According to Sowon Sawyer, VP of Program Planning for Kids & Family Content at Warner Bros. Discovery, you never know what type of show is going to connect with younger audiences. It’s hard, she says, to predict “what [stories are] going to hit in two to three years,” the time it usually takes for an animated project to air after it’s been green-lit by a network and goes into production. Sawyer recently spoke at a FUTURE NOW Leadership Talk, and shared that facing uncertainty is something that she’s had to do throughout her career.
She majored in German Language and Literature at Wellesley College and had no particular designs on pursuing a career in media. “I really didn’t know what the possibilities were, to be honest,” she confessed, explaining that as a first-generation Asian-American woman she had no obvious role models working in the industry.
After a summer interning at a small animation studio, Sawyer decided to follow that path forward, working initially in sales at a production company before networking her way into a dual role at Nickelodeon in program strategy and acquisitions, which she found more interesting. Eventually, she transitioned over to the programming team, staying at Nickelodeon for eleven years before working at AMC Networks and her current position at Warner Bros. Discovery.
Another key part of Sawyer’s career has been the work she’s done around diversity, equity, and inclusion. At AMC Networks, she was the Founding Chair of DEI. She started organizing efforts within the company after she noticed the lack of support for employees of color, saying that “they didn’t have a place to get together, to talk about common shared experiences, and I wanted to have that for myself.”
Building nine Employee Resource Groups and a reverse executive mentorship program at AMC helped to change the internal conversations within the company, something Sawyer is particularly proud of.
Now, as she looks ahead, Sawyer acknowledges the challenges of the unknown, in particular the recent merger of Warner Media and Discovery. “Things are happening very, very quickly, ” she noted, in particular highlighting the shifting priorities of the new company.
Yet, Sawyer emphasized optimism and focus on the job at hand as key to moving through tough transitions such as this one. “Once all of this is done, and all the dust has settled, what people will remember about you is how you handled yourself in that crisis.” Such thinking has been helpful to her throughout her career.
Speaking to the audience of students and recent graduates, Sawyer recalled advice that she once got from a mentor about uncertainty: “Whatever you do…keep your eyes open, keep learning, and aim for ultimately where you want to end up, and head in that direction.” Words to live by, especially in an ever-evolving industry….