Fresno native A. Jerrold “Jerry” Perenchio, who built Univision into the largest Spanish-language television company in the United States, received an honorary doctorate on Saturday, May 21, at California State University, Fresno’s Centennial Commencement.
President John D. Welty conferred the honorary Doctor of Fine Arts on Perenchio upon the authority of the California State University Board of Trustees, recognizing his contributions in entertainment and communication and his commitment to art education and philanthropy.
Accepting the degree, Perenchio brought a roar from the crowd of 1,600 graduates and more than 9,000 friends and family filling the Save Mart Center on campus when he declared: This is my hometown and I’m damn proud!”
He also drew a laugh when he held up a certified copy of his birth certificate, saying, “This erases any doubts of where and when I was born.”
Perenchio said that as a child in Fresno, he could never have imagined the career he would have. He encouraged the graduates to dream big and said success could be theirs as it was his with “lots of hard work, perseverance, mentoring, faith, ambition and a good dose of luck.”
He counseled members of the Class of 2011 to pay attention to four basic principles that have guided his success:
- Honesty is the best policy – the only policy.
- Do your homework and be prepared.
- Never lose your sense of humor.
- Always take the high road.
Over the course of 55 years, Perenchio, who lives in Southern California, has made his mark in almost every facet of the communications and entertainment industries. He started as a successful Hollywood talent agent, sports event promoter and, with partner Norman Lear, television producer.
In 1992, he and two business partners acquired Univision Communications, which they built into a Fortune 500 company and the most dominant Spanish-language television network in the country. He was Univision’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer until it was sold in 2007.
Univision grew to consist of Univision Network, the most-popular Spanish-language broadcast network in the U.S.; the Univision Television Group, which owned and operated 13 full-power and eight low-power TV stations; and Galavision, the country’s most-watched Spanish-language cable TV network.
Perenchio continues to run Chartwell Partners LLC, a private investment and consulting firm he founded in the late 1980s.
Perenchio’s grandparents emigrated from Italy to the United States, settling in Fresno in 1920.
Born in 1930 to Andrew and Dorothea Perenchio, Jerry Perenchio attended Fresno’s Easterby Elementary School and Roosevelt High School. He graduated from high school in Los Angeles and received a Bachelor of Science degree from UCLA in 1954.
He joined the Air Force as a 2nd lieutenant, becoming a jet-fighter pilot. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant and served for nearly three years.
In 1958, he joined MCA as an agent in the Band and Act Department. He started his own agency, Perenchio Artists, in 1964 and merged with another agency to become Chartwell Artists in 1967, which became the fifth-largest talent agency in the world.
In 1971, Perenchio co-promoted the Muhammad-Joe Frazier world heavyweight boxing championship, considered by many the greatest fight of the century. Two years later he promoted the Bobby Riggs/Billie Jean King “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match that drew the largest live audience and largest viewing audience ever for tennis match.
From 1973 to 1985, Perenchio and partner Norman Lear presided over Tandem Productions/Embassy Television, a television/feature film production, distribution and home video entertainment company.
They were the most successful producers of prime-time television at the time. Hit shows included: “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “ Good Times,” “The Jeffersons,” “Mary Hartman Mary Hartman,” “One Day At a Time,” “The Facts of Life,” “Who’s the Boss,” “ Diff’rent Strokes” and “Silver Spoons.”
In 1977, Perenchio founded ON-TV in Los Angeles, an early over-the-air subscription television service, selling his interest to partners five years later. In 1982, he co-produced the cult science-fiction film “Blade Runner,” and in 1989, in partnership with Richard Zanuck, produced “Driving Miss Daisy,” which won the Best Picture Academy Award.
He purchased Loews Theaters in 1985 and sold the company two years later.
Through the Chartwell Charitable Foundation, Perenchio and his wife, Margie, are major supporters of education and the arts in the Fresno area and many charitable causes in Southern California.
He has three grown children from a previous marriage, five granddaughters and one grandson.