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  Gordon Ho '91
Gordon Ho '91

Alumni Profile: Gordon Ho '91

Crossroads of entertainment, packaged goods fertile ground for Gordon Ho

By Ed Finkel

During his 13-year career at Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Gordon Ho '91 has reached millions of people with his work on films such as "Finding Nemo," "The Return of Jafar," "The Incredibles" and "The Lion King." He has risen from assistant brand manager to executive vice president of marketing and business development at the Disney affiliate, thriving at the nexus of entertainment and packaged goods marketing.

"It's a wonderful position to have this blend," he says. "Retailers are trying to maximize the profitability of their space. If a product isn't selling well, do you lower the price, do you augment the product — all those questions we go through, not unlike a packaged goods person. The challenge when launching a movie is you really don't have a second chance."

Packaged goods marketers generally can test a product with a launch in one or a handful of markets, Ho reflects. "You can't do that with a big movie on DVD. We can't test launch 'Finding Nemo' in a few cities. We have to launch it all at the same time," he explains. As a result, he says there is more variability from title to title in this business — a dynamic that makes the job more exciting. "When you're able to do 15, 20, 25 million units, it's amazing to think about how many people you're touching," he says.

Upon landing his position with help from Kellogg alum Denise Anker '85, who was then director of marketing at the firm, Ho began as assistant brand manager at Disney working on cartoons like "Winnie the Pooh." He recalls, "We had all these 'Winnie the Pooh' cartoons released for television and realized we could create similar segmented product lines on video."

Ho helped to create the direct-to-video Disney Premiere category with the launch of "Return of Jafar," which he says resulted in many other such releases. "That led to a multibillion dollar business," he notes. "Families do appreciate and love entertainment in theaters, but they really liked the option to bring entertainment directly into the home. It's convenient and a great value.  It was something the kids wanted."

Ho's current position as executive vice president, to which he was named in April, will involve leading product development and acquisitions as well as development of new technology, business and brand.

"Each one is an increasing responsibility," he says of the steps along the way, which have included director of marketing for Buena Vista Games (formerly Disney Interactive) from 1996 to 1997, vice president of brand marketing from 2000 to 2002, and senior vice president of marketing from 2002 until this year.

"More and more, you're relying on your teams to help you formulate strategies," Ho says. "One of the most important things is coming up with strategies that can be implemented throughout the value chain. I work to establish priorities, make sure my team has the resources they need to get their work done, and always try to look for new product opportunities and new marketing opportunities."

Given the always-stiff competition in the video industry, Ho says he and his colleagues are continually exploring new ways to reach the consumer, applying learnings from Buena Vista's 200 product launches a year to future efforts.

"Consumers want their own personal product," he says. "Consumers want choice. There used to be maybe one major title a month; now there are 10 a week. We've had to figure out how to do things quicker and more efficiently with the resources we have."

Ho cites skills he learned at the Kellogg School, such as negotiations and salesmanship, benchmarking against competition and meeting management as keys to his success. "You may have a good idea, but if you can't sell it, it just sits in limbo," he says. "I'm not so self-absorbed to think that we're the only guys who have great ideas." 

Perhaps his most important skill, especially in the age of the Internet, has been the ability to give consumers exactly what they want, Ho says.

"With consumers being as powerful as they are, with the Internet giving them all the information they want, with more ways than ever for them to find out about your product, we have to analyze all the methods of reaching them," he says. "All of those decisions are being applied here at Buena Vista in real time."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University