Missiles to the Mouse: Disney Executive Shares Lessons Learned From Career, UVA Darden

30 August 2016

By Dave Hendrick

Bonnie Matosich’s (MBA ’92) career journey to lead brand development at one of the world’s largest diversified media and entertainment companies started, of all places, at the Central Intelligence Agency.

Speaking to the Class of 2018 during the first week of the new school year at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, Matosich, the vice president of brand development at The Walt Disney Co., said the skills honed at the agency in the latter part of the Cold War were not as incongruous with subsequent business development and marketing roles at Disney as one might think. Critical thinking and the ability to analyze, synthesize and present were all key skills in both enterprises.

Even with a solid foundation in place, however, the catalyst for her effective pivot “from missiles to the mouse,” as Matosich termed it, proved to be Darden.

“It took Darden to enable me to think about those skills in the business context,” said Matosich.

The Disney exec, who also attended a case study with Darden First Years pertaining to the opening of the Shanghai Disney Resort, further credited Darden with helping her discover her professional passion: consumer strategy. An internship with Procter & Gamble and a first post-Darden job at McKinsey helped hone those skills, but Matosich said she knew she wanted to ultimately apply them in a dynamic consumer environment.

The ideal combination for Matosich’s interests proved to be consumer and brand strategy in the entertainment industry, a sector that has shifted almost constantly during her tenure at Disney, and where the very notion of what constitutes a television show is up for debate.

In addition to helping to point the way toward a professional passion, Matosich said the skills honed at Darden help students thrive in their future workplaces. The Disney leader distilled her own key pieces of career advice to:

  • Operate at 50,000 feet and at ground level
  • Master the data
  • Achieve clarity through the clutter
  • Build alignment and make things happen

A common theme of the directives was the importance of having a true enterprise view of the workplace, as well as the ability to understand how data and various moving parts can come together to spur results.

In presenting a case for action, the effective team member needs to be able to say: “We learned this, and it means this and we need to do this as a result,” Matosich said.

Even when rationales for action are clearly presented, however, Matosich said the most critical skill often comes next, when it is time to rally colleagues around a goal.

Said Matosich: “It’s one thing to do a strategy that you believe in. It’s a whole other thing to get everyone on board, determine specific actions to take, and then actually get things done.”

That ability to work across teams and build consensus is arguably the most sought after skill for recruiters, Matosich said, adding that no school develops those talents like Darden.

Matosich’s address came in the midst of the Career Development Center’s Career Discovery Forums,  three days of programming that give First Year residential MBA students the opportunity to hear directly from Darden alumni who are high-level practitioners in sought-after professional fields, including consulting, entrepreneurship, investment banking, marketing and technology, among others.

In addition to Disney, returning alumni represented companies including Bain, Microsoft, Amazon, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson, among other companies.

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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