Women’s Social Media Success Stories – Disney and Anne Sweeney
This is the 3rd installment of Women’s Social Media Success Stories.
To read the first installment regarding Kraft Foods and its prominent leader Ms. Irene Rosenfeld, please click here.
To read the second installment regarding PepsiCo and its hugely accomplished CEO Indra Nooyi, please click here.
To fully understand the selection process, please click here.
Co-Chair Disney Media Networks and President Disney♦ABC Television Group
The temptation is great, when discussing Anne Sweeney’s celebrated career, to recite her long list of accomplishments as Wall Street would view them. But to do so, in my view, would be to minimize the core reasons for her success in today’s rapidly changing world.
- While it is true that she has been called “the most powerful woman in Hollywood” by high-level agents, producers and even rival executives, she is much more than that.
- While it is true that she has delivered revenue to Disney Media Networks of more than $17 billion, that is not her most important contribution.
- While it is true that she oversees properties valued at a colossal $61 billion, that is not her most important corporate achievement.
- While it is true that over 10,000 employees call her boss, that is not her primary management characteristic.
- And while it is true that Forbes ranks her as one of “The World’s Most Powerful Women,” her sex is essentially immaterial — merely an asterisk on her impressive resume.
The Core Reasons
The core reasons for her unparalleled success are more about who she is than what she does.
Anne Sweeney is the media executive who best epitomizes the magical promise that Social Media purports to deliver: A pioneer without barriers — who admires innovation, revels in intellectual curiosity, embraces technology and expands her horizons continually.
She is a person who asks “What’s next?” not “Why should we?”
She is a person for whom the “story” is paramount, and who truly understands that brands must connect and engage with consumers.
At her stratospheric level of success, it is impossible to ignore the politics that surround her — it is a fact of corporate life — but she understands that the only safe harbor from the political storms is the bottom-line. Accomplishment is the best weapon in her arsenal, and she is very well-armed.
The tops of most corporations, like the tops of most mountain ranges, are remarkably similar.
Just as most mountains are crowned with snow, the tops of most corporations are surrounded by challenges.
Sometimes those challenges have been met by predecessors, or by peers within your industry, and solutions require nothing more than paying attention to what others have done in similar circumstances. Occasionally, however, the challenges are startlingly new and without precedent.
In those singular situations, senior executives must decide whether to meet those challenges head-on, or to side-step them, looking for safer ground.
Anne Sweeney has proven her value in those challenging moments, by embracing the unknown and welcoming it.
A good example was her reaction to the Apple iPod when it first appeared on the scene.
While many senior executives recoil at new technology devices, adopting an ultraconservative wait-and-see attitude, Anne Sweeney responded to the video iPod with enthusiasm and a spirit of exploration.
For her the iPod was not merely a new technology device, it was a paradigm-shifting opportunity.
She saw it as an exciting way for Disney to expand its reach — to touch an entirely new audience that intuitively she knew would develop.
That intuition placed Anne Sweeney in the rarefied air previously reserved for innovators like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
I lived in Hawaii as a young man, and I was intrigued by the surfers and the way they approached their sport.
In calm waters it was difficult to tell the novice surfers from the experts. But as a towering set of waves appeared on the horizon, each surfer was required to make a choice. Some would wait for the next wave until it was too late, but others would paddle like crazy until they were swept up by the power of the wave, taking the ultimate risk and flying into the exaltation that only risk-takers fully understand.
There are fundamentally two ways to approach change: You can ignore it until it is too late, or you can paddle like crazy into an uncertain future.
Anne Sweeney has proven time after time that she is unafraid. And that fearlessness has translated into soaring profits and wide-spread acclaim.
One of the central mistakes made by many companies, especially in the evolving era of Social Media, is that they fear innovation.
All too often, company executives cling to the past — reinventing old strategies that have proven successful before — instead of grasping at innovation when it appears.
Social Media has forever changed the standard marketing protocols. It is no longer acceptable to roll out a new product simply because it is what you have always done.
Instead you must listen to your customers: Paying attention to their needs rather than your own.
Instead you must adapt to the way your customers live their lives: Paying attention to how they integrate emerging technology into the daily expression of how they prefer to live.
Anne Sweeney is a master at grasping innovation. She considers it a daily task, and she expects it from her entire team. For this reason alone, she will continue to excel.
Perhaps the most representative anecdote that capsulizes Anne Sweeney’s success, began with her attendance at the much anticipated Steve Jobs’ introduction of the iPad.
During that presentation, Jobs repeated what was to become the mantra of Apple’s magical new product: “Imagine if you could hold the Internet in your hand!”
What an astonishing concept.
To her immense credit, instead of worrying about the impact of this phenomenal new technology product, or being jealous of the inevitable Apple success, Anne Sweeney asked her staff the next day: “What would you do if you could hold the Internet in your hand?”
The resulting avalanche of new and innovative ideas, propelled Disney♦ABC toward the development of the ABC iPad App, and with it another new era of unbridled success.
Anne Sweeney had once again proven herself to be a professional of the highest stature and accomplishment.
We live in a world of new ideas: An important trend that is guaranteed to continue. Executives like Anne Sweeney, who approach innovation with excitement rather than dread, will be the trendsetters in this new world, and with fearlessness will come praise and profits.
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