund’s co-founders Gary Gitnick and Cherna Gitnick, and stars Vin Diesel, Jenna Dewan Tatum, and Channing Tatum, who presented Shell with the Tom Sherak Award for his devotion to offering educational opportunities to disadvantaged youth.
“Last year, Universal raked up the highest domestic, international, and worldwide box office of any studio in history,” Tatum said. “It’s also the first time a studio had over three films grossing over a billion dollars worldwide in a single year. It has also come to my attention that I wasn’t in any of those films. What’s up with that, Jeff? I can be faster and furious-er.”
Tatum went on to joke about the similarities between him and Shell, citing their great heads of hair, working as exotic dancers before graduating Harvard Business School, and defending the White House from hostile takeovers. “Mine from a jaded, deranged James Woods (in 2013’s ‘White House Down’), and for Jeff a jaded, deranged reality star named Donald Trump.”
Two local students, Johnny and Jessica, who were helped by the Fund, also shared their stories. One, a pre-med student, noted that he was only able to do an experiment with the org’s help since his public high school did not have a laboratory.
Shell noted in his acceptance speech that the mentorship program was extremely personal for him. “We were products of public schools and we did all right,” Shell said about himself and the org’s CEO Kenny Rogers. “Unfortunately, now the way that the public schools are, you don’t have the same opportunities we did.”
After thanking his wife, Laura, and his parents who were in attendance, Shell revealed why Universal had been supportive of the org’s philanthropic initiative for two decades. “We’re a big organization here in Los Angeles,” he said. “The reality of the fact is that companies like ours need kids like Johnny and Jessica that we can hire. Kids who have worked hard, who’ve overcome the odds, and inspired. We need them in college and through college, like the Fulfillment Fund does, or else companies like Universal can’t operate in cities around America.”