By Carolyn Gray Anderson
In the late 1970s, Christine McCarthy (’81) was preparing to leave a career in banking for a Ph.D. in biology. Or so she thought: Following the death of her father, someone planted the idea that she should pursue an MBA for greater earning power than she could expect in academe — particularly in the male-dominated sciences. Vacillating between living on the East Coast or the West Coast and on the basis that “sometimes you just have to make it up as you go along,” McCarthy enrolled at UCLA Anderson to earn her MBA.
Not that business was exactly welcoming to women executives: but if McCarthy has ever regretted her choice, she need only consult her own resume for proof that glass ceilings were no impediment. Once the youngest EVP at First Interstate Bank, the self-described “accidental MBA” is also the Walt Disney Company’s first female CFO, a role she assumed in 2015 after five years with the company, where she started as treasurer.
McCarthy, whose distinctions include the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2016 Executive of the Year award, visited UCLA Anderson as the first spring 2017 guest in the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Her appearance coincided with Anderson’s annual Impact Week in part because Disney as a company has made a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, and McCarthy oversees its corporate citizenship — with positive results over the last six years that parallel Disney’s financial success. Among UCLA Anderson’s long-term strategic goals is to elevate the school’s social mission, and conscious, connected leaders set the standard for the MBAs who follow their examples.
McCarthy’s personal impact also resonates because UCLA Anderson is dedicated to greater inclusion and equity. She told the audience that Disney chair and CEO Bob Iger “took a risk” appointing her to the C-suite, suggesting that a high-profile enterprise is still likelier to be scrutinized more closely for breaking with a conventional organizational chart. “You have to have a rapport with the entire executive management team,” she said, “and a complete, consistent dialogue with the board,” all of whom will be expecting more from someone representing a “first” like McCarthy does.