Jackie Donaldson was taking her son shopping recently when he looked out the passenger side window and said, “Mom, I see a leg in the road.”
Donaldson sprang into action. “As soon as I opened my door, my son said, ‘Oh no, not again,’ ” she said. “He knows I will jump right in.”
The VP of global product strategy for Disney Streaming also happens to be the former chief of a volunteer fire department near her home in Virginia, with EMT training. “I still carry my medical bag around with me,” she said.
Fortunately, the leg was still attached to its owner, a motorcyclist who had crashed and was unconscious with a few broken ribs. She began a meticulous checklist examination “so I could figure out what direction to go in.”
That sounds like Donaldson’s approach to problems at work. Her job description says she is responsible for the strategic direction of the Disney Plus product across all regions, both domestic and international. She is more succinct. “I solve business problems. I am the fixer.”
“We lovingly call her Michael Clayton,” Roger Williams, senior VP of media operations at Disney Streaming, alluding to George Clooney’s movie role as a fixer for a law firm.
“She is our secret weapon,” Williams said. “We bring her in to correct a crisis across any area. She knows when to apply pressure, when to relent, and she finds a path that works for all parties.”
Growing up in London, Ontario, in Canada, Donaldson wanted to be a veterinarian. (Today, she owns five rescue horses, three dogs and five cats. “I sink all of my money into that.”)
She started in pre-med at McGill University, but quickly discovered she disliked studying chemistry. “I ended up falling into sociology, and what I found I had was a real aptitude for figuring out people, what makes people work or not work in a certain way. But I didn’t know what I was going to do with that.”
She earned a masters degree in international management and then developed her skills at companies such as Intelsat and Level 3 Communications. She spent 10 years at CenturyLink, holding leadership positions in the Content Markets Group, focused on sports and media.
“I quickly figured out that tech was a growing area and had very few women,
so if I could just get my foot in the door I could figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said. Having played hockey against boys growing up, she was not easily intimidated. “Being a woman in a male-dominated field is my secret weapon.
Nobody sees me coming, and if I’m the only woman in the room, I can easily differentiate myself.”
In 2018, Donaldson joined Disney as VP of partner platform solutions, a unit that managed strategic partnerships with Major League Baseball, Hulu, WWE, Sony, HBO, Verizon Communications and other third-party clients and partners.
Despite her willingness to take action, she wades into new situations carefully, studying the landscape and asking questions: “What’s going right, what’s going wrong and what keeps you up at night?”
Learning to Listen First
She had to learn patience and that listen-first approach. “I was the person who jumps right in,” she said. “In the schoolyard, I’d jump in to break up fights without thinking, ‘Hey, these two kids are much bigger than me.’ ”
Once she has her answers, Donaldson creates a vision of how to solve the problem. But she doesn’t dictate. “I go back out and start getting the buy-in.” She knows that building consensus is crucial to long-term success. “If you want to change the culture or dynamic of a group or system, you want to bring everyone along for the ride,” she said.
While the roles and the problems she solves have changed along the way, Donaldson has stayed true to herself and her method. “It’s not a quick or easy process, but I have confidence in it,” she said.
Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.
The smarter way to stay on top of broadcasting and cable industry. Sign up below.
Thank you for signing up to Broadcasting & Cable. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.