“To have influence, you really don’t need to have power. But what you need more than anything else is to have that almost uncanny understanding of what matters to people.” ~Anne Sweeney
The Walt Disney Company has been around for a long time, and like many large companies, the transition into the digital age was a big one. Luckily for Disney, they had Anne Sweeney. A native of New York, Sweeney graduated with an Ed.M. degree from Harvard University, and since then she has worked primarily in the television and entertainment industry.
“I went to college thinking I would be a teacher,” Sweeney related in a Forbes interview. “Took my first child psych course, called [my mother] and I said, ‘Oh, I can’t do it, it’s too hard. I can’t be responsible for teaching kids how to read.’ I went on and on, and there was silence on the other end of the phone. And her response was, ‘Great. Now you have to figure out what you want to be.’
“Just when you want your mother to say, ‘Now, now, now, put your head down, get back to work.’ She gave me the freedom to make my decisions. To decide that, yes, I do love entertainment. I became a page at ABC and then worked at Children’s Television Workshop as an intern. And it allowed me to put all of those experiences together because I have parents that said, ‘It’s yours. Your future, your choice.’”
And it would seem that entertainment is just the right place for Sweeney to be; she has since worked with Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite, Fox, FX, and Disney/ABC. She joined Disney in 1996 as president of ABC and executive vice president of Disney/ABC Cable Networks, and today she is the co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group.
Sweeney led the charge into the digital era in 2005, when “Disney/ABC Television Group became the first media company to put television content on new platforms” like iTunes, online full-episode viewers, and iPad.
Today, Sweeney’s role requires her to oversee ABC Studios, the ABC Owned Television Stations Group, and the ABC Television Network—which includes more than 200 affiliated stations nationwide. Additionally, she oversees Disney Channels Worldwide (107 channels), ABC Family, SOAPnet, and more.
Disney’s current CEO, Bob Iger, is planning on stepping down in 2015, and the question everyone’s asking is whether or not Sweeney will replace him. She’s remained diplomatic and coy about the possibility, saying, “Ultimately, it’s the board’s decision to make. I don’t think many people are speculating. But really, no one’s opinion counts more than the board’s.”