Mary Beech had just such a tall order: help pull together some of the Mouse House's most beloved, yet disparate, characters under a single banner called Princesses. Never mind that classic Cinderella had never before rubbed delicate elbows with the aquatic Ariel and exotic Jasmine.
"Traditionalists felt that somehow it would dilute the myth of the storytelling to group characters from different worlds," says Disney Consumer Products Chairman Andy Mooney, who hired Ms. Beech. He assigned her the role of director-franchise management over Princesses and several other Walt Disney Co. properties. "We broke apart a paradigm," Mr. Mooney says.
The result was swift. With Ms. Beech shepherding the brand from merchandise and theme parks to TV and live events, Princesses has grown from $100 million in sales during its debut year of 2000 to $1.4 billion in 2003. It's predicted to reach $2 billion this year. Both executives see plenty of future potential for what Mr. Mooney says has become "the definition of an evergreen property."
"We hit a hole in the market," says Ms. Beech, who recently gave birth to her first child, a daughter whose bedroom is predictably stuffed with Princesses paraphernalia. "This is more than just a toy or one character. It's a stage in little girls' lives."
Ms. Beech was part of a team that Mr. Mooney assembled about four years ago to take the Disney division from being deal-oriented to product- and retail-oriented. He wanted to focus heavily on brands, and believed Ms. Beech's experience at Ralph Lauren and Ann Taylor made her ideal for the task.
Never mind that she came to Disney through a somewhat unconventional route. Ms. Beech had read a newspaper story about Mr. Mooney that made her want to work for him. That happily coincided with a planned move from New York to Southern California so that her husband could go to graduate school at UCLA.
As an executive, the 32-year-old Ms. Beech is "creative, direct and thoughtful," Mr. Mooney says, adding that for the Princesses line, she's been "the glue across categories. She makes sure that everything is consistent."