Christine McCarthy, Winner, Woman of the Year

Published: Aug 2015


Photo of Christine McCarthy, The Walt Disney Company.


This year’s Treasury Today Woman of the Year, Christine McCarthy, has demonstrated real achievement in her career whilst dedicating a significant amount of her own time to inspire younger women with the lessons she has learnt on the path to success. Our judges felt she was a true role model to other women in the world of treasury and her colleagues at The Walt Disney Company agreed: “She is a strong and inspiring leader who believes in empowering her team, while giving them guidance and support to achieve even greater success,” says Tom Staggs the company’s Chief Operating Officer.

Christine McCarthy

Senior EVP and Chief Financial Officer

Christine M. McCarthy oversees the worldwide entertainment company’s corporate finance, capital markets, financial risk management, international treasury, insurance, pension and investments, global cash management and treasury operations, credit and collections, corporate alliances and global real estate. Prior to Disney, McCarthy was Chief Financial Officer of Imperial Bancorp, and EVP of Finance for First Interstate Bancorp.

Christine McCarthy’s extensive professional experience comprises numerous finance, strategy and planning positions and includes dedication to many boards (Chair of the Finance Committee for FM Global, for instance) and industry affiliations (such as The Trusteeship and International Women’s Forum). Moreover, Christine’s entry into the financial world dates back to 1981; a time when there were few women entering financial careers.

As her title suggests, Christine’s role at The Walt Disney Company encompasses responsibility for the company-wide management of a broad range of functions. Described by the Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of The Walt Disney Company, Jay Rasulo, as “instrumental in the financial management of our company, successfully overseeing a complex portfolio that includes treasury, alliances and corporate real estate,” Christine is Treasury Today’s well-deserved Woman of the Year 2015.

Challenging responsibilities:

During her 15-year progression at Disney, Christine has been witness to the effects of the financial crisis on a corporation with an international presence. Responsible for the company’s global finance activities (including leading project finance activities for expansion at the time), was she intimidated? Far from it. Rather, she faced the series of challenges head-on, learning valuable lessons on the way. The end result has meant her team and the company was in the best possible position to continue down the path of large-scale projects, especially in Disney’s Parks and Resorts segment which had already commenced by embracing techniques including:

  • A group wide view on liquidity.

    “Liquidity has always been a focal point in treasury but now counterparty risk is something we never take our eyes off,” she explains. Aided by some new technologies, Disney is now able to look at counterparty risk on a consolidated enterprise-wide basis across all banking relationships and products. “We don’t use only credit ratings because they can be rather stale – you certainly can’t rely on them because some of the institutions that failed during the crisis were very well rated.” Instead, she has refined a process that incorporates, for example, dynamic credit default swap rates (CDS) and stock-price changes to assess counterparty risk. Everything is measured relative to a basket of financial institutions to rule out market movements rather than individual performance blips.

  • Maintaining dynamic banking relationships.

    As a result of treasury’s more extensive process, some banks – both large global and regional institutions – were removed from its list of partners. Christine feels that although the crisis has abated, the banking environment is still “dynamic” and vigilance must be maintained. “We have to keep adjusting our exposures, and with some banks it is better that we just part ways.” As a perfect example of the dynamism of Disney’s bank line-up, where a few years ago there were none, today’s banking partners include the four largest Chinese banks – the new Shanghai Disney Resort giving Disney strong presence and visibility in the country (due to be opened in Spring 2016).

Moreover, Christine’s executive leadership and management of major projects includes the capital structure negotiations for the joint venture for Shanghai Disneyland, the 2012 refinancing and ongoing 2014-2015 restructuring of Euro Disney/Disneyland Paris, acquisition and financings of Marvel and Lucas Films, acquisition and financing of UTV (Mumbai, India), enterprise project for payments governance, real estate development and divestitures in Burbank and Glendale, CA and New York City, as well as major construction and development projects in Singapore, Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo and Buenos Aires.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Christine for many years. She is a strong and inspiring leader who believes in empowering her team, while giving them guidance and support to achieve even greater success.

