As a student at MIT, Kevin Mayer couldn’t have imagined that someday he’d be chief strategy officer for Disney. “I never thought I would become an entertainment executive back then,” he says. But he is glad he did.
Mayer’s path to Disney started in an unlikely field: engineering. He completed his degree in mechanical engineering at MIT and then earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from San Diego State University in 1988.
After working as an electrical engineer for four years, he was ready for a change. “As much as I loved engineering, what I wanted was to get into the business side,” he says.
Mayer enrolled at Harvard Business School and began working in management consulting after graduation in 1990, searching for his niche in business. “It’s what a lot of people do when they don’t know what they want to do,” he says. And that’s when he was recruited to work for Disney. His MIT background appealed to the company, which was beginning to focus on business strategies related to technology.
“That was in the early ’90s—technology was just starting to have a substantial impact on the film industry then,” he says. As he focused on growth and new opportunities for Disney, the soft skills he learned at MIT also came into play. “The first thing you learn at MIT is tenacity,” he says. “It trains you to not shy away from challenges.”
Video via The Deal
Strategic acquisitions soon became a large part of Mayer’s job, and the results he achieved were a boon for Disney. “We’ve had three huge acquisitions that really transformed the company,” he says. In 2006 Mayer played an integral part in Disney’s acquisition of Pixar Studios. “It was seen at the time as expensive but was clearly worth it,” he says. He then helped the company acquire Marvel, which soon produced such hits as Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6, and Lucasfilm, which revived the Star Wars series and set new box office records.
Mayer is proud of Disney’s continued success and its reputation. “I love the company; I feel good about our strategic positioning. We are admired around the world for how we comport ourselves, do business, and the products we make,” he says.
With wife Lisa—a fellow MBA-holding mechanical engineer—and sons Chase and Jackson, Mayer enjoys the perks that come along with working for Disney. “I personally love the products and have a young family that loves them too,” he says.
This story originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine.