Leadership consultant Doug Lipp gained his confidence at Sac State

Doug Lipp has always been a risk-taker. He didn’t just travel to Hawaii with his family as a teen. He got a job as a YMCA counselor so his parents would let him stay. When he finished his undergraduate degree at Cal State Long Beach, he didn’t just look for graduate schools locally. He went to Japan.

So when he eventually landed at Sacramento State to finish his master’s, he didn’t just pick a degree. He created his own – a master’s in international business communication – and used it to launch a career as a successful business speaker and author.

“I was always stepping outside the lines,” Lipp said.

Born and reared in Sacramento, Lipp took a circuitous path to a Sac State degree. He studied Japanese from high school through graduate school and interned with Disney as an undergrad. That helped him land a job with the company as an interpreter, and he was invited onto the employee management training team just as it was preparing to open Tokyo Disneyland. After the park opened in 1983, Lipp became the head of the Disney University training team at its corporate headquarters.

After Disney, he co-founded an international consulting firm before returning to Sacramento as a consultant for the technology company NEC. Lipp also chaired the Pacific Rim Committee for SACTO, now known as the Greater Economic Council of Sacramento, on 13 trade missions to Japan.

Doug Lipp and Sacramento State students sitting at a restaurant.
Doug Lipp, back right, meets each year with Sacramento State Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration students to discuss is bestselling book “Disney U.” Photo courtesy Pam Lipp

In all these roles, Lipp specialized in cross-cultural training, designing programs to help employees better understand a specific culture to improve communications with members of that culture. For example, is an individual motivated more by positive or negative feedback? Lipp had a sense such training was good for employees and the company’s bottom line – but he needed proof.

To study the issue, in 1989 he came to Sacramento State and built his own major, one that was self-directed but overseen by faculty committee. He took classes in Communication Studies, Business and Japanese, which connected him with other students from the business world with whom he could share ideas and common challenges.

Crucially, his faculty committee continually challenged him to prove his core theory that cross-cultural training was mutually beneficial. Using NEC as a “perfect living laboratory” for his thesis, he was pleased to find that it was.

“The committee guided me and kept me grounded, so if I would come in with a half-baked idea, and I would say, ‘Well of course it’s going to work,’ they’d say, ‘Well, prove it,’ ” Lipp said. “They were great doubting Thomases, and they were great coaches.”

Armed with confidence that his training methods were effective, Lipp left NEC and launched his own training and consulting firm, managed by his wife, Pam.

As the business world has grown more international, Lipp has traveled globally as a keynote speaker, especially about his understanding of leadership and values-based corporate culture from his experience at Disney University. Lipp has written multiple books, including the bestselling “Disney U,” which is used in classes at Sacramento State. He returns to campus each year to participate in question-and-answer sessions with students about the book. Many proceeds from the book go to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, including a 2017 donation to the Sac State chapter.

Doug and Pam recently wrapped up a years-long project that took them halfway across the globe and deep into his family history. Lipp knew his grandfather Milton was an influential executive, via Standard Oil, with the Bahrain Petroleum Company, also known as BAPCO. Visiting the tiny island nation in 2013 on a book tour, he and Pam learned Milton was a household name in the country. Their visit was front-page news.

“We didn’t know what Milton’s role was, just that he was an executive,” Pam Lipp said. “They were rolling out the red carpet for us, and we were wondering, ‘What the heck is going on?’”

Four men looking at documents in a museum exhibit
U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Justin Siberell, from left, Doug Lipp, a local executive, and Bahrain Minister of Oil and Gas Shaikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifad look at documents from Lipp’s grandfather Milton, which were recently on display in the country’s national museum. Photo courtesy Pam Lipp

Over the next seven years, the Lipps worked to digitize, archive and then return Milton Lipp’s documents and memorabilia to Bahrain. The Milton H. Lipp Collection – which includes daily diaries, letters from dignitaries, photos, and items such as Milton’s Commander of the British Empire Award – was launched as a display at the National Museum of Bahrain.

While going through the documents, Lipp came across remarkable similarities between his grandfather and himself. Like his globe-trotting grandson, Milton worked in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan. In his work. Milton had emphasized training the local population to take over the business, an early example of the cross-cultural training Doug Lipp had embraced and subsequently validated at Sac State.

“I thought … before it was avant-garde, my grandfather was into cross-cultural training and bringing up the indigenous workforce so they weren’t forever beholden to international expats,” Lipp said. “That, I thought, was one of those full-circle moments.”

Cosmetics and community: Leslie Valdivia’s makeup brand celebrates Latinx culture

Leslie Valdivia ’14 majored in public relations. After graduating, she worked at a variety of nonprofits, government organizations and PR agencies, where she used skills learned at Sacramento State to run marketing campaigns and pitch countless stories to the news media.

