28 Sep 2015
Rockin’ for a Cause
Cover band drums up support for California school programsby Deborah BlaggTopics:
Photo by Gary Laufman
Despite the obvious temptation, Jeff Scheel (MBA 1990) has not yet given up his day job in favor of his frontman role in the Wildcats, a classic rock dance band the New York Times once dubbed “perhaps the most popular Palo Alto dad band.”
“It’s the ‘perhaps’ that really hurts,” laughs Scheel, a senior vice president at Symantec by day, and by night—well, at least seven or eight nights a year—a no-holds-barred guitarist, vocalist, and emcee for a band that donates its earnings to local schools.
The Wildcats first came together 15 years ago to play at fundraisers for the cash-strapped Palo Alto public schools, which the Scheels’ four children have all attended. Scheel’s wife, Susan, was an early leader of Palo Alto Partners in Education (PiE), a foundation that provides supplemental funds to support worthwhile programs—such as art, music, tutoring, and counseling—that would otherwise fall victim to California’s statewide budget cuts.
“Susan’s group came up with a new model of distributing funds district-wide instead of school-by-school,” Scheel explains. “Because of that, PiE appeals not just to individual donors, but also to institutions and businesses based in the area that have a stake in quality education and want to invest in the district overall.”
Since their first appearance on PiE’s behalf—a two-hour event where the band had to cycle through their nine-song repertoire multiple times—the Wildcats have raised more than $300,000 for the organization, which now provides nearly three-quarters of the flexible funding available to principals in the Palo Alto school district. “Most of the band members either have or had kids in Palo Alto schools, so that’s a huge motivator,” says Scheel.
“But since most of us have jobs that are outside of music,” he adds, “getting a chance to step out of those roles and cut loose with music we love is also just a blast.”
When Scheel is not cutting loose onstage, he’s in charge of mergers and acquisitions, corporate strategy, and technology partnerships at Symantec, a Mountain View, California-based cyber-security firm. A veteran in the industry with recent experience in late-stage start-ups such as Mandiant and ArcSight, Scheel joined the company in 2014. Symantec is spinning off Veritas, a storage and back-up business it acquired a decade ago. “The synergy hasn’t been right, so we’re divesting,” he notes. “When that’s done, we’ll use the proceeds to strengthen Symantec as the largest stand-alone cyber-security company.”
Despite the demands of his work schedule, carving out time for Wildcats’ practices has not been an issue for Scheel at Symantec, possibly because the company’s CEO also happens to be long-time Wildcats keyboard player Michael Brown. “We’ve played together for 15 years, but this is the first time we’ve worked together,” Scheel notes. “It’s pretty crazy.”
Not all members of the Wildcats (named after Palo Alto’s Walter Hays school mascot) have been with the band as long as Brown, Scheel, and drummer Hank Berry, who assembled the original group. “People have changed jobs or moved on,” Scheel says, “but we’ve always made sure to have the three essential rock band elements: a strong drummer, a solid bass player, and a ‘real’ guitarist.”
Although Scheel has been playing guitar since the third grade, he doesn’t count himself in the “same strata” as band members with music-industry credentials. “The rest of us are pretty good musicians,” he says, “good enough to know the difference between ourselves and the professionals in the band.”
Google and Glitz
Over the years the Wildcats have expanded their set list, which now includes distinctive cover versions of more than 70 songs, ranging from Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” to The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno.” Their client base has also grown. “We still play fundraisers that target specific school programs,” notes Scheel, “but we also play parties and weddings, where we can make anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000 a night for the schools. One time we even played for shares of Google stock. That was a pretty good gig.”
When it comes to glitz and fame, the band may have reached its high-water mark in the spring of 2015 during a surprise appearance before 3,000 people at a Symantec sales conference at the Hakkasan Nightclub in Las Vegas. “No one knew we were doing it,” Scheel says. “Until we went backstage to get ready, Mike and I were just mingling with the salespeople. The next time anyone saw us, he was on keyboards wearing a gold lamé jacket, and I was wearing a blond wig and singing ‘Born to be Wild.’”
Scheel would be the last person to downplay the enjoyment he gets from his Wildcats role, but as a parent, former Little League commissioner, and soccer coach, he gets serious when he talks about Partners in Education. “Everyone talks about California’s budget problems and the impact on schools,” he notes. “But it’s usually just a small percentage of committed parents in each school who try to help.”
By partnering with local and national businesses, “PiE has been able to expand the possibilities beyond saving one school’s art program or another school’s annual field trip to study the Bay,” Scheel stresses. “The foundation has contributed $30 million to Palo Alto schools since it began. It’s really an honor for the band to be a part of that community success story.”
Class of MBA 1990, Section A