Values Matter—No Matter Where You Are

Shilla Kim-Parker, MBA 2009

As if foreshadowing the career path ahead of her, Shilla Kim-Parker (MBA 2009) wrote her HBS application essay about her desire to serve the social good. “I was drawn to HBS because of its Social Enterprise Initiative, which set HBS apart in my mind,” she says. “That was what I wanted for a career.”

Shilla’s ambitions have deep roots within her family. Her mother grew up under a military dictatorship in South Korea, where she was “an activist under great peril.” Her father grew up in the deep South; as a high school student, he lobbied his community to move the black musicians from the back of the parade to the front. At UNC Chapel Hill, he and four other black students were the pioneers who first integrated the institution. At twenty-seven, he became the first black law professor at Columbia University.

“The drive for change was part of our dinner table conversation,” says Shilla. “I was raised to understand that it’s not enough to observe injustices; we had to be part of the solution. We believe we must leave the planet a better place than we found it.”

An artful approach to service, media

Shilla’s home may have been political, but it was not pedantic; music and the arts were as much a passion as justice. Her father played trumpet; his brother, Maceo Parker, is the famed jazz/funk saxophonist who rose to fame with James Brown; Shilla’s brother, Kellindo Parker, is now lead guitarist and co-composer for contemporary pop giant, Janelle Monae.

“I’m the least musically talented,” Shilla says modestly. But she also had visual art talent she explored during a high school internship at Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied architecture. It’s no surprise then that she found “a natural fit” with Lincoln Center where she served as a Leadership Fellow in 2009 and remained for three more years.

“I worked under then Lincoln Center President Reynold Levy, the human embodiment of genius and sheer will,” says Shilla. Under his leadership, Lincoln Center not only reconfigured its campus to be more socially engaging, but embraced new business models to decrease its dependence on fundraising.

Shilla became Director of Strategy, Venture Group, which served as “an internal consulting group” to a portfolio of businesses including fashion (Levy convinced Fashion Week to move from Bryant Park to Lincoln Center), publishing, graphic arts sales, an on-campus restaurant and, most ambitiously, an international arts consulting division that helps clients, “think through how to build an arts organization for their communities.”

“I had the ability to apply everything I learned at HBS in my role,” says Shilla. “Prior to business school, I saw the world through a straw. After HBS, the straw disappeared – I gained a broader perspective that allowed me to see the whole, as a leader. What was most exciting about my time at Lincoln Center was that it was so broad; I could apply efforts and develop my skills three-dimensionally. I wasn’t confined to one thing. I had to think about marketing, PR, team-building, financial analyses, bottom-line revenues – and then apply all those to many different kinds of businesses.”

Shilla next served as Chief of Staff for the Disney/ABC Television Group, a vast media empire that includes ABC, Disney Channels, Freeform, Hulu, and A&E Networks, among other assets. “TV has had a special role in my life,” Shilla says. “I had gone to terrific private schools where I didn’t have the same resources as others around me. But with TV, I could bond over the same shows we all saw the night before. I saw TV as not just an escape, but a window onto other worlds. It has the power to transcend boundaries.”

At Disney/ABC, Shilla spent over five years collaborating with its head, Ben Sherwood, in much the same way she had worked with Reynold Levy at Lincoln Center. “He is creative, brilliant, hard-charging, and – most of all – values driven. The most important thing I brought from the Leadership Fellows experience to Disney/ABC is the recognition that values matter, no matter where you are or what kind of business you’re in. We don’t live in a vacuum; everything we do has an effect.”

Values has led Shilla to her next venture, launching a company in the fashion technology space with a mission to do well by doing good. “I’ve been working on it for the past year on nights and weekends, and it will launch publicly the fall of 2018. I am incredibly proud of our work, and I can’t wait to share it with the rest of the world.”