Otis President Sammy Hoi is a genial personality who steers the ship at one of the nation’s best art and design schools. Along the way, he’s had a little help from his friends. Corporate partners Mattel Inc. and Nike Inc. have donated much time and money to the institution, while many of Otis’ graduates have gone on to brilliant careers at both companies. Hoi has nurtured Otis’ longtime corporate friendships that provide educational opportunities to give Otis students the skill set to compete in a changing world.
Mattel’s El Segundo headquarters is located a short distance from Otis, and the company has reached out to the college for almost two decades. It’s a win-win situation, according to Mattel International President Bryan Stockton. The toy company has expanded its brand globally to more than 150 countries while remaining a familiar friend to anybody who grew up on Barbie dolls, Fisher-Price, American Girl and Hot Wheels cars.
“Otis students help us. We always need a pool of talent: engineers, fashion, package and toy designers,” says Stockton, knowing that Mattel is the biggest employer of Otis graduates.
In turn, Mattel supplies the college with faculty members who bring a wealth of business and design experience to the classroom. Stockton sits on Otis’ Board of Trustees so he can observe where the school is heading. At this year’s “Otis Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region” event, Stockton presented Hoi with a check for $1.85 million. “The money will help improve our physical and academic resources, as well as increase scholarships,” says Hoi.
At the event, Hoi was also presented with a handmade, one-of-a-kind Otis Barbie that was created by a team of Otis-alumni-turned-Mattel-designers. “We like to do something special,” says Stockton. “It shows the passion of our staff.”
The Otis Barbie is draped in a theatrical outfit with a pattern of Otis logos covering the underside of her cape. The doll’s bold color scheme is white, black and hot pink with a sprinkle of rhinestones. It will be displayed in Otis’ toy department, according to Hoi.
Meanwhile, to pump up the graduating class, Nike President and CEO Mark Parker delivered a speech at Otis’ 2009 commencement. Parker’s speech was equal parts wisdom and rules of engagement. “All I can offer you today is envy. It’s a gift to be creative. And it’s great to be young. Exploit them both,” implored Parker. “The best thing you can be is curious.” Parker knows of what he speaks, having begun his career at Nike as a footwear designer, an unusual trajectory for a company executive, and having run competitively at Penn State University.
Parker was also awarded an honorary degree during the occasion. Hoi says that Parker was recognized for his “exemplary corporate leadership” and for his advocacy for art and design. Parker continues to make art and is a major art collector.
In the twenty-plus years that Nike and Otis have been educational partners, Otis students hired by Nike have left their mark. Designer Scott Williams was responsible for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics athletic apparel, while Devon Burt designed the warm-up suit that Michael Phelps wore when he accepted his eight Gold Medals. Both men have returned to Otis as fashion design mentors. Nike’s mantra is, as always, to design innovative products to help athletes at all levels reach their potential.
In his speech, Parker spoke glowingly of the Otis community and told students how important it is to remain connected. There is a sense that he still understands the power of a design education. Otis may foster talent, but it’s a tough world. “Expect rejection. Failure is temporary. Giving up is permanent. Never give up,” said Parker.
Image courtesy of Otis.