Anne Sweeney: A Lesson in Leadership

“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”

Anne Sweeney, the current president of Disney-ABC Television, emphasized the role of self-acceptance at her event at Stanford on November 4th. Before being added to a number of “Most Powerful Woman” lists, Sweeney attended College of New Rochelle and then went to graduate school at Harvard University, focusing her education on early child development.

After graduating, she held an internship in New York that led her to an interest in the entertainment and media industries. From there, she worked with Nickelodeon for twelve years, eventually transferring to Disney.

Anne Sweeney’s story is emblematic of her belief in the importance of taking opportunities. Sweeney spoke for about five minutes about her professional experiences and what she has done at Nickelodeon and Disney, including quintupling the Disney viewer base.

In response to a question concerning how Sweeney achieved such success, she reemphasized that she took every opportunity available. After being given an entry-level internship, she consistently made the effort to show interest in every aspect of her job. This enthusiasm allowed her to network with a variety of people who ultimately aided her in advancing her career.

She continually stressed the importance of eagerness for success. People, she emphasized, should be highly interested in their fields, as passion is the catalyst of triumph. While the audience found it difficult to grasp the concept of opportunity, frequently asking how she attained the jobs she did, she highlighted that she only became successful because she found an opportunity at Disney.

About fifteen years ago, Disney was a company many believed doomed to fail. Sweeney stated that the company headquarters made annual shutdown plans alongside the budget deals, as the company executives believed there was a fair chance the company would fail. She saw Disney as an opportunity and believed that with passion and careful planning, any opportunity could lead to success.

Sweeney, a self-proclaimed believer in the classic Disney magic, placed a great deal of importance on magic, especially relating magic to passion. She discussed Disney’s role in introducing and reintroducing that magic into their viewers’ lives through entertainment. The belief she had in her company was evidently a factor in the success Disney found under her leadership.

Anne Sweeney appeared to embody the leadership that Disney markets. As the “Most Powerful Woman in Entertainment,” she delivers a unique leadership that stems back to a unique passion for her job.

What stood out at SWIB’s Anne Sweeney event was the growing magnitude of enthusiasm in business leadership.

Stanford Women in Business (SWIB) hosted Anne Sweeney as a part of its recently launched Executive Leadership Series, where it brings high-end speakers once a quarter. SWIB, under the leadership of Lauryn Isford ’15 and Lindsey Wilder ’14, is moving towards offering “more entrepreneurial opportunities, recruiting in diverse business fields, and speakers from a range of backgrounds and experiences.” SWIB’s focus seems to aim to motivate students towards business by providing opportunities to network and an environment with a professional atmosphere.

In choosing Anne Sweeney as a speaker, SWIB is highlighting its new place on campus. Stanford Women in Business is moving towards becoming an even more powerful group at Stanford.

SWIB’s authority stems from its new mission: working towards gender equality in the workforce by inspiring leadership within its community, rather than demanding leadership roles for women. Anne Sweeney perfectly exemplifies this concept. SWIB is one of the first student groups to truly recognize the workforce’s need for highly motivated employees.

This new, revitalized focus on business is a refreshing change from SWIB, a group of powerful women. Watch out for more SWIB opportunities in the coming quarters. These will include an Executive Leadership Series with Ruth Porat, the CEO of Morgan Stanley, and the annual Winter Conference. The Winter Conference will occur in mid-February as a business workshop for female leaders in local high schools.

Subscribe to the Stanford Review