I recently had a chance to talk with Pomona College Trustee Louise Bryson. Since receiving her master’s degree at Stanford University in 1969, Bryson has worked in the commercial and non-profit sectors of the arts and entertainment industries.
During her time in the entertainment industry, Bryson has always found that “being flexible” has been the most important key to success.
Beginning her career as a writer and producer in public television and radio, Bryson moved on to serve as Senior Vice President for Fox Network, General Manager of Lifetime Movie Network, and President of Distribution at Lifetime. She retired from the Lifetime network in 2008 after 10 years with the company.
In 2006, Bryson was named chair of the J. Paul Getty Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Bryson retired from her position at the Getty Foundation this summer and was given the honorary title of Chair Emerita.
During her tenure in public television and radio, Bryson served as Chairman of the Board for KCET in Los Angeles. She received the Award for Excellence in Public Television Leadership in 1998. Though retired from commercial work, Bryson continues to serve on a variety of administrative and advisory boards.
She accepted an invitation to join the Pomona Board of Trustees in 1993. Although not a graduate of the college, Bryson was pleased to be a part of a place that “strives to be the best.”
During our conversation, I hoped to find out what motivated and sustained her professional career.
“I’m always looking to make a contribution using everything that I have. Not only does that apply to my work life, but also my family, friends, the world,” Bryson said. “I feel like my impacts are very small, but it’s still important to do what I can do.”
Bryson began her path toward communications and the entertainment industry in elementary school, as an ardent enthusiast in theater and drama. In dramatic arts, she found a way to express herself.
“I was always in theater,” Bryson said. “The power of the media, whether it be through theater, film, journalism, whatever. It was a powerful way to tell stories.”
Bryson fostered her love for theater and English by involving herself in the arts. As an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, Bryson majored in English with a minor in drama. It was important to her to continue to pursue her passion for the media.
After graduating, while many of her friends were getting married, Bryson went on to Stanford to continue her studies.
“After a year of teaching, I went to Stanford for their Master’s in Teaching program, and then that summer I went to the Stanford Broadcast Institute,” she said.
After completing her master’s, Bryson took a job at a public television station in San Jose. Although perhaps not the most glamorous job, she recalled, “public television gave me a really wonderful start.”
The transition from working with teachers to working on documentary-style films was wonderful for Bryson.
“There were lots of opportunities to try things,” Bryson said. “It was a real labor of love.”
Working in public television gave Bryson the opportunity to try her hand at all aspects of film production and prepared her for the work she would later do with larger networks.
“Sometimes the most unusual situations turn out to be the most terrific,” she said. “You go to places that sometimes don’t seem the most glamorous at first, but people who look for the most prestigious jobs just for the glamour or the prestige, you know, sometimes that just doesn’t work out.”
Bryson’s television career ended recently with her retirement from Lifetime Network. Bryson was with the company as it transformed from its infancy to the influential and trailblazing conglomerate it has become.
When Bryson joined the network in the early ’90s, television shows and advertisements were often geared toward entertaining male viewers, she said. At the time, Lifetime was the only network that focused on women’s entertainment and women’s issues.
“Lifetime was a wonderful experience,” Bryson said. “I worked for people and with people who were doing things for women. It was not just about the money. We had a very good leader who made you want to come to work. It wasn’t just about the paycheck, it was for something more.”
Bryson has built her career making professional decisions that are true to her values and nature. Over the course of our conversation, Bryson expressed the importance of being fair and honest to yourself.
“You’ve really got to listen to your heart, know yourself well enough to know the things that might be significant and meaningful to you,” she said. “And know that it won’t happen on the first job, but you have to get a set direction, just make sure you’re going in a direction, and stay with it.”
Bryson’s career has been characterized by her flexible philosophy and in doing what she can to contribute to the well-being of other people. Whether through filmmaking or her work at Lifetime, serving on a number of non-profit boards or having a family, Bryson has found that listening to her heart and being honest with herself has guaranteed her a fulfilling life.
Before concluding our conversation, I asked Bryson whether she had a final remark she wished to share with 5C students. She took a moment to think about it, and then laughed.
“Try things,” she said. “Go for it. When you’re young, you’re so unencumbered. It’s a wonderful time to try on lots of things.”