Tom Staggs, Chief Operating Officer, The Walt Disney Company

“In the case of Euro Disney/Disneyland Paris, there are minority shareholders with a publically traded stock and various debt lenders until 2012,” explains Christine. “In order to provide Disneyland Paris with more operational flexibility and to alleviate the challenges of restrictive financial covenants, we negotiated with the third-party lenders and repaid the outstanding loan and Disney became the sole lender to the company. We are now in the process of a multi-phase recapitalisation of that entity through a rights offering, debt conversion, mandatory tender offer and anti-dilution mechanism.”

The international real estate projects in Mumbai, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore and Buenos Aires are all new regional headquarters for Disney’s businesses in those markets. These will accommodate growth and expansion throughout the company’s film studio, media and consumer products businesses.

Career roots:

An impressive remit then – and this isn’t even where her journey started. Christine completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences at Smith College, Massachusetts and a Master’s of Business Administration in Marketing and Finance from The Anderson School at UCLA before entering the corporate world. Prior to joining Disney, Christine was Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Imperial Bancorp from 1997 to 1999. From 1981 to 1996, she held investor and finance planning positions at First Interstate Bancorp, and was Executive Vice President, Finance from 1993.

Throughout Christine’s career, she has demonstrated commitment to supporting and mentoring professional women and inspiring younger girls. “I have been involved in the National Math and Science initiatives through its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programme for girls in America, focusing my mentoring activity on female undergraduate taking science majors. I also encourage young women to pursue academic and professional careers through my involvement as a Trustee at The Westridge School in Pasadena, California, an independent college preparatory school for girls in grades four through to 12. I have served on the school’s board for the past three years and have served on its Asset Management, School Curriculum and Endowment committees.

“I strongly believe that the continued education and empowerment of women on a global basis will make the world a better place.” As a recipient of Amy Randall Brown Prize, for excellence in Botany, during her earlier studies, Christine clearly recognises that encouraging women to have access to obtaining the tools necessary to achieve their dreams from the early stages of growth is of utmost importance.

Expanding functions:

With an educational background in biology and a career in banking under her belt, Christine McCarthy’s route to treasury – by her own admission – did not follow a natural path. Now, in the context of keeping one of the world’s best-loved names in entertainment financially on track, Christine has a role of significant importance and – although to date all treasury functions have been managed centrally out of Burbank, California – Disney has a number of US-based and overseas operational units and is currently building out some regional treasury centres (RTCs) to take on more of the operational work.

Christine is highly respected by leaders across Disney, from our studios to theme parks to television networks, and incredibly well-regarded by her team.

Jay Rasulo, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, The Walt Disney Company

Therefore, the scope of her remit and the reach of the organisation is ever broadening to an extent that her involvement in all operational activities is not physically possible. How then does she seek to address these concerns? Christine says sometimes it is the nature of a project that determines her direct involvement; a large undertaking with a lot of financial exposure – working out the capital structure for international theme parks, working on capital allocation, longer-term liquidity planning, or large capital market transactions – will see her rolling up her sleeves and pitching in with her colleagues, of course!

With regard to her team, Christine believes it is essential to keep high-potential people motivated. To do that you have got to give them the ability to make decisions and to earn acknowledgment for the work they do. “I want them to be out in front getting the recognition they deserve; the downside risk is that they must perform and succeed.” The level of personal responsibility carried by Christine herself is such that she needs to empower her staff to run their own departments, functionally defined as groups (including International Treasury, Corporate Finance and Risk Management, for instance). But she always keeps an open door for questions, direction and reinforcement and, for that, she is well respected.

Recalling her transition into the male-dominated business environment she explains, “I knew it was going to be tough and I knew it was not a female-friendly environment. But that was what I was going to do.” With a determination and can-do attitude that has resulted in her natural fit within treasury, Christine has earned the recognition she deserves.

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