Which makes it slightly ironic that her biggest project, Vive Cosmetics, has landed her in publications such as Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed and Teen Vogue – all without a single pitch, paid influencer or major ad purchase.

It might speak to the power and resonance of Vive. Valdivia and her friend Joanna Rosario founded the company in 2017 to bridge what they say was a galling disconnect between the cosmetics industry and Latinx women, who collectively are among the country’s largest purchasers of cosmetics.

In Vive, Valdivia and Rosario set out to build a company that drew from and reflected the experiences of Latinx people. In contrast to the stark, black-and-white packaging standard in the industry, Vive incorporates vibrant colors representing Latinx art, culture and food. Names of makeup include “Lupita,” “Mija,” “Spanglish” and “Selena Forever.”

The company hires Latinx models with diverse skin tones and backgrounds, and makes an effort to work with and hire other Latinx people or organizations. That contrasts, Valdivia said, with an industry that typically features “token Latinas” with light skin and tone-deaf advertising campaigns that clearly did not include Latinas in decision-making.

“There’s so much diversity that exists in the Latinx experience that I felt was not represented,” she said. “I wanted to create a brand that represents the diversity within our own community.”

Raised in Lodi by parents who were Mexican immigrants, Valdivia was the first in her family to attend college, arriving at Sacramento State in 2009. She majored in biology and then nursing before changing course to public relations, which she felt better matched her talents and personality.

Valdivia was a persistent student who never gave up on an assignment, said journalism professor Timi Poeppelman. One such assignment involved live reporting on Twitter, and at first Valdivia struggled. But, Poeppelman said, Valdivia continued to work at it until she was so skilled she was teaching it to other students.

“She went, maybe in a year’s time, from it being a huge struggle to being the expert on it,” Poeppelman said. “As she’s done all these amazing things after graduating, I’m not surprised, because she keeps chipping away at it and owning it and making it her own. It’s really cool to see.”

Outside of the classroom, Valdivia kept busy. She was a member of the Latina support-network club Mujeres Ayudando la Raza and the Sigma Pi Alpha sorority. She worked as a student employee in the Orientation, Services for Students with Disabilities office and University Communications, among other places.

Leslie Valdivia, smiling, in front of a studio backdrop and holding products from her makeup company Vive Cosmetics
Leslie Valdivia co-founded Vive Cosmetics, a makeup brand for Latinx individuals, in 2017. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

“Working on campus, going to school and participating in extracurricular activities made my experience a really positive one, and I think that’s what led me to solidify connections in the community,” she said. “Sac State is really engrained in the community, and I think working here and having experiences here led me to having some great opportunities after I left.”

Valdivia held a variety of jobs after graduation, but her work with a local nonprofit as a financial assistant for low-income, Spanish-speaking families had the biggest impact. Meeting with struggling families who were nevertheless starting their own businesses put her own privilege – having a higher-education degree – into perspective and inspired her to do something greater with her skills.

She and Rosario came up with the concept for a Latinx-focused cosmetics company and applied for a small business loan through the nonprofit. Vive was born a few months later.

“The reason I got into communications was thinking about, how do I use myself and my language to create some kind of change or bring people knowledge for them to create change?” Valdivia said. “How can we uplift our community, and especially the community I belong to, in a positive light? And if it’s not there, how do I create that change or contribute to it?”

In December, the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce honored Valdivia with its Rising Estrella award, given annually to a young Latina professional making an impact in the Sacramento region.

Cathy Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, said the award recognizes not just Valdivia’s entrepreneurship but also her work in the community, such as the Youth Latinas Inspire conference she organizes annually at Sacramento State to discuss issues important to Latinx women.

“I see her as someone who’s going to be successful in business because she understands when you do good, you’ll do well,” Rodriguez said. “She is always going to have that part of her that knows giving back to the community, being a positive role model for others, and showing that there’s different paths in life to reach success is just as important as the bottom line.”

Sacramento State helped build for Valdivia, who recently quit her full-time job to focus solely on Vive, a foundation for the success that has followed. The University’s public-relations program and extracurricular activities provided practical skills and connections. It also exposed her to a diverse set of people and viewpoints while helping her become comfortable with her own identity.

“Finding community and relating to other people really helped me move forward, embracing who I was,” she said. “The brand I created is about embracing myself as a Latina, and all the diverse experiences we have.”

Super Bowl to Silicon Valley: Former Hornet, NFL football star builds new career at GoPro

Former Sac State football player Lonie Paxton ’00 (Communication Studies) enjoyed a successful 12-year career in the NFL, winning three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. Now, he’s forging a new career, working as a global entertainment marketer for GoPro.