From Intern to C-suite: How Kareem Daniel championed his top executive role at Disney

Stephen Nartey July 11, 2023
From the moment Kareem assumed the role of chairman of Disney's Media and Entertainment Distribution, he was actively involved with the company’s streaming services – Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+; ensuring high-quality content made it to the channels. Photo credit: Kareem Daniel via LinkedIn

When Kareem Daniel daydreamed while flipping through pages at a comic book shop in his neighborhood, he had no idea that he would occupy a top-level position at the very organization that produced heroes he fantasized about as a little child. He cherished the Millennium Falcon, the hulking spaceship from Star Wars.

When he was offered a position to intern at Walt Disney Co., he did not envisage that his career trajectory will lead him to a top executive position within the organization, however, when the doors of opportunity flew wide open, Kareem leveraged his resources and skills to make fascinating and outstanding contributions toward shaping the fantasies of young Disney fans.

He was offered an opportunity to intern at the multinational mass media company by Disney’s former CEO, Bob Chapek, who recruited Kareem when he was in graduate school at Stanford College. No one has had more impact on him than his former boss – despite the young Kareem having worked at Goldman Sachs before meeting Chapek. Since then, he has grown in several roles; discharging his duties to the administration of many, according to the United Business Journal.

Kareem was placed in charge of Disney’s global operational and profit-and-loss streaming services, as well as the performance of its traditional channels – like ABC and ESPN. This was a sector that used to be the preserve of Disney’s film and television content divisions.

At the time he was in office, Disney+ global subscribers were pegged at 130 million and inched from 70 million when he assumed office. He was faced with taking critical decisions when Disney explicitly demonstrated its opposition to paying high premiums to keep streaming rights to popular cricket matches in India, a move that threatened the company’s goal of reaching 230 million to 260 million Disney+ subscribers globally next year.

Through hard work and determination, Kareem was offered a top management position as the head of Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution division years later – when Chapek assumed the position of Chief Executive Officer of the company.

From the moment he assumed the role of chairman of Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution, he was actively involved with the company’s streaming services – Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+; ensuring high-quality content made it to the channels.

He considered increasing the numbers of Disney’s streaming subscriber list, which was one of his top priorities the day he was given that responsibility. It was one of the tasks that came under the radar of Wall Street when Netflix’s subscriber base began witnessing a decline – which inadvertently had an impact on Hollywood.

In the 1950s, there was a perception that there were no opportunities for persons of color to work at Disney. It took a lot of courage for Floyd Norman, the first black animator, to work with the multinational mass media company in the mid-50s.

Though many saw it as a big deal, Norman wondered why he should be a trailblazer when there were a bunch of ethnicities working in the comic industry, according to NPR. Sadly, there hasn’t been a significant change decades later. Disney has a working staff of 223,000 – however, only 12 percent of this figure is black, according to Zippia.

When Kareem had the opportunity to prove his mettle, he made Disney’s fantastical rides and attractions a priority; presenting twin Star Wars-themed lands in California and Florida. He also worked on the development of a Wonder-themed land in California.

While at Imagineering, he found a way of allocating $1 billion to his twin Star Wars-themed parts in the department’s budget and was actively involved in restructuring the company’s most popular rides, and Splash Mountain, which shows characters and songs from a song of the south – the racist 1946 musical.

With these significant achievements, employees of color at Disney saw Kareem’s ascension to his top executive position as an affirmation of the capability of people of color. However, his promotion came on the heels of a series of protests over the murder of George Floyd; and many companies, including Fortune 500s, were under intense pressure to send a signal of their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

It was therefore no surprise when Disney appointed him to the position. Many tipped him for the top position someday – before corporate politics eventually pushed him out of the company.

While at Disney, Kareem’s division was in charge of a $30 billion annual budget for program spending, and planning of strategies for Disney’s movies and TV shows, which partly found its way on streaming services; Disney+, ESPN+ or Hulu, theaters, or one of the company’s TV channels, according to Los Angeles Times.

He decided where the $30 billion was allocated – whether streaming, traditional TV channels, or theaters. He was also responsible for making the decision whether the Pixar movie debut should be exclusive to the theaters or be free to air on the Disney+ channel. He made the final decision, which made him one of the most powerful executives in corporate America, according to the New York Times.

For the black community, Kareem distinguished himself in the role he was entrusted with, however, industry players thought the role was much bigger than him. Arguments could have been stretched he wasn’t a creative expert, but a leader’s role is to manage experts, and he left very big shoes for his successor to fill.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: July 11, 2023

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