FIU Business Now Magazine
Leading at Disney with a Drive for Equity and Inclusion

Leading at Disney with a Drive for Equity and Inclusion

By Ellen Forman

Rita Ferro describes herself as"a Miami girl, through and through": enriched by diverse cultures, comfortable with rapid change and driven by a steadfast refusal to recognize the word"no."

That style has catapulted her into the role of president of Disney Advertising Sales and Partnerships at The Walt Disney Company. Leading a team of almost 1,800 employees with billions of dollars on the line, she advocates not only for ad support of Disney's wide range of iconic content, from streaming apps to local TV buys, but also for embracing the values of diversity in every aspect of the business.

Ferro is a 24-year veteran of Disney, an organization she first joined as head of Latin American ad sales for ESPN in 1997. Working in LATAM, she understood the dynamics of change, and was soon in charge of ad sales for a wider Disney portfolio. During a slowdown in travel after 9/11, Ferro enrolled in FIU's Master of International Business program, adding operational leadership and financial knowledge to her portfolio.

In 2010, Disney's U.S. ad sales division came calling with a leadership role. While it felt like a leap to enter the more traditional U.S. market, Ferro saw opportunities to create a more streamlined operation. Under the structure Ferro built, each sales representative sells the full range of the Disney media brands, from locally owned and operated TV stations to the Disney+ streaming service, with the support of strong data-driven insights.

"We are always better when we work with a one-team approach," she said.

Adapting to change remains Ferro's specialty. The COVID-19 era's sudden switch to Zoom was a"great equalizer," she said, allowing each team member's contribution to shine as they balanced work and family. Ferro led her team to embrace selling Disney's streaming portfolio, now a major source of its ad revenue. She also saw last summer's focus on racial justice as an opportunity to double down on diversity and equity efforts she championed throughout her career. In large part due to Ferro's leadership, Disney is recognized as one of the industry's most powerful advocates for inclusion, not only in its team, but in partnering with brands to reach more diverse audiences.

"As a woman of color, I have a double responsibility," she said. "And the fact that I'm a Latin woman – that is my ‘secret sauce.' "