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On the Run

Monday, October 3, 2016
On the Run - Bill Holmes

Bill Holmes is all smiles at a press event ​in conjunction with the launch of Netflix in Canada.

Whether it's for work or play, this alumnus is rarely standing still

by Mary Denny

Bill Holmes '91, B. A. English

"My early aspiration was to become an English professor," says Bill Holmes, "but once I was out of the academic environment, I suddenly found most people weren't that interested in literary theory." Now what?

Opting to forego graduate school, Bill moved to Seattle with his high school sweetheart—now his wife of 20 years— to "begin a new adventure." Fortunately, his natural curiosity had led him to get involved early in the development of the Internet, especially the digitization and distribution of video. "I had a satellite dish connected to computers at my house and would use that to demonstrate how you encode and stream video online. Most of my friends would come over and just wonder what the heck I was doing," he grins. Thus began a career that started with a small digital media company, continued with a vice presidency at DivX (best known as "the mp3 of video"), and ultimately landed him at Netflix, based in Los Gatos, Calif.

According to Bill, the foundation of Netflix is the company culture. "Many companies fail as they mature by trying to implement operational processes to manage complexity," he explains. "The founders of Netflix realized that you can't control complexity or plan for the inevitable shifts as a business develops. Instead, they focus on hiring the smartest folks they can find and giving them the freedom and responsibility to run their part of the business."

As Netflix's global head of business development, Bill's primary focus is developing partnerships to bring Netflix Instant Streaming to the TV. In this capacity, he is responsible for Netflix's global partnerships across the consumer electronics, gaming, operator, service provider and retail markets. Under Bill's leadership, Netflix has partnered with leading consumer electronics companies including Apple, Google, LG, Microsoft, Nintendo, Samsung, and Sony. He finds it tremendously rewarding to be part of a revolution in media that is affecting industries and people around the world. "We believe deeply in the power of stories to change lives," he states, adding, "It is an incredible experience to travel the world and talk to members about how Netflix has positively impacted them."

And yes, that English major has been exceptionally helpful. He believes the three skills needed to be successful in business development are good problem solving skills, persuasiveness, and persistence, which are the crux of his role in developing a vision with both internal and external partners. "Fundamentally, my training as an English major helped develop my analytical and communication skills that I rely on daily to navigate the myriad issues that arise." He is especially grateful for Victoria Aarons and Willis Salomon (English) and Larry Kimmel (Philosophy), as the professors who "taught me the most."

"Many [students] steered clear of their classes as they had reputations for being tough graders," he recalls, "but they taught me how to think critically, ask the right questions, and organize my thoughts in speaking and writing."

Outside the tough classes, Bill found plenty of time to take "all manner of classes that piqued my curiosity" and engage in "countless shenanigans with friends around campus, Lightner 1st floor ("epicenter of chaos"), playing hacky sack around the Magic Stones, Wig-rama-thon, the great Acid Fest, catching live music at the now defunct Wackys, fountain diving, and trips to Enchanted Rock."

Bill with his family in Chamonix, France, before the  the start of the UTMB.

Not surprisingly, Bill's outside interests still focus on outdoor activity, and he can often be found on the trails or in the mountains. To indulge his recent passion for trail running, he has completed several notable 100-miles races including the UTMB, which is "like the Olympics for ultra running." The course circumnavigates the Mont Blanc massif snaking through France, Italy, and Switzerland. Closer to home, his most recent race was a 205-mile run through the mountains around Lake Tahoe, which he finished in 89 hours. When it snows, Bill heads to the mountains to snowboard with his family that includes three teenagers, a ten-year old, and a labradoodle named Walter. He also works with the Santa Cruz Land Trust to help preserve the "amazing wilderness areas in central California." If he is indoors, you will find him playing guitar or working on his piano rendition of "Easy on a Sunday Morning."

Optimistic and brimming with good humor, Bill says his long-range plan is simply to "enjoy life to the max with family and friends." Many might conclude "mission accomplished."

You can contact Bill at bholmes [at] netflix.com