Ripon College announces 2024 Commencement speaker Jason Felts

Jason Felts, serial entrepreneur, Fortune 500 brand advisor, philanthropist, film producer and founding CEO of VIRGIN PRODUCED, will be the keynote speaker at Ripon College’s Commencement May 12. The Commencement theme is “Breaking Barriers: Creating a Legacy.” Felts also will be presented with an honorary degree.

As co-founder and CEO of VIRGIN PRODUCED, the media arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Felts oversaw all aspects of the entertainment division including all film, television, music festival and brand positioning for the globally respected lifestyle brand which operates in the sectors of aviation, mobile telecom, space tourism, and travel and leisure. While simultaneously serving in a dual role as chief brand officer, Felts also oversaw the brand’s large-scale festival experiences which entertained more than 30,000 attendees every festival weekend. As co-founder and CEO of VIRGIN PRODUCED, Felts executive produced all of Virgin’s content including film, television and branded entertainment. Notable projects included “Limitless,” “Bad Moms,” “That Awkward Moment,” “Immortals,” “Movie 43,” “The Impossible,” “21 & Over,” the bio-pic “Jobs,” as well as the viral sensation, Virgin America’s “Safety Dance” which served to reinvent airline inflight safety videos. When Felts was appointed CEO in 2009 at 32, this made him the second youngest CEO in the history of Virgin behind Sir Richard Branson.

Prior to joining VIRGIN, Felts was a co-founder and partner at J2TV, a production company, responsible for the development, financing and production of television shows for studio and broadcast networks including Fox, E! and Comcast. J2TV ultimately was acquired by VIRGIN.

While Felts says his career brought financial success, media accolades and industry awards, the COVID-19 pandemic brought him an epiphany. He left Los Angeles and quarantined with his parents and siblings during the pandemic. He says the simplified lifestyle and concentrated time with family made him realize that while he had succeeded professionally, “I wasn’t necessarily fulfilled and using my life as a force for good.”

He retired from the entertainment industry at age 45 and now focuses the majority of his time on philanthropic efforts toward social responsibility, equality and conservation, as well as strategic brand advisory to purpose-focused startups and Fortune 500 corporations.

Felts’ first career position was assistant to the late David Mirisch, Ripon College Class of 1959, at Mirisch Enterprises. Mirish served for decades as a Hollywood press agent to major celebrities, including Farrah Fawcett, whom he discovered in 1968, Johnny Mathis, Perry Como, Merv Griffin, Leonard Nimoy and Omar Sharif. After retiring from that work, Mirisch pivoted to organizing more than 2,500 fundraising events for nonprofit organizations throughout the United States and abroad.

Felts calls Mirisch “my first mentor, my early Yoda. Early on, he taught me the art of doing better; that any one person doesn’t know everything and that you must surround yourself with people who know the things that you don’t know; and the importance of giving back. ‘You can have all these sorts of fruits of your labor,’ he would say, ‘but if you’re not sharing the fruit, it means nothing.’

“He was using his life as a force for good,” Felts says.

Receiving the honorary degree from Ripon “is a full circle moment for me,” Felts says, because of his close friendship with Mirisch that lasted until Mirish’s death in 2023. “The start of my career, my first chess move, was in meeting David and soaking this knowledge from him.”

The nonprofit work Felts is doing now is fulfilling as he seeks ways to inspire future generations, drive change and use his life as a force for good. “Through this work, I’m finding the ultimate riches, ultimate fulfillment and ultimate happiness,” he says. “I’ve had a more fulfilling last two years than I did in the previous 25 years.”

Ripon’s Commencement ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. May 12 on the lawn of Harwood Memorial Union. Felts will receive an honorary degree along with Dena Willmore, a 1967 Ripon College graduate, philanthropist and retired partner and senior vice president of Wellington Management Group of Boston, Massachusetts.

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