Familiar sounds: Jack and Felicia Cashin keep their business casual
“Jack is a very laid-back guy and I would never picture him working for a corporation,” declares Felicia Cashin, VP of USL, Inc. and manager of the company’s general business operations since 1986. She is also the wife of the company founder and president, Jack Cashin.
“Jack functions under his own light and he would never thrive in a corporate atmosphere. This said, he really does know the direction of this industry and very much knows what he wants to get done and how. It is my job to see that what he wants to get done is done. We often call him a donkey,” she admits with a laugh and obvious affection. “When Jack has a goal in mind, he does not change his mind too easily. He won’t confront someone who is telling him how that someone thinks it should be done. He’ll listen quietly, then go away and do what he was going to do to begin with. Perseverance is a good way to put it.”
When Felicia Cashin first started working with Jack, he was operating out of his unfinished house in the Malibu Hills. “Without doubt, that house has the longest building permit history in Malibu, because he built it by himself,” she fondly recalls. “There were just three of us there. We started our business off small and friendly and it has always remained that way.”
Even though he is the only person she knows “who doesn’t like holiday parties, Jack is very dedicated to our employees,” Felicia assures. “When I asked him why do you hate them so much, he once said, ‘I realize that our employees, their wives and families depend on us to make their house payments, to put their kids through school or whatever they are doing… And they all look at me and think I know what I am doing.’ He is very mindful of the responsibility that we have to the people that we employ.”
Not surprisingly, many of their employees have shared a majority of the 30 years with the Cashins. Whether it was during the first relocation to a larger space in Tarzana, Calif., or especially during the final, and much further, move north to San Luis Obispo in 1997, the USL crew followed. “Of the 35 people we employed at the time, 20 moved up here with us.” Felicia Cashin concurs that USL has created a family atmosphere. “It surely is. Some of them even lived at our house until they found their own place to live,” she chuckles at the memory. “We knew some would eventually be leaving us, but they came along to help us get started.”
Felicia and Jack themselves first bonded over a helping hand. Signed up for a dating service by friends at the time, “our first date was a movie, but I wasn’t even sure what Jack was doing for a living.” Though she doesn’t remember either the title or the theatre (“It wasn’t a miracle movie”), nor “where we went to dinner afterwards,” Felicia does recall with a loud laugh that Jack wore his sweater inside out. (More on clothing later.) “That was one of the very few times in my life that I was not working full-time,” she goes on. “So, after dating for a while, I decided to go to Malibu and help him out. I would find piles and piles of mail everywhere. Jack just put everything into big bags. Most of it was junk mail but you would also find bank statements in there, of course. I said to myself, ‘This man needs help.’ I cleaned up all that and we’ve moved on and forward from there ever since.”
“Oddly enough,” having grown up in West Hollywood and graduating from Hollywood High School, Cashin “never wanted to be in the movies.” But one of her first jobs did prepare her for the engineering side. “I worked at a very interesting, small-capacitor company that hired only women for customer service. You know, before women’s lib… They gave us one of the best training programs that I have ever had at any company. They made sure we understood what a capacitor was, how it worked, about the tolerances, and so on. We could—and would—impress any man that called in,” she says with audible glee. “We had a lot of calls and they all liked talking with us.”
Not surprisingly, customer service is one of the areas that Felicia Cashin has taken charge of at USL. “I always enjoyed it, so that part of the business falls on me.” Again, a fond memory from the early days showed her that she was on the right track with Jack at USL. “One of our important clients at the time told me, ‘I am so glad you’re there. We’ve always loved Jack’s products, but we’ve been a little afraid of ordering them. Now we can feel confident that our orders will be put into the system and that we’ll actually get them on time.’”
