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Rob Presnell
  Rob Presnell

From Ross to Red Carpet

11/8/2010 --

Rob Presnell, MBA '11, connected with a U-M alum to pursue his dream of working in the entertainment industry.

Since he was young, Rob Presnell has always loved music and movies. But he assumed those were passions, not the basis for a career. He never thought attending the Ross School would help him turn those passions into a role as COO of a local entertainment company whose first feature film is premiering in Ann Arbor on Nov. 20 (tickets available at

Presnell describes First Element Entertainment, the Detroit-based entertainment company where he acts as chief operating officer, as "a place where people get up and run despite being told whatever they're trying to do can't be done." The company was founded in 2008 by Adrian Walker, a fellow University of Michigan alum, with the goal producing film, music, and digital media geared toward changing how the world views entertainment content.

"Like many independent filmmakers and media content providers, we realized the industry was quickly changing," says Walker. "Instead of following the trodden path, we wanted to branch out and try new things that could be groundbreaking."

Presnell connected with Walker through a mutual friend (also a U-M alum).

"As a U-M student, I can reach out to almost anyone in the network and hear back from them within a few days," says Presnell. "That doesn't happen just anywhere."

When Walker learned about Presnell's shared love for music, film, and digital media, he immediately knew they could do something great together.

"Rob's passion for music is obvious," says Walker. "But I was also looking for someone with the business skills to do the behind-the-scenes work that so many people neglect when going into entertainment."

For Presnell's part, getting an MBA from Ross has helped him see problems from multiple angles. But he never assumed he would even have the privilege of getting a graduate degree, let alone an undergraduate one.

As a first generation college student who secured a job doing consulting for Deloitte before he had even graduated, Presnell believed he had already made it farther than he should have. But he says he never let statistics determine his path, so he persisted toward his goal of getting an MBA. He doesn't regret that persistence.

"Being at Ross has definitely opened my mind to things that it was closed to before," he says. "I think that's strictly from taking the core classes and seeing things from different perspectives."

Presnell also appreciates being able to use the Ross network to connect with people from various industries.

"Learning about an industry from an academic perspective is great, but being able to talk to someone who's actually working in the field is more valuable," he says. "They can give you insight about what's happening in the moment — and what's likely to happen in the near future."

That insight helped Presnell and Walker produce First Element's first feature film, The Art of Power. The movie tells the story of three young adults living in Washington, D.C., who become entangled in a complex web of corruption, love, and vengeance. The film's red carpet premiere will be held at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.

"Being a Ross MBA and a COO of an entertainment company have taught me that it's all about execution," says Presnell. "At First Element, we don't assume anything can't be done. But we do know we have to execute it right."

The company currently is working on executing the promotion of The Art of Power, but Presnell says he's also working on the music arm of First Element by scouting talent, connecting with music producers and recording engineers, and looking for distribution companies that will be a good fit for the changing market.

"I think I'm going to learn as much by reflecting on my MBA as I have during it," says Presnell. "As I pursue my career in entertainment and consulting, I'm going to realize everything I actually took away from this experience."

—Leah Sipher-Mann

For more information, contact:
Leah Sipher-Mann, (734) 936-8421,