Distinguished Young Alumni Award
Jason Alan Kilar ’93
People who know Jason Kilar ’93 will go on and on about his extraordinary accomplishments — not the least of which is starting Hulu.com and leading the online TV service to a place on innovation and invention lists right alongside the Hadron Collider, Google and Team Obama. And they rarely fail to end with, “And he’s such a nice guy.”
Jason has what his former roommate Mike Lehr ’93 calls “the triple threat”: He’s smart, creative and energetic.
After Carolina won the NCAA basketball championship in their senior year, Jason and his roommates vowed to attend every future Final Four championship game in which the Tar Heels played. Last year, Jason was in Hawaii on vacation with his three children and his wife, who was very pregnant with their fourth child, the Saturday night that UNC won the semifinal game. As soon as the final buzzer sounded, he consulted with Jamie, called former roommate Akbar Sharfi ’93, and on Sunday morning boarded a flight to hopscotch across sea and land, arriving in Detroit 24 hours later to spend a little time with his friend and watch the Tar Heels win a very special Final Four. Then he started the 24-hour trek back.
What amazed Akbar was not only that Jason, despite his financial success, would go through the pain of 48 hours of no-frills flying, but that Jamie ’95 understood why he had to go. As Mike said, “Jason is publicly successful in business and privately successful in his family. And he loves Carolina.”
Jason’s professional success is awe-inspiring. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in journalism and business administration, he worked for the Walt Disney Co., a stint that included putting together traveling amusement parks in South America, then earned an MBA from Harvard. Rather than join a big-name corporation, Jason signed on with a little startup called Amazon.com. After writing the business plan for Amazon’s entry into the video and DVD businesses and working his way up to senior vice president for worldwide application software, he left to start Hulu from scratch.
Journalism school professor John Sweeney ’86 noted Jason’s unusual combination of tremendous creativity without any accompanying eccentricities or volatile artistic temperament. “And then he goes to the most quantified, mathematically driven business school and does well there,” John said. “He’s one of these people I can really say ‘wow’ about.”
Akbar, also a Harvard MBA, said most people who graduate from top-tier business schools fall into one of two buckets: They’re either exceptional at managing people and go on to run companies, or they are really smart deal-makers and succeed at transactions and finance. Jason excels at both. “You rarely see those two skill sets in the same body,” Akbar said.
In little more than three years, Jason took the idea for Hulu, “traditional media’s answer to YouTube,” as John Sweeney calls it, and made it succeed beyond all critical odds. The joint venture of News Corp., NBC Universal, the Walt Disney Co. and Providence Equity Partners collected videos from nearly 190 content companies. The Hulu website offers full TV shows and movies free — for now — and enviable return for advertisers and satisfying remuneration for Hulu. Jason’s team has grown to about 200 people, and as Hulu’s chief, he is the recipient of numerous accolades. Fortune magazine and Rolling Stone both named him to their “40 Under 40” lists. And just this month, Vanity Fair magazine listed him as one of the top 100 of “The New Establishment.” The UJA Federation bestowed a humanitarian award upon him.
Among the experiences that shaped him, Jason says, are the professors and students he got to know at UNC, and the culture at Carolina that showed him that taking the high road, the hard-working path, was the way to go.
Jason won’t talk about where his phenomenal creativity will take him next, other than to say Hulu is his future. John Sweeney says, for clues, look at Jason’s past. “He’s always doing something interesting,” John said. “He’s comfortable with taking risks and with people disagreeing with him. He’s going to do whatever interests him next.”