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Anne Sweeney Shares Disney’s World with Pepperdine

Dean’s Executive Leadership Series
January 25, 2006

More than 400 students, faculty, alumni, and guests filled the Smothers Theatre at Pepperdine University’s Malibu campus to hear Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of the Disney-ABC Television Group, speak as part of the Graziadio School’s Dean’s Executive Leadership Series.

Anne Sweeney speaks with Dean Livingstone          Anne Sweeney speaks with Dean Livingstone

Named one of the most powerful women in business by The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and Forbes magazines and called the most powerful woman in entertainment by The Hollywood Reporter, Sweeney is the highest ranking female executive at the Walt Disney Company.  She is responsible for Disney’s global cable, satellite, and broadcast properties, including the ABC Television Network, Touchstone Television, ABC Family, Disney Channel and SOAPnet.

Speaking on the role of the entrepreneur in an established business, Ms. Sweeney shared details of how Disney has stayed competitive in the rapidly changing world of entertainment seemingly dominated by “new media.”  She asserted that embracing and searching for innovative opportunities within these new technological advances is key.

“If you look at this emerging reality in terms of what it does to your established business, it’s scary.  If you look at it in terms of all the new opportunities and possibilities it creates to take your business forward – it gets really exciting,” said Ms. Sweeney. “Every established business has to have those people inside who are constantly looking for and generating that excitement.  It’s those internal entrepreneurs that keep a company relevant and meaningful to its consumers.”

A Candid Exchange with Dean Livingstone

After Ms. Sweeney’s speech, she sat down with Dean Linda Livingstone to answer questions submitted by Graziadio School students and alumni.  Dean Livingstone -- who admitted to being a huge fan of ABC’s “Commander in Chief” -- asked Ms. Sweeney what traits she looks for in a prospective employee when hiring at her organization.  Ms. Sweeney stressed curiosity as a major determining factor. 

“It’s all about the kinds of questions you ask in the interview that reveal people as smart and ambitious,” Ms. Sweeney said.  “It’s really looking at people and seeing how they truly are curious.  Are they just banging their head against the wall when they can’t figure something out?  Those are the people who I populate my teams with; these are the people who are exciting to me.”

Ms. Sweeney credits her own curiosity as the secret to her success.  After taking a job as a page at ABC after college, she realized her dream was to work in television.  “Then I really spent the rest of my life taking jobs that I was curious about, taking jobs that I didn’t already know how to do, taking jobs that, quite honestly, would scare me to death.”

She advises others working in business to continue to remain curious, no matter what level they are at in their jobs.  “Never, ever give that up,” she said.

A Valuable Experience for Students and Alumni

Students and alumni were thrilled to learn first-hand from one of the country’s most influential business leaders.  “It was so interesting to hear her talk about a company this big embracing innovation, coming out of the box and not just saying, ‘this is the way we’ve done it in the past,’” said Nazee Hajevi, a Graziadio School Fully Employed MBA student.  “It motivated me … I really enjoyed it, and I hope we have more of them.  And let our dean know!”
Sacha Weinberg, an alumna from the Full-time MBA program, was especially honored to attend the event because of the opportunity to hear from a top-ranking female executive.  “It’s great to hear her perspective on what other young women can do to succeed in their careers.”

Jennifer Sakurai, also an alumna from the Full-time MBA program, said she enjoys attending the Dean’s Executive Leadership Series because it offers valuable business knowledge that cannot be learned in the classroom.  “You always learn something new and different,” she said.  “It’s also an excellent opportunity for networking.” 

At the end of the event, Dean Livingstone presented Ms. Sweeney with a gift that united both the Pepperdine and Disney spirit:  a giant Winnie-the-Pooh sporting a Pepperdine hat, scarf, and pin.

The Dean’s Executive Leadership Series brings some of the country’s most prominent business leaders to the Graziadio School to offer invaluable insight and advice to students and alumni.  The series supports the Graziadio School of Business and Management’s mission to provide real-world business knowledge, both in and out of the classroom.