Kylie Watson-Wheeler has made something of a magical career for herself, starting out in marketing at Hallmark before working her way through virtually every department at Disney en route to her current role as Senior Vice President and Managing Director at The Walt Disney Company Australia and New Zealand. Pondering the most meaningful moves that got her there, she says, “I’ve always used the words ‘sure, why not?”
This is what she’d uttered when asked if she wanted to head up Disney’s sales, despite her interests being creative (graphic design was her childhood dream gig) and her then-job being in advertising and marketing.
“While my response was, ‘sure, why not?’ my internal response was, really?” Firstly, Kylie wasn’t sure she’d like sales. Secondly, she didn’t think she’d be any good at it. “Surprisingly, I was wrong on both accounts. I did like it, and I wasn’t bad at it. From that perspective, it really taught me to have much more of an open mind, and as a result of that I’ve worked in nearly every area of the business, which ultimately resulted in me being the managing director.”
Kylie also credits relocating to Kansas City, Missouri, as a bold move in the right direction when in 2001, as the marketing manager for Hallmark Cards in Melbourne, she was asked to move to the very centre of the US as their head of advertising.
“[It] opened me up to a whole lot of different experiences and ideas and ways of working.” Starting out at Disney back on home soil in 2004 as their director of publishing, Kylie spent more than a decade pivoting from licencing to sales to marketing before becoming Senior VP and MD around this time last year, and now oversees the company’s four-brand stable. “We have Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars, so our business is very very broad and has many stakeholders,” she says. “That’s a challenge, but it’s also what makes the job so amazing.”
While being at the helm of a leadership team (more than half of which is female – “and that’s reflective right through the ranks”) at one of the world’s biggest, beloved media giants, Kylie also sits on the board of the Western Bulldogs AFL team as Vice President, having been appointed in February of this year – as one newspaper remarked, “Almost 28 years after taking her Year 12 homework with her to the ‘Save the Bulldogs’ rally at Whitten Oval.”
Kylie urges others with their sights set high in their company to be open to opportunities – and not (wrongly) assume that there’s a clean-cut path to a role. “Today businesses are requiring people with a very broad experience – particularly in a market like Australia, where we frequently need to do more with less, just because of our lack of size and scale – so if someone is in a company and is keen to head up the ranks and ultimately is eyeing off the top gig, [they should have an] openness to moving outside of their discipline, and recognise that it’s not necessarily a linear pathway.”