Walt Disney once said, "I only hope we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse." It would appear that Jon Niermann, President and Managing Director of The Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific) Limited keeps that firmly in mind.
Regardless of age, the mere mention of the word Disney is guaranteed to conjure up nostalgic images of childhood fun, theme parks and candyfloss. Few have grown up without the Magic Kingdom touching their lives in some way, and for many working for the company sounds like a dream come true.
Jon Niermann's first memories of Disney stem back to growing up in Nashville Illinois. He explains, " I first got the Disney bug when my family would pack up and head off to Walt Disney World in Florida for a holiday every summer. It was during one of those trips that I realised entertainment was an interesting field and one that I wanted to be involved in."
Mr Niermann obviously took this very seriously as his first job for Disney was during his college days, working as a theme park intern with the Fantasyland Foods team at Disneyland in California. "I learned how all of the operations worked, acting as a tour guide, how to work the rides and of course I got to dress up as one of the characters: Tigger."
But life with Disney isn't all Tigger impersonations - although it has to be said Mr Niermann does do an excellent one - and his involvement with the company took on a more serious note in 1989 when he joined the Kingdom permanently as an Affiliating Marketing Representative for The Disney Channel in Texas. In 1991 he relocated to their corporate headquarters in California, where he held a series of positions over four years including Senior Affiliate Marketing Representative, Manager of Media Relations, Director of National Accounts and Vice President of National Accounts West. In 1996, Mr Niermann joined Walt Disney Feature Animation as Vice President of Communications and Marketing, a position he held until relocating to Hong Kong in 1998 as Head of Walt Disney Television International Marketing for Asia Pacific. In March 2000, he was promoted to Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Walt Disney International Asia-Pacific, and he assumed Managing Director responsibilities in May 2001. A fairly meteoric rise by all accounts.
"We are always looking for different, often unorthodox ways of doing things and people with vision who get along with others will always be appreciated"
But what exactly does the Managing Director of Disney Asia Pacific do? Mr Niermann's responsibilities today include a frightening array of functions but he is characteristically modest. "Disney encompasses more than 40 different lines of businesses between studio entertainment, media networks, consumer products, the Internet Group and of course the parks. Basically my role is very much as a co-ordinator. I pull together everyone from the various divisions and we work together as a team to develop creative brand strategies. Basically, to everybody out there Disney is just one entity, and what we do is figure out how to represent the various divisions to the people of Asia in a unified fashion."
In addition, Mr Niermann also maintains an active control of regional marketing and is responsible for new business development across the board. In a company as diverse as Disney, marketing and business development probably makes a good entry point for people who want to get ahead with company. But what exactly do Disney look for in new employees?
Mr Niermann explains, "The basic requirement for someone who wants to work at a company such as Disney is simple - imagination. Albert Einstein once said, 'Imagination is more important than knowledge,' and I believe in that. We are always looking for different, often unorthodox ways of doing things and people with vision who get along with others will always be appreciated. At the end of the day, there are no books you can read or degrees you can do to get into the entertainment business. You just need to be yourself, have a dream and follow it."
Despite what might seem like an infinite number of entertainment companies on the block, there are surprisingly few conglomerates such as Disney for aspiring executives to join. Mr Niermann agrees, "Believe it or not, this is a fairly small industry and there is surprisingly little in-fighting. We set out to do the best we can and we don't think in terms of competition. Other entertainment companies also do great stuff, which is what makes the industry better. It is quality-driven not competition-driven."
"It's a superb industry to be in," he smiles, "and here at Disney you can have all the animation you want."
China is obviously an extremely important market for Disney, with the Hong Kong office operating as their flagship regional corporate headquarters, but what about their commitment to the mainland? Mr Niermann explains, "In China we have TV, consumer products, publishing and Internet groups, so there are many opportunities available there for those who want to get ahead." He continues, "We are constantly looking for talent everywhere in the world. China is one of the many places which offer excellent opportunities both for us as a company and for talented individuals.