David White is the national executive director and chief negotiator of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the group’s former general counsel. A graduate of Stanford Law School and a Rhodes Scholar, White was a labor and employment lawyer and also provided consulting services to the entertainment industry before joining SAG. He is chair of the board of the SAG-Producers Pension and Health Plans and serves as a trustee of the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, Volunteers of America-Greater Los Angeles, and the SAG Foundation.
In addition, he is a trustee and the former chair of the board of his alma mater, Grinnell College.
What motivates you to give back to so many institutions, especially your alma mater?
My mother had an expression when discussing how to live well and flourish professionally: “The goal is always to learn and to serve.” That phrase has always stuck with me as a basic guideline for the choices that I make regarding board service. I want to be involved with institutions that I care about, with people from whom I can learn new things, and with programs in which I am confident that I can make a positive difference. My experience as a student at Grinnell College was such an important part of my educational development. There is simply no way that I will ever return Grinnell’s gifts to me. However, through board service and active engagement in the college, I can give something back, and play a small role in the lives of the next generation of leaders that it helps to cultivate.
How do you interest young professionals in board service?
I encourage them to think broadly about their personal and professional advancement. Board service can be a big part of their career development. Boardrooms present a terrific training environment to observe how more-experienced professionals run effective meetings (or not) and how leaders manage complicated group dynamics. Even more important, board service can facilitate career-changing mentoring opportunities by more mature professionals who also serve as fiduciaries on the board. And we should never forget that board service offers a way to engage in issues that we believe in and to give back to institutions and communities that have given us the foundation for our own accomplishments.
What has been the most interesting part of your work at the Screen Actors Guild?
Working intimately with such a unique workforce, in an organization that sits at the epicenter of business, entertainment, and labor, has been very interesting. SAG has a rich history of not only protecting performers in an industry that is legendary for exploitation, but we are one of a handful of organizations that negotiates and oversees the rules that shape the industry’s employment environment. I have also enjoyed learning how to generate institutional and cultural change in an organization that has strong traditions, an internationally recognized brand, and employees around the country. The fact that I have a very supportive board of directors cannot be overemphasized. It is a crucial feature of our success.
Do you consider yourself a role model for young African-Americans? What would you tell them about the importance of college?
Yes, I am a role model, as are most successful professionals of color. Whether we recognize it or not, young African-Americans and others are watching closely. I remember well how my observations and interactions with professional African-Americans influenced my own sense of possibility and career objectives, and I take my role as a mentor and role model seriously. A message that I give to all young people with whom I interact, and especially to black youth, is that they must have some college education or postsecondary training in order to build a stable professional life in our fast-changing, global society. Attending college should be a singular focus for our children, and the experience will hopefully lead to the larger goal of lifelong learning. We must all take responsibility for cultivating this type of yearning and expectation in our young people.