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Getting up to speed in a new job is always a challenge — but Horacio Gutierrez joined Disney in 2022, as the industry as a whole continues to undergo seismic changes and the company itself was about to as well. Nonetheless, the lawyer has already hit his stride and is putting his tech background to work on the growing Disney+ streaming footprint, while also dealing with a major reorganization, guild negotiations, a certain governor who shall not be named, and more.
That’s why The Hollywood Reporter chose him as the 2023 Raising the Bar honoree. Disney Entertainment co-chairman Dana Walden on Wednesday presented the award to Gutierrez, senior executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance officer of The Walt Disney Company, during a celebratory breakfast for the industry’s Power Lawyers.
Walden began by saying she had asked Gutierrez’s advice about speaking in front of a room full of lawyers, which started with “just be yourself” but eventually escalated to “just don’t say anything” — so, she joked, that would be the end of her remarks.
After the false stop, she then continued with a witty quip about the company’s recent headlines. “Horacio joined us just over a year ago during what has been a quiet and boring period for Disney. He’s been able to just ease into this role, learn the ropes, get to know us all and he’s been home for dinner every night,” Walden said, then turning to him and asking facetiously, “Horacio, why are you laughing?”
In reality, Walden said, Gutierrez joined at a challenging time for the company and the industry and he’s been a game changer. “He’s strategic, thoughtful and he’s a compassionate leader,” she said. “He’s not just good at his job, he’s brilliant at it and we are the great beneficiaries of all of the experiences he’s had at world-class companies like Microsoft and Spotify.”
“These are really chaotic times, which I know I don’t have to tell any of you about. It seems like ‘no’ is the easy answer, and I know sometimes ‘no’ is the right answer,” Walden continued. “But Horacio comes to every situation with ‘yes.’ That’s at least our starting place. He’s unafraid to explore new possibilities. He’s kind of fearless, and he’s been a great addition to our team. Horacio, we are so lucky to have you at Disney.”
With that, Walden welcomed Gutierrez to the stage to present him with the award. He thanked her and his colleagues for their support, saying he’s been able to lean on them as he acclimated to his role.
“I’ve only been in the job for 14 months and 11 days and 17 hours,” Gutierrez said with a laugh, while glancing at his watch for effect. “But, as Dana says, what a 14 months it’s been: A CEO transition, a proxy fight and what I’ll just refer to as ‘Florida.'” (That last one, complete with air quotes, drew a big laugh from the crowd, given the context.)
Then, he joked, “When I learned I was getting this award after a little more than a year at the company I couldn’t help but think ‘It’s about time.’ It felt super lonely not being on anyone’s list after I left Spotify and Billboard dropped me like a sack of potatoes.”
Getting more serious, he thanked his wife, Morella, for her support and said it’s a privilege to work at Disney, even in challenging times. “It’s a fascinating industry with a rich history that stands at a critical inflection point,” Gutierrez said. “As an industry, we face a lot of challenges. But, when you look at the history of Hollywood and at the history of Disney, there’s never been a moment for the faint of heart. There have only been moments for those with bold dreams and big ideas who are willing to take even bigger risks. That’s why I’m constantly looking for ways to say ‘yes,’ to remove roadblocks as much as possible so that the creative people in the company can unleash their genius.”
In closing, Gutierrez said, “Every morning when I drive into that historic lot in Burbank, I’m reminded what a privilege is to be part of a company that is not only undergoing enormous change, but leading the charge in transforming media and entertainment for generations to come. I couldn’t be more honored to be part of an institution that means so much to so many.”
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