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Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman, JD ’69, at ShoWest, an annual Las Vegas convention of theater owners, March 15, 2005. Glickman took over in 2004 from one of Hollywood’s best-known figures, Jack Valenti, who had led the MPAA since 1966.
Isaac Brekken/APWWP

By Mark R. Smith

When he reminisces about the six-block trek from his boyhood home in Wichita, Kan., to the Crest Theater, Motion Picture Association of America Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman,
JD ’69, must think he’s dreaming when he contemplates how he’s spending his time these days.

Dan Glickman watches President Clinton sign a farm bill in 1996 in the Oval Office. Glickman served as agriculture secretary from March 1995 to January 2001.


And while work is still “work,” a dream it might be.

Back then, little could Glickman have thought, after graduating from GW Law School, winning nine consecutive congressional elections, running the Department of Agriculture, and a stint at Harvard University, that such an intriguing challenge was still looming. Then came the call that he had been named to replace legendary head man Jack Valenti at the MPAA, the industry’s most powerful lobbying organization.

The 62-year-old Glickman has come a long way from his roots in America’s heartland. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he moved to Washington to work on Capitol Hill and attend GW Law. From there the rest is history. Indeed, his varied experiences give him a great story to tell—one that he laced into his commencement speech to the Law School’s Class of 2006 in May.

To Glickman, that move east was what might be termed today as a no-brainer. “I was always interested in politics, so it was a natural” to come to Washington, he says, noting internships he served with Sen. James Pearson (R.-Kan.) and Sen. Peter Dominick (R.-Colo.).

While not passing himself off as a gifted student, Glickman, in fact, graduated with honors. Every so often, “my shortcomings as a student would become extremely obvious,” he says, such as during a course in criminal law he took with Professor James Starrs. “I also learned a lot from Professor Jerome Barron,” who later became dean, he says. He has kept in touch with Starrs and Barron, as well as Professor Jonathan Molot.

After graduation, Glickman went home and served as president of the Wichita school board and a partner in the law firm of Sargent, Klenda and Glickman; then he returned to Washington to work as a trial attorney at the Securities and Exchange Commission. By that point, he had already acquired skills that aid him in his present position. “It is helpful to understand business partnerships, contract arrangement, property rights, and antitrust related issues,” Glickman says, adding that his legal background makes him able to “pick up [on new business] a little faster that way.”

Glickman’s next major turning point was around the corner. At age 31, he returned to Kansas to run for Congress in 1977 and won. Then Glickman won the next race, and the next race, and the race after that. And many more. In fact, he held his position until 1995, winning nine consecutive elections before losing his 10th campaign. It was then he realized that he was simply “a Democrat in a state that was becoming Republican.”

He enjoyed several finer moments in the House representing Kansas’ 4th Congressional District. They included serving on the House Agriculture Committee and the House Judiciary Committee, where he was a leader on technology issues. He also was a leading congressional expert on general aviation policy and served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Glickman’s agriculture experience paid great dividends when he was tapped by President Clinton to be secretary of the Department of Agriculture in 1995. Highlights of his almost six-year tenure included the administration of numerous farm and conservation programs, the modernization of food and safety regulations, and the creation of new international trade agreements to expand U.S. markets, which proved invaluable when he accepted his $1.5 million-per-year position at the MPAA.

At the end of Clinton’s term, Glickman left the Department of Agriculture in January 2001 and returned to private practice with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington. In August 2002, he added Ivy League panache to his resume when he became director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. For two years, he directed the institute while remaining a senior adviser with Akin Gump.

Then, suddenly, it was time for the guy who sees about 50 movies a year anyway to head “back to the cinema”—but along a much different path. While his move in 2004 to lead the MPAA was an unforeseen occurrence in Glickman’s crystal ball, it was an even bigger surprise in the film and television industries, which are populated by executives who couldn’t fathom how a former agriculture secretary could run the powerful film lobby.

Despite those doubts, Glickman felt that he was, indeed, the right man for the job. He points to his experience of managing a federal agency with a $70 billion budget and 100,000 employees, as well as his ability to “work both sides of the aisle” to gain nonpartisan support needed to push legislation through the appropriate channels. Another bonus is his knowledge of copyright law and the process required to get antipiracy laws through Congress.

It also happens that Glickman knew the charismatic Valenti, an ex-Lyndon Johnson aide who led the MPAA for nearly four decades, from his days in Congress. Valenti also knows Glickman’s wife, Rhoda. She was director of the Congressional Arts Caucus for about 15 years and coordinated Capitol Hill movie screenings that Valenti hosted. Glickman also had one more connection to the film industry. His son, Jonathan, is a film producer with Spyglass Entertainment and was mentored by Valenti on his way up. Among his credits are the Jackie Chan movies Rush Hour and Shanghai Knights.

Since he came to the MPAA, Glickman says his biggest surprise has been realizing “the enormous impact of the film industry” in the United States. Yet he is quick to point out that the film industry was all about “globalization” long before the word became part of the public lexicon.

“It’s an enormous export enhancer,” he says, “and it has the positive balance of payment surplus with every country that we do business with. Also, it is a big part of our country’s international image.”
Glickman says the industry employs between 800,000 and 900,000 workers who range from actors to directors to crew to employees of theater companies to the various concessionaires. Worldwide, the financial impact of box office business is estimated to be about $25 billion—and that’s not counting DVD sales or Video On-Demand purchases.

Of urgent concern, however, is the issue of content protection, as piracy costs the industry $3 billion annually. The MPAA has taken a four-pronged approach to combat the problem: initiating litigation, creating educational programs, encouraging the development of new technologies, and developing cost alternatives to lower the price of acquiring content.

Glickman also notes the competition in the market. First, many U.S. states are offering “very generous tax incentives” to keep production within their confines. “Hollywood still dominates,” he says, “but the bottom line is still dictated by the market.”

And then there’s the work that’s going outside of the United States. But what is going to other countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, can’t easily be quantified, due in part to fluctuations in the value of currency.

Given this situation, Glickman is also mindful of where revenues come from. “We have to be careful not to take an anti-foreign view because [people in other countries] watch our movies,” he says. “This is why we stress to Congress that the film industry is important.”

Glickman’s current challenges must make his days at the Law School seem like another lifetime. Experiences like moot court, which gave him practical skills, are a big part of why he found GW so satisfying. In addition, “The big joy of going to law school here was the D.C. experience,” which included Vietnam protests and the like, he says. “It all certainly gave [learning about] law a sense of realism.”

Glickman also reflected back to his childhood and those quick walks he took to the Crest Theater, where he “escaped from the everyday world” for the whopping price of 25 cents per ticket.

He remembers the landscape from his boyhood that consisted of the fledgling television industry and the pleasures of the Silver Screen, noting that “there’s so much competition today” for an individual’s attention.

“In the past year or two, the industry has flattened,” he says. “I want to keep people focused on the value of film and TV as part of their lives. My job is to make people feel good about movies.”

Mark R. Smith has written extensively about film and video production while also focusing on business topics in Maryland with The Daily Record in Baltimore and The Business Monthly in Columbia, Md., which he also edits.