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The group met at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas with then-UM President George Dennison and Larry Gianchetta, dean of UM's business school.
"They said they'd love to come back to the university and share with students a professional opportunity that they may have never thought about," recalls Gianchetta. "And that was the entertainment industry."
It's been Scott Douglas, however, who has been the driving force—and face—of the program. The UM alum was brought on board to run UMEM from the start. As a savvy management instructor with a doctorate in business, he was excited about his new position—even though he had no background in entertainment. His wife, Judy, notes that when Mannheim Steamroller offered to raise funds for the nascent UM program, Douglas didn't know the band.
"He thought it was monster truck show," she says, smiling. "And that's where he started. But he understood business, and entertainment is just a business. Eleven years later he's become an expert in it."
It took Douglas a few years to hatch the program while running it out of his office. It started as a special topics seminar available in fall and spring semesters to seniors only. Students had to apply, and the first year it was offered Douglas received 150 applications, which he had to pare down to 40. He brought in core instructors—alumni like Miller, Knaff and Mitchell who could fly in on the weekends to give classes on current entertainment trends.
"It's not unusual for a university to have retired people come and work in the program," says Miller. "But everyone we have coming to guest lecture was at their office desk earlier that morning, and so the information you get is that fresh. Whatever is trending you get right from the horse's mouth."
The main thorn in Douglas' side was funding. Over the years he met with UM's administration to seek out monetary support, but to no avail. The fledgling program wasn't yet an obvious success, enrollment-wise. So Douglas, who was already a full-time business management instructor, continued to spend what was left of his free time raising funds and negotiating the entertainment speakers.
The latter—connecting students with industry professionals, and creating success stories through internships and, eventually, jobs—would be the key to growing the program. Douglas continued to tap into alumni Rolodexes to attract industry big wigs for his classes. Laurie Jacoby, vice president of Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden in New York City, flew into Missoula for a weekend, as did film producer Jerry Molen (Schindler's List). The program didn't have much money, but Douglas' charisma made up the difference. He covered each speaker's airfare and meals, but their time speaking to students was done pro-bono.
"Scott has an incredible natural ability to see the scalability of projects," says Sonja Grimmsmann, UMEM's project coordinator. "He can take a dollar and translate it into something that was exponentially larger than life. I started teasing him about having this world domination tour, because for him, it couldn't be just what was happening now, it was everything that could happen five years from now, how it could affect China and India," she says, laughing.
"He knew this was going to blow up at some point."
The program began to see 300 enrollments a semester. It wasn't just business students, either. In fact, 50 percent of the enrollments came from other areas of UM including the fine arts department, the law school and the journalism school, among others, making it the most interdisciplinary program the business school offers. In 2009, the Board of Regents approved UMEM as a certification program, meaning students could get an entertainment management certificate that showed up on their school transcript. And in September 2010, when Royce Engstrom was named UM's new president, Douglas finally got another thing he had been waiting for: university funding.
The program had indeed blown up.
But a few months later, on November 30, Douglas suffered a massive stroke, and everything was turned upside down.
Grimmsmann has a tough, edgy quality to her that belies her recent sleepless nights. A Metallica fan with a dry sense of humor, the UM graduate paid her way through school by working on campus productions, starting with Pearl Jam's 2003 show at the Field House. As an adjunct professor for UMEM since 2009, she's been working as Douglas' right hand woman, taking care of office logistics and giving him feedback on the direction of the program, including the makeup of the curriculum.
When Douglas ended up in the hospital, it was Grimmsmann who suddenly found herself facing the enormous task of leading the program.
"Scott and I work very well together as a team and we would think out loud a lot together and bounce ideas off of each other," she says. "We complemented each other very well. I've had to deal with not having that anymore and having to make decisions on my own. I feel like everything I've ever learned my entire life is being put to the test right now."