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Welcome to the world of management, Darrell Rodriguez-style: a cubicle instead of a corner office; a polo shirt instead of a suit; and a Facebook page instead of a club membership.
Eighteen months into his job as president of LucasArts (the interactive game division of Lucasfilm), Rodriguez, MBA 94, has the fun of supervising the creative teams responsible for developing a string of video games rooted in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises as well as other new games — and the worries of piloting a consumer-products company through the worst recession in decades.
“You’d think that our business would be immune to the downturn,” he says. “But that’s not the case.” Retailers are struggling, disposable incomes are shrinking, and the video game industry is still waiting for the next generation of hardware that will drive sales of faster, cooler games.
If the job is stressful, it doesn’t show. At 43, Rodriguez, a Bay Area native and seventh-generation Californian, is trim and relaxed. For inspiration, he can look across the lush expanse of San Francisco’s Presidio, where LucasArts is based. And for relaxation there is a conference room with a full complement of video games, from the LucasArts hit Star Wars The Force Unleashed to another Rodriguez favorite — Left 4 Dead.
Left 4 Dead isn’t much like the family-friendly games published by LucasArts; it’s a product of Rodriguez’s previous employer — Electronic Arts, where he served as COO of its Los Angeles game development studio — and is unabashedly gory. Content aside, the significant difference in the two jobs stems from EA’s status as a public company, while LucasArts is privately held. “It’s liberating being at a private company. Decisions don’t have to be made quarter to quarter. We think in terms of years,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez’s career path to LucasArts has hardly been a straight line. He earned a landscape architecture degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. A long-held desire for an advanced degree led to Haas, followed by jobs at EarthLink and Disney. A formal business education, he says, was essential in bridging the gap between the creative outlook — his natural inclination — and the broader view required of a top-level manager.
Rodriguez finds social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter essential for staying in sync with “the Gen-Yers” who are both his employees and customers. Similarly, working in a low-walled cubicle instead of a private office makes communication with his team simpler and more effective.
For the man who collected Star Wars and Indiana Jones action figures as a boy, playing a role in the ongoing fantasy created by George Lucas is clearly a delight. “It’s impossible to work at LucasArts and not constantly remember your first Star Wars moment and feel the passion that comes from everyone that works here,” Rodriguez says.