“There is a disaster every day,” Cashin further attests, laughing. “Everything is a disaster to Jack at the moment. And half an hour later it’s over with and he has moved on.” She recalls one of her early experiences during the Malibu days. “I don’t remember exactly what the part was, but it was supposed to go out and it just wasn’t working right. Jack is moaning and groaning, ‘Oh, this is the end.’ Yadda yadda. So I start looking at our accounts-payable trying to figure who we are going to pay before we go out of business… About an hour later, I hear music coming from the testing room. Jack and our technician were sitting there with whatever card it was. ‘Is it working?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yeah, of course.’ Here I was putting the company into bankruptcy and they’ve moved on like it was nothing. We’ve had fun through the years, no doubt about it.”
“I remember the first trade show I attended with Jack, back in 1986. He wasn’t much into impressing people with his appearance,” she recalls, setting the tone for the next adventure. “He loaded everything into his pick-up truck and we drove over to Las Vegas. Everything that was in and at the booth, including signage, was all done by his own hands. Meanwhile, everybody was so impressed that I had gotten Jack to wear a suit, albeit one with a frayed collar,” she deadpans. “And that he had cut his hair to boot. Nowadays, you don’t see too many people at these shows wearing suits anymore. We have some really beautiful suits in the closet now, but it is still hard to get Jack to wear one. No, I don’t get him into a suit too often.”
While ShowEast attendees will see if Felicia succeeded this time around, she was not around during the first Technical Achievement Awards ceremony. “I went when the Academy honored Jack for the second time. And, yes, he did wear a suit then. The event was quite amazing and truly an honor for him and to be recognized for our work.” Jack and Felicia, the entire company in fact, are equally proud of receiving a record five Teddy Awards as “Manufacturer of the Year” from their industry peers at the International Cinema Equipment Association in 1991, 1995, 2006, 2007 and 2009. In November 2001, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers bestowed its Samuel L. Warner Memorial Medal on Jack Cashin for his “outstanding contributions in the design and development of new and improved methods for sound-on-film motion pictures.”
Under Jack and Felicia’s guidance, the USL family does not just extend to its dealers and customers, nor to employees and engineers alone, but also to the community at large. Even pets are part of the family. Dedicated dog lovers and caretakers of award winning Brussels Griffon show dogs, the Cashins make sure that every day is “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” at USL. (For more information about the Ultra Pups, visit www.uslinc.com/ultra-pups/index.html.)
It speaks to their modesty that someone else in the company made sure we had the extensive list of charities that the Cashins support (in alphabetical order): American Heart Association, Baskets for Christmas, Central Coast Rescue Mission, Deputy Sheriff’s Association of San Luis Obispo, Dorothea Lange Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, Grass Roots II, Hospice Partners, Outside the Wire USA, Prado Day Center, San Luis Obispo Foundation for the Performing Arts, Shore Cliffs Lodge, and Woods Humane Society. In addition to taking an active role in the National Brussels Griffon Rescue, Felicia Cashin has dedicated much of her fundraising for the past ten years to foster care as part of their Access Foundation.
Her final story for this article—many more are surely to be told over the next 30 years—does show one more time how the notion of family is very much at the heart of the USL business. “We decided to take over as foster parents to one of the children my girlfriend was fostering. Clayton was 12 years old and could be very engaging. What a challenge we took on! Neither Jack nor I had any experience raising kids, and Clayton ended up being raised by the entire staff of USL. Our favorite statement about Clayton was that when he was good he was very good, but oh, when he was bad, he was very bad. Somehow we managed…and he now lives in Ohio and calls us frequently. I guess we can say he turned out OK.”
More so, perhaps, considering that he became the reason the Cashins started a charity. “The Access Foundation gives money to young people coming out of foster care to help them with their education,” she elaborates. “Suddenly at 18, they are out there in the world again, without much of an education or means to support themselves. We helped some of girls who’ve had babies with childcare money so that they can go right back to school. We’ve supported others in learning a trade and paid car insurance when they had jobs to get to but couldn’t afford the premiums. These are small amounts of money, but overall they can really help many kids that are coming out of the foster-care system. We know whom we are helping here and we see the amazing results.”