TITLE: EVP, Network Production Management and Operations, Disney Channel
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Hsiung made numerous job jumps after college: a retail training program at Bloomingdale’s; bookkeeping in MTV’s production department, eventually producing shows there before moving to The Comedy Channel ; stints at J. Walter Thompson and MTV Asia. She landed at Disney in 1997 .
QUOTABLE: “Take risks early in your career. Find what you love. I am surprised when I look back how many risks I took in my career.”
Have the kids in your life been hooked on Teen Beach Movie, Camp Rock, High School Musical or The Cheetah Girls, or been fans of such series as Phineas and Ferb, Dog With a Blog, Hannah Montana, Greek and Lincoln Heights? Then Susette Hsiung is someone to thank.
As executive vice president of network production management and operations for the Disney Channels group, Hsiung (pronounced Shung) has been responsible for more than 1,000 hours of programming and for leading the teams of production companies that have created a succession of hit programming for Disney Channel, Disney XD and Disney Junior, as well as ABC Family; from series to movies; from multi-camera comedies to reality/talk shows, specials and on-air promotional messages.
Her list of credits is staggering, with a diverse roster of experience as production executive for HBO Downtown Productions, and as a line producer for The Comedy Channel (now Comedy Central).
SOJOURN IN SINGAPORE
The New York native moved to Singapore for two years, where she served as vice president of production for MTV Asia and spearheaded international ventures, including the launch of two 24-hour cable television channels servicing Far East territories. She began her production career at MTV Networks in 1984, starting as a bookkeeper in the production department, then rising through the ranks to production manager.
“We were all young and inexperienced for the most part,” Hsiung said of those early days of cable. “We made mistakes along the way, but we were all working together. MTV was still struggling for distribution, so I traveled across the U.S. to small towns that I would never have seen, to bring the idea that you needed to have cable TV, and you needed to have MTV as a service.”
Ten years later, she was programming commercials for advertising agency J. Walter Thompson, selling audiences on a thing called “the Internet.”
“The most popular shows were Monday Night Football and Roseanne. So we would insert live commercials into these most-watched television shows, and for example, Monday Night Football, the on-air commentator in that specific market, he would come on and in 30 seconds, If you’re watching football and you want to know [a player’s] stats, log on to Prodigy!” Hsiung said.
“What makes Susette so great at her job is her ability to absorb and integrate new information on an endless variety of topics,” developing and producing Disney Channel original series, Disney Channel original movies and Disney Junior series, said Gary Marsh, president and chief creative officer for Disney Channels Worldwide.
The breadth of her knowledge “is unreal,” Marsh added. “Susette has to know the most obscure Canadian labor laws. She has to understand the exchange rate of the Australian dollar. She has to understand workman’s comp insurance premiums — I mean, the breadth of her knowledge is limitless. Because of that, I’ve been able to channel more and more responsibilities to her and her team.”
Hsiung is now excitedly gearing up for the launch of the Disney Channel movie Descendants later this year, and Teen Beach Movie 2, and the next wave of Disney XD projects.
But what she’s most thrilled about these days is the promotion of women and girls at the company, and efforts to bolster diversity throughout the organization.
“In front of the camera, our sister network ABC is getting a lot of positive press about its embracing of racial diversity, and we also look for that on our kids’ network,” she said. “I’m also trying to champion behind-the-camera diversity, and so hopefully we’ll be able to announce some programs that we will be doing [this] year.
HELPS MIX THINGS UP
As an executive leader for Disney/ABC Television Group’s Global Workplace & Women’s initiative, Hsiung is among two dozen diversity representatives across the enterprise. Under this umbrella, she has developed an in-house task force which hosts quarterly mixers to encourage collaboration and camaraderie among female employees, and she is actively developing her Aspirational Girl network “to be able to make recommendations for new role models and new ways that we look at story and character.”
Hsiung also mentors and sponsors burgeoning executives throughout the Disney/ABC group as part of its Leadership Mentoring Program.
“The way that she models leadership is in a very graceful way while being incredibly assertive,” said Daisy Auger- Dominguez, vice president of talent acquisition and organization and workforce diversity at Disney/ABC Television Group. “Everyone around her knows that she says what she means, and she means what she says.”
She added: “I think Susette is a Wonder Woman because she has galvanized women and men across Disney Channels in a way that I hadn’t seen before — and I’ve worked at some major international companies,” Auger-Dominguez said. “I have not seen this level of passion not just from a leader but from the people around her that this be successful, and, I think, one of the biggest game-changing initiatives that she’s led.”
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