In early December, The Walt Disney Company hosted more than 35 LCLD Fellows at its Burbank, CA campus for a two-day Learning Experience unlike any other. From the Seven Dwarfs gazing down from rooftops (photo above), to the movie and television posters that adorned every building, the Disney corporate campus provided a unique and iconic setting.
In keeping with the larger-than-life spirit of Disney, the Fellows heard early on from two of the most influential leaders in global media and entertainment.
Alan Braverman, Senior Executive VP, General Counsel, and Secretary, welcomed the Fellows to Disney and provided insights on the importance of diversity in the pursuit of excellence. One of LCLD’s most active Board Members, Braverman spoke to his commitment to the LCLD mission and shared his personal belief that the word “diversity” should always be accompanied by “inclusion.”
He then introduced Robert Iger (left), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, who offered insights on the core values of leadership. He also discussed the challenges of keeping one of the oldest and most recognized brands in the world relevant in a rapidly changing world.
In a lively Q&A, the Fellows asked Iger about such topics as mindfulness, adjusting to change, and the ‘Weinstein effect’ shaping the national dialogue about sexual harassment and gender equality in the workplace.
Other top Disney leaders followed: Kevin Mayer, Senior VP and Chief Strategy Officer, provided an overview of Disney’s corporate strategy amid key industry trends. He outlined the company’s major investments and expansions and described Disney’s corporate ladder. Like other Disney executives, he was remarkably candid in answering questions from the Fellows.
After lunch and networking with the Disney Lawyers of Color (DLOC) and other Disney attorneys, Fellows heard from Karen Frederiksen, Associate General Counsel–Litigation, and Pro Bono Chair, highlighted Disney’s award-winning pro bono program, which provides in-house counsel with opportunities to contribute to the community.
Latondra Newton, who was recently named Chief Diversity Officer, spoke about Disney’s various diversity and inclusion initiatives, including the Dream Big, Princess campaign and the Disney Veterans Institute.
The final panel of the day emphasized the importance of storytelling, and gave Fellows a rare inside look at the making of blockbuster movies such as “Moana” and “Coco.” Featured were Dave Hollis, President, Theatrical Distribution, The Walt Disney Studios; Osnat Shurer, Producer, Pixar Animation Studios; and Victoria Alonso, Executive VP for Physical Production, Marvel Studios.
Panelists described the challenge of respectfully presenting diverse cultures in these films while remaining authentic. While describing the process of making the movies, panelists offered advice to Fellows on expressing themselves. “Don’t wait to be invited” to use your authentic voice, Ms. Alonso counseled, urging Fellows to speak up early and often to promote change.
Later, Fellows met for dinner with the DLOC Steering Committee and the Disney Legal leadership team, including GC Alan Braverman. Afterwards, they strolled to the main theatre on Disney’s campus, where they were treated to a screening of the newest Disney film, “Coco."
The first panel of the day focused on women leaders at Disney. Moderated by Christine McCarthy, Senior Executive VP and Disney’s first female Chief Financial Officer, the panel included Linda Bagley, Deputy General Counsel, Disney|ABC Television Group, Walt Disney International, and DLOC Executive Sponsor;Suzy Wilson, Deputy General Counsel, Intellectual Property and Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media; and Dorothy Atwood, Senior VP of Global Public Policy.Day two of the Learning Experience was equally impressive.
These executives discussed their roles within the organization while also sharing lessons learned during their impressive careers. They also provided advice to the audience of mid-career attorneys and challenged them to speak up (a theme throughout the event).
More talent was showcased in the next panel, which focused on Disney|ABC Television Group, a Disney Media Networks subsidiary, and the importance of diversity in the industry. Leading the discussion was Channing Dungey, President of ABC Entertainment, and the first African-American president of a major broadcast television network. She brought along Ayo Davis, Senior VP-Talent and Casting for ABC Entertainment and ABC Studios; Nahnatchka Khan, Creator and Executive Producer, “Fresh Off the Boat”; and Larry Wilmore, formerly of “The Daily Show” and “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore”—and now a Consulting Producer and Actor on “The Mayor.”
Closing the event, the Fellows heard from those who made the Learning Experience possible—the Disney Lawyers of Color (DLOC). After a video on DLOC and its mission, the Fellows walked to Legends Plaza for a group photo and were surprised by the most iconic Disney character of all—Mickey Mouse. Afterwards the DLOC extended their hospitality, inviting the Fellows to have lunch at the studio commissary, shop at the campus Disney store, and take a tour of the studio lot including the Disney archives, where items such as Mary Poppins' shoes are on display (right).
“I am so thankful for the opportunity to have been part of Disney’s Learning Experience,” said Karen Polyakov, a 2017 Fellow from Home Depot. “The opportunity to listen and learn from Disney’s C-Suite executives and panel discussions on issues ranging from the company’s business organization, challenges, and strategies, leadership skills and insights, and diversity and inclusion was truly invaluable. The legal department’s generosity, along with its dedication to providing a most memorable learning experience and attention to detail were evident in every discussion and activity. On behalf of the 2017 Fellows who were fortunate to attend, I give the Disney Legal Team a big THANK YOU!”
LCLD would also like to thank the DLOC attorneys who spent so much time and effort organizing this Learning Experience: Linda Bagley, Manny Grace, Rey Rodriguez, Alicia Schwarz, Alex Chen, Heather Anderson, and Ben Kim. Thanks also to Doug Loftus of Disney Special Events.
For more information about the Fellows program or hosting a Learning Experience, please contact Nichole Velasquez, Fellows Program Manager.