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Real Humans of Disneyland Resort: Casey Brown, USC Marshall MBA ’19, Marketing Strategy Manager

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Challenging journeys are a common theme among the Disney classics–Moana, Finding Nemo, Mulan to name a few. Just as Disney characters set out on daring missions, Casey Brown also had a tough dream to achieve: Marketing at Disney. How does one change industries, but also earn the chops for a spot at the best-known resort in the world? In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, Casey, USC Marshall MBA ’19, explains how the MBA program prepared her for a pivot to marketing, how she earned the marketing strategy role at Disney and what she wished she knew earlier in her career.

Casey Brown, USC Marshall MBA ’19, Marketing Strategy Manager at Walt Disney Company

Age: 31
Hometown: Northridge, California
Undergraduate Institution and Major: UCLA, Communications Major with Film Minor
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: USC Marshall School of Business, graduated in 2019
Pre-MBA Work Experience: Six years in non-profit and manufacturing
Post-MBA Work Experience: Three years in brand marketing for CPG and entertainment

Why did you choose to attend business school?
I decided to attend business school because I wanted to transition between industries, and I had no clue at all how to do that. I was working in manufacturing at the time at a wonderful company, and I reached a point in my career where I had worked in a variety of functions/industries and knew what I didn’t want any longer. I wanted to work where I was passionate and learn how to be a great leader (I had enough managers to also know how I didn’t want to lead), and business school helped unlock all of that for me.

Why USC Marshall? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
If you asked me when I started my application journey whether I would end up at USC, I would have never guessed it. But, it quickly became my top-choice school.

Yet, at the time, it seemed like USC Marshall and I were not colliding. For one thing, I wanted to leave LA. I also went to UCLA for my undergrad, and if you know the rivalry here in SoCal, you know these two schools don’t get along. However, when I visited the Marshall campus for the first time, I was blown away. Everyone I met was so kind and open with their time. They offered to speak with me further and help me make connections with fellow Marshall students. I was interested in a very non-traditional MBA route (themed entertainment) so that was incredible. The Trojan Family is a very real, amazing network of people willing to help, and I saw that from before I even officially started the program. Now, I am a proud Brojan (Bruin + Trojan)!

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
There are a couple of parts of my MBA experience that really helped me prepare for my current career in marketing strategy.

(1) The network I was able to make with both current students and alumni – because Marshall is a smaller cohort, I was able to get to know my classmates incredibly well and they have become great resources to have as I face any challenging work projects, and alumni are equally willing to help. I was recently working on a project in the gaming/app world, which I know nothing about. I reached out to a classmate of mine from Marshall who works in that field, and he quickly hopped on a call with me to talk through my project, the issues at hand, and to brainstorm ideas.

(2) The different consulting projects I was able to work on while I was at USC Marshall, along with my internship, which I was able to keep throughout my second year due to the central location of Marshall – I was able to bolster up my marketing credentials through a variety of consulting projects during school that helped me go from 0 marketing experience on my resume to many examples I was able to talk to during interviews. I was also able to keep my internship and further bolster my work experience due to the great Marshall location in the entertainment hub that is Los Angeles.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I interned at the Walt Disney Company on the Digital Innovation team for Parks, Experiences and Products. It was an amazing internship experience. I was working on emerging technology at my dream company thanks to the strength USC Marshall had in preparing me in my first year for this new experience. It greatly informed my post-MBA career choice because even though I was at my dream company, I learned during my internship that I really needed to work in a marketing function to follow my passion. So, I made the decision to leave Disney to work full-time for Mattel as a brand manager to get the best grounding in brand management possible. 

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I chose my current company for several reasons. Working for Disney Parks and Resorts was always a dream of mine, but as I mentioned earlier, I realized I needed stellar brand management experience to work in marketing strategy for the Disneyland Resort. While I was interning, I started thinking of my post-MBA career in a longer-term view than when I entered business school. I worked for Mattel for almost three years, in which I learned so much and received the best grounding in CPG brand management that you could find.

Then, when the stars aligned and a role opened in marketing strategy for the Disneyland Resort, I felt prepared and ready to come back to the Walt Disney Company. Lastly, the culture on my marketing strategy team is open, honest and warm, and I work for the most inspiring leader I have ever had a chance to know. After she interviewed me, I knew I had to work on this team and for this incredible leader!

How has COVID-19 impacted your industry/career plans?
COVID-19 has taught me about what I need as an employee and how company leadership can shine through during times of crisis. I feel like I am one of the few millennials that really does not thrive working from home, which COVID-19 highlighted for me personally. I need other people around me to really be my best work self!

I also have been able to witness how leadership can navigate change and uncertainty. At Mattel, I saw a company live up to its core values when the country faced a reckoning around not just the COVID-response, but race, diversity and inclusion. Mattel leaders listened a lot more than they talked, and the company really met the moment we were in and has continued to do so with its incredible array of inclusive products and goals for its employee base regarding making the company more representative of the amazingly diverse place we live.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Try something totally out of my comfort zone! I never thought I would find myself working in technology (I didn’t join Instagram until 2018, so I am not an early adopter), but when I had the chance, I jumped at it because business school helped me view change as something that would only make me a stronger hire and leader in the end. I would definitely recommend stretching for the “new” because it will pay dividends in the long-run.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
It’s nothing revolutionary, but I wish I had started networking sooner. I found that applying to internships and jobs online was a black hole. But as soon as I was able to meet people at the companies I was interested in, I was able to parlay that into interviews and actual job offers. USC Marshall helped me hone in on my personal career story so much, and I wish I had taken advantage of that sooner rather than wasting time in the faceless internet void of job-hunting. 

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
I would say the length of time the recruiting process took was surprising, but I’ve learned hiring always takes longer than you want! I started interviewing for my current team in early June, and I didn’t get an offer until September. But along the way, I was able to interview with/meet most of my current team so the length of time it took helped me make a very informed decision. I was able to meet so many of my now-colleagues and ensure that the culture on the team was exactly what I was looking for. 

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
If I could go back and tell my first-year self anything, it would be that you don’t have to get the one “dream job” right out of school, and it’s okay to leave your internship and not convert if the fit isn’t there. Your dream job is very likely to change during your time at business school, and every role contributes to your growth as a leader in ways you could never expect. I interned at my dream company and realized during the process that it was not going to be the best role for me right out of business school and that is totally okay. You are allowed to pivot to another path! 

Alexandra Markovich
Alexandra (Alex) Markovich was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended Florida State University (FSU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. After her time at FSU, she has continued to pursue learning more about the writing industry by enrolling herself in editing certificate programs provided by Poynter Institute and the University of Chicago. In her spare time, you can find Alex working out her local gym, perusing local book stores, taking her dogs to the local dog park, and soaking up the Miami sun!