An imagineer in his own right, Steve Milovich, Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources, Talent & Workforce Diversity for Disney-ABC Television Group, puts his creativity to use in developing and implementing innovative HR programs.
By Stephanie Harris
When it comes to directing a human resources (HR) function, Steve Milovich is not your typical leader. As the Senior Vice President of Global Human Resources, Talent and Workforce Diversity for The Disney/ABC Television Group, his creativity and unique, pragmatic approach to solving both large and small challenges has led to the implementation of several forward-thinking HR initiatives for Disney employees, which is fitting for a world-renowned company that thrives on innovative excellence.
Milovich joined The Walt Disney Co. in 2002 as Senior Vice President of Corporate Human Resources, Organization and Leadership Development. In this role, he developed and implemented the first companywide talent and succession planning, performance management and talent acquisition programs. In his current role for The Disney/ABC Television Group, Milovich oversees all aspects of the organization, executive compensation and HR efforts worldwide. Leading the recent joint venture between ABC News and Univision News is just one project currently on his plate.
He also recently was appointed by his bosses, Anne Sweeney, Co-Chair of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney/ABC Television, and Jayne Parker, Executive Vice President and Chief HR Officer of The Walt Disney Co., to lead a new business function: HR Digital Products and Platforms for the entire Walt Disney Co. In this role, Milovich will spearhead the company’s effort to engage employees similarly to how they engage their viewers and consumers through the use of digital products, platforms and technology.
“We want to eliminate the gap that exists today between what my experiences are as a consumer and viewer, and what I experience coming into this place to work,” Milovich said. “Where are my apps to get my work done? Why aren’t we working with our employees through the same tools and platforms they use in their personal lives?”
Engaging employees through technology and continuing to grow Disney’s leadership development programs, all while helping to bring forth the potential of the next generation of leaders—both at Disney and in his personal life—are just a few initiatives that will keep Milovich busy in the coming year.
Building the Foundation
Milovich, who majored in Business and Economics at Utah State University and earned an Executive MBA at Pepperdine University, did not always aspire to work in HR. In fact, he considered himself an atypical business student with a blue-collar background.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said, “but I didn’t feel like the business type at all.”
Milovich, however, followed his father’s advice to pursue a business degree, and was drawn to courses that focused on labor law and HR. “I somewhat married my interests and personality and tendencies around people and influence with business,” he said. “It was during my junior year when I discovered you can actually get a [degree] emphasis in HR, get a job and get paid to work with people … the HR side of business sounded really interesting.”
Milovich began his career in the executive training program for United States Steel Corp., where he worked in labor relations and negotiations and with employment law-related issues. He quickly moved up through the managerial ranks in labor relations at a young age, and credits that experience to setting up his future professional growth.
“One of my pivotal moments was being assigned to a huge job very early—a real baptism by fire,” he said. “That was huge to my future career growth and development—not only being able to survive that experience, but to be able to thrive and create credibility.”
Milovich was then recruited to work in the HR group for PepsiCo, where he held a number of positions, and the more contemporary work environment allowed him to really hone his craft in the HR area.
“To get into HR in PepsiCo, they really had a high bar. You actually interviewed with very senior-line executives to get in the door,” he said. “PepsiCo taught me all about excellence—creative excellence and execution.”
Milovich also headed up International HR and oversaw growth and expansion efforts for Allied/Signal Honeywell, where he spent time on the ground establishing facilities in Shanghai, Tokyo and Bucharest, Romania. He then shifted gears and, during the height of the Internet boom, joined Walker Digital, which developed Priceline.com. “I spent time with a team of executives trying to develop three early-stage companies,” Milovich said, “and needed a strong entrepreneurial spirit with that tenure.”
He began working for Disney in 2002, and has been applying creativity to his previous HR experiences to develop numerous programs aimed to attract, retain and develop talent within the company. “Disney has given me a broad portfolio to be creative in what I’ve done in HR,” he said, “and to approach HR work within a very creative company in a nice, creative way.”
There (Will be) an App for That
In addition to developing talent leadership through various training programs, which is one of many initiatives Milovich is excited about, he also is spearheading a new organizationwide effort to engage Disney employees in a manner similar to that in which the company engages its viewers and consumers.
“There are all kinds of applications we use that allow our viewers to consume our entertainment content, whether it’s an iPad or iPhone, on a computer at home, Netflix, etc.,” Milovich explained. “Yet when people come to work, all of that social networking and digital technology isn’t used to engage them in their own work.”
Milovich envisions an environment in which employees can access work-related information as easily as they do in their personal life, through technology platforms such as smartphone applications.
“Imagine you’re working for a great entertainment company, in fact an iconic company like the Walt Disney Co.,” he said, “and you spend your whole day helping create compelling content that you get on all different platforms—your mobile phone, iPad, etc.—yet the way in which you engage your own workforce isn’t quite there yet.”
He believes it could start with something as simple as enrolling for an annual employee benefit package through an app on your phone. “Employees can go to the app store and get any sort of app they want to help manage their work and personal lives,” Milovich said. “Yet when you come to work today, there’s not even one app that allows you to get your work done—that’s bizarre.”
That said, his goal is to bridge the technological gap that exists between employees’ personal lives and their work lives by providing applications that make it easier to accomplish work activities. “We hope to have more engaged employees,” he said, “because more engaged employees are typically more productive and feel much better about the company they work for.”
Leading by Example
Holding responsibility of a global company’s HR strategy and implementation can come with many challenges, which Milovich faces and overcomes on a daily basis, including the constant shifting of gears and successfully managing the amount of information that is delivered to him through numerous modes of communication.
Even holding an executive role within an iconic company such as Disney has its own challenges and responsibilities. “With the power of our brand and our association with the Disney Co., there’s a high mantle of responsibility, which I feel that I wear proudly,” Milovich said.
He said he is always careful to protect the Disney and ABC brands and enhance their reputation through his work. “It’s different working for Disney and ABC than other companies that don’t have a brand like Disney or the amount of consumers around the world that expect something phenomenal from this iconic family and entertainment company.”
Through his collaborative leadership skills, Milovich effectively handles all of these responsibilities. “I love to collaborate—not on the details—but I also collaborate on establishing a vision for a project, the roadmap for how we’re going to get it done,” he said. “I spend a good amount of my time collaborating with my team on the actual implementation of things.”
His broad conceptual and strategic capabilities, combined with his ability to manage and implement large projects, have proven to be successful. “People describe my leadership style as one that creates the big picture first and provides an outline of the roadmap,” he said, “and then I give people tremendous latitude on how they execute things, all while holding them accountable.”
Helping the next generation of leaders—whether it is at work or in his personal life—is also extremely important to Milovich, and he looks for any opportunity to do so.
“I have my favorite coffee place, and in the past year I’ve had really great conversations with the young people that work there about their life and career,” he said “That’s an easy way for me to take this idea of bringing forth the potential of the next generation. I’m tapping into this next generation that’s serving me coffee; these are the future leaders of corporate America.”
And he does the same at Disney. “That’s really what a senior role should be,” he said. “It’s not about you any longer; it’s really about that next generation.”♦
Steve's Key HR Partners:Boston Consulting Group | Deloitte & Touche | Egon Zehnder | Heidrick & Struggles | J Carpenter & Co. | The Monitor Group | Romano Berger Executive Search | Russel Reynolds | Towers Watson