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MBA Hears Disney Voices

This Penn State business and law school grad gets a running start at the entertainment company. Here's a typical day

I live by two rules: think big and make every day count. Last May, I had an opportunity to put these two principles to work. Shortly after graduating with an MBA from Penn State's Smeal College of Business, I became a finance manager for Disney Character Voices International, a department within the Walt Disney Co. (DIS) that maintains the quality and consistency of Disney character voices across all products and languages. Prior to my MBA I received my law degree from Penn State and decided to attend business school in order to get some functional expertise. I feel the combination of these two schools of thoughts (no pun intended) will always serve me well in the marketplace—and that proved true for my current position.

In my current role, I have cross-divisional insight into every line of business at Disney and take on both financial and operational functions. This department also oversees the dubbing into foreign languages of all Disney productions, including feature animation, live-action films, home video products, TV, interactive products, and consumer products for distribution around the world. These responsibilities include the global consolidation and financial management of over 40 cost centers operating in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Latin America, as well as the implementation and management of key operational projects that can improve the efficiency and performance of various work flows.

Here's a typical day:

6:30 a.m.—Alarm sounds. Still waking up, I eat a banana (or a protein bar if I have one), put on gym clothes, and walk out the door.

7 a.m.—Laps in a pool, cycling, running, or lifting in the gym. It's usually one of the four, but today I'm running. I got the "triathlon bug" this past year and, depending on the season, I'm either prepping for an upcoming event or just trying to keep my base. Today, I'm just keeping my base and working through a case of IT band syndrome (but that's another story altogether).

8:30 a.m.—Get into the office, eat breakfast, read the industry trades like Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Never know what sort of tidbits may come in handy.

9 a.m.—My BlackBerry is flashing red. E-mails from Europe regarding an upcoming product that needs to be adapted for foreign distribution have been trickling in. I do a quick scan and tackle the straightforward ones and then address the "thinkers" by picking up the phone and calling. Can't do everything by e-mail, right?

10 a.m.—Head to a conference room to present a project plan to a roomful of stakeholders from various business units. The project involves the design and implementation of an operational system that will help us track and manage important information related to our business. The purpose of the presentation is to explain the goals of the project and address the relevant timetable for implementation, as well as answer any questions.

11:15 a.m.—Back at my desk I respond to any phone messages and catch up on any pending e-mails from the morning.

12:30 p.m.—I'm starving. I go get lunch and bring it back to my desk where I look through the various documents I'll need for later.

2 p.m.—Time to attend a team meeting to give an update on the status of the various initiatives I've been working on. More important, this gives me a chance to listen to updates from my team.

3 p.m.—Sit down with some team members to have a working session on the documents I reviewed during lunch. Our goal is to develop financial and operational metrics that will assist us in flagging issues while enabling our team to benchmark performance.

4:15 p.m.—Have a snack, then call team members in Mexico and Brazil to discuss the financial impact of various operational decisions we will need to communicate with other business units.

5:30 p.m.—Conference call with several of our international teams in Asia to discuss the strategy and development of the metrics project. We are seeking feedback to determine whether our goals align with the realities of certain operational work flows in that region.

6:45 p.m.—Take care of any pressing matters and then call it a day.

My MBA from Penn State was instrumental in helping me land this job, as it equipped me with the foundational tools and networking opportunities needed to work in an international business. Throughout the program, I traveled internationally, met C-level executives and alums running corporations abroad, and learned how to seize opportunities in the global marketplace. From personal experience, I know a great way to get your foot in the door at Disney is through its internship program.

The summer after my first year as an MBA, I was a graduate associate at Disney and had the opportunity to get a feel for the company and to work with employees across a range of business units. It was an experience that was both rewarding and fun, because it allowed me to learn about the industry while networking with industry professionals and students in other MBA programs.

I wish I had taken more entrepreneurship classes in business school. There is tremendous value in having an entrepreneurial skill set, particularly from a finance point of view. Overall, an MBA provides useful tools and a cohesive skill set, but it is not an absolute requisite for my current position (or any position for that matter). A lot of what I do every day is about rolling up my sleeves, communicating effectively, listening, and coming up with commonsense solutions. Sure, an MBA gives you some frameworks to help you navigate these waters, but at the end of the day it all boils down to hard work and a willingness to succeed.

Burchett is withe The Walt Disney Company and a member of Penn State's MBA class of 2007.

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