Introduction

After growing up in South Carolina and attending W&L, I moved to New York for law school at NYU, and I never left. I live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with my wife of 30+ years, Shari Kushner. We have two daughters, who also live and work in New York: Jamie, who graduated from W&L in 2021, and her sister Casey.

Currently, I focus much of my professional time on alternative dispute resolution, serving as an arbitrator and mediator, based in New York City and Georgetown, South Carolina, but working throughout the US and internationally (see https://usherwinslett.com/).

I am also managing partner and head of the dispute resolution practice group for the New York based law firm Winslett Studnicky McCormick & Bomser LLP (http://wsmblaw.com/attorneys/usher-winslett/).

I began my legal career in New York City as a commercial litigator at Thacher Proffitt & Wood. I left Thacher to join the senior management team of then-fledgling Razor & Tie Entertainment. During my tenure there, Razor & Tie grew to be one of North America’s largest privately owned media companies, including one of the nation’s most successful direct marketers of entertainment products, a media-buying unit, a marketing unit, a publishing company, and a record label with multiple Gold and Platinum releases.

I left Razor & Tie to join Digital Club Network (now part of eMusic) as Chief Operating Officer. I was part of the senior management team that took DCN from a start-up to the world’s largest aggregator of live concert recordings and a successful record label specializing in live music recordings. At DCN, we produced the world’s largest online music event, with over 200 acts including blink-182, Wu Tang Clan, Wilco, Jefferson Starship, X, Patti Smith, Widespread Panic, Mos Def, and Sonic Youth, performing at 25 venues around the country—all webcast live. In addition, we signed recording deals with some of the most prominent up-and-coming acts in the country, as well as industry legends, ranging from John Legend to Dispatch to Ralph Stanley.

After DCN, I was co-founder and CEO of Odin Media (a producer of technology-enabled marketing solutions for companies like Comcast and Cablevision), before co-founding my current firm in 2008.

In addition, my diverse career has also included starting a company that imported and distributed shoes from Argentina; serving as executive producer on multiple albums, music videos, and a film; and serving a deputy campaign manager for a United States Congressperson.

The voice I can bring to the board

I am a passionate supporter of progressive changes at W&L, so I would bring that voice to the Board of Trustees, but, equally important, I would do my best to bring an empathetic ear. My advocacy for progress at W&L has been educated by a 43-year relationship with the institution—as a student, active alumnus, and parent—and decades as a dispute resolution professional. That experience has shown me that changes at W&L can come only through painstaking diplomacy.

I was a student at W&L before co-education. Many of my classmates and friends vehemently opposed admitting women, so I learned how to be a diplomatic advocate for change at W&L in the ‘80’s. Those skills were further refined by my service on the Alumni Board of Directors from 1996 to 2000. More recently—through my daughter who graduated from W&L in 2021—I have seen the university through the lens of an applicant and a student, with the backdrop of political unrest dominating the country.

The most fervent supporters and most zealous opponents of changes at W&L are both motivated by what they believe to be the best interest of the university. So any productive discussion needs to begin with a validation of that motivation, not an out-of-the-blocks condemnation of the opposing position.

I took this approach in my letter to the Board regarding the name-change debate, directly addressing—and refuting—each point contained in a letter signed by over 60 Emeritus Trustees, and I was gratified to learn that at least some of those Emeritus Trustees were influenced by my arguments. The letter was also well received by the W&L community at large, and an edited version was the first of about 20 such letters published in the W&L Magazine.

Unfortunately, the W&L community is extremely polarized right now, so any change will take more than a fiery voice. It will require a clear vision for change, coupled with an awareness of the pre-co-education mindset, along with the viewpoint of current students, and the disposition of a mediator. I can bring all those things to the conversation.

My service to the University community

I currently serve on the W&L Annual Fund Council and as Class Agent. In the past, I have served on the Parents Leadership Council, multiple reunion committees, the Alumni Board of Directors, and as president of the New York Alumni Chapter. As a student I was an admissions tour guide, which was a volunteer position at the time.

Other community service

As a mediator, I regularly handle federal court cases on a pro bono basis. I am also active in the American Bar Association, where I chair two subcommittees in the Dispute Resolution Section.

Relevant personal and professional experience

My 35+ years as an attorney would be beneficial to the Board’s Committee on Trusteeship and the Law School Committee. But more generally, my 25+ years serving as a mediator (and more that 160-hours of dispute-resolution training) equip me well for the issues to be considered by the Board in the next several years. Moreover, my decades of personal experience participating in endurance sports (e.g., New York Marathon, New York Triathlon) have taught me to approach most endeavors as a marathon rather than a sprint—to ignore the pain and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the finish line. That is the strategy necessary for Not Unmindful to achieve its goals through the W&L Board.

Accomplishments

I am not sure if any of these would be considered a credit to the school, but a few of my random accomplishments include:

  • I have served as lead counsel in multiple, highly publicized lawsuits, including a case involving what CNBC called “[t]he biggest art fraud in modern U.S. history” and a case resulting in the seizure of the assets of the Academy Award winning Best Picture Birdman
  • Related to my entrepreneurial ventures, I have frequently guest lectured at business schools, including the NYU Stern School of Business
  • I am a Fellow of the ABA Dispute Resolution Section and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators
  • My writing on dispute resolution has been published in The New York State Bar Association journal, New York Dispute Resolution Lawyer
  • I am on the mediation and arbitration panels and rosters of the AAA, CPR, FINRA, USCIB, and multiple federal courts
  • I served as deputy campaign manager on a successful Congressional campaign
  • I am the executive producer of music videos, a film, and several critically acclaimed albums, including John Legend’s second album

Other things to know about me

The aftermath of the Board’s name-change decision offers an unprecedented need and opportunity to advance a bold, progressive agenda for W&L. The university needs favorable earned media, and in the wake of recent events, I believe the Trustees would be willing to consider ideas that would have been pushed to the back burner, at best, in different times.

A couple ideas include: (1) raising money to provide full-ride scholarships (in the form of forgivable loans) to students, including law students, who commit to at least two years of public service after graduation; and (2) taking a page from the playbook that helped end apartheid in South Africa, requiring divestment of W&L endowment funds in companies doing business in countries that fail to meet criteria aimed at ending gender apartheid—and challenging other universities to do the same. Endeavors like these are not only the right thing to do, but they would allow W&L to attract and retain progressive students and faculty, which, in turn, would provide fertile ground for advancing Not Unmindful’s agenda.

Finally, I recognize that a 61-year-old white man may not be the ideal Board candidate. All else being equal, I think we all would prefer a candidate from a traditionally underrepresented community. I wrestled with that issue in deciding whether to run, and I ultimately decided that my long history with the university; my personal relationships with faculty, staff, current Board members, and Emeritus Trustees; and my skills in dispute resolution make me uniquely qualified for the position at this challenging transition in W&L’s history. In short, combating W&L’s fuddy-duddy-ism right now may require someone who speaks fuddy-duddy.