How Anne Sweeney sparks employees to find the next great innovation at Disney Media Networks

Make sure you have a life

While you may want to work in a culture that generates ideas the way Disney does, Sweeney may not want you — unless you have a life.

“While I want to work with smart, innovative people in every single division and every single field that we touch in this company, I also want to work with people who have a life, who have interests outside of work,” she says. “We are a company that touches so many consumers in so many different ways; we really want to work with people who are a part of that, people who are living in their world, who have interests, who have hobbies and who are different from each other.”

Sweeney takes this philosophy into interviewing. When the standards for the position are met, the thing that will separate the creative employee is vigor for life.

“Yes, I want them passionate about Disney, absolutely,” she says. “But I also want them passionate about their own lives.

“You can just talk about why are you here, here’s the job, here are the responsibilities and, sometimes, it’s as simple as, ‘What is your passion?’”

Sweeney remembers an early conversation with one of her key executives where he mentioned how passionate he and his future wife were about wine. Subsequently, he came out with his own wine.

“What do wine and television have to do with each other?” Sweeney says. “At the end of the day, I have a very creative, driven, passionate executive here who is driving our success for ABC and prime time.”

Pushing that drive for a life is something that has to come from the top. If employees see Sweeney working 80-hour weeks, many will follow suit.

“I have to take vacations; I can’t just tell people to take vacations,” she says. “I have to be judicious about sending e-mails out
on weekends. I do have a fair amount of insomnia, and I’d get up at 3 in the morning and turn on my computer and go through my e-mails, and people were waking up at 6 and having an e-mail from me at 3 a.m. Then I started to see that I was getting responses back at 3:30, 3:45, and I realized that I was the problem, I was now giving people insomnia. Unless it’s terribly urgent, I now save those things as drafts in my mailbox and send them out at a more appropriate hour.”

Sweeney has found that creativity at Disney isn’t sparked by overtime but by people who have a work-life balance.

“The important thing that I’ve learned is that when you have a life, and you’ve truly encouraged your team to have a life, the results for your company are much stronger than if you ask them to give you 24-7, and the work becomes a grind,” she says. “I find that we have real surges in creativity when people have been able to get out in the world and step out of the zone that we’re in Monday through Friday. They come back refreshed with a million ideas. My favorite day with every employee is the first day back from vacation, where you can just feel that every light bulb is lit, and they’re fired up, and they’re
just ready to go.”

HOW TO REACH: The Walt Disney Co., (818) 460-7477 or