The Magic Touch

Peter Noonan

Disney Consumer Products’ Peter Noonan discusses how Canada’s top brand is widening its reach with the recent merchandising acquisition of Lucasfilm

When Peter Noonan tells people what he does for a living, without fail, their eyes light up. They respond with a description of their favourite Disney character or the tale of their first trip to Disney World. But the managing director of licensing for Disney Consumer Products (DCP) Canada knows the feeling.

As a child, Noonan could be found on Sunday nights tuning in to The Wonderful World of Disney. And when he was nine years old, his parents packed up the family and headed out to visit the Florida home of all his favourite characters. Now, when Noonan talks about “the most magical place” he’s ever been to, you need the context of his age to avoid confusion—because he describes the company he works for today with the same wonder and amazement. “More than 30 years later, I’m still just as passionate about the brand,” he says. “I’m pretty lucky to work for a brand as magical as Disney.”

Noonan never imagined he would end up one day working for Disney. Before joining the DCP family, he tried his hand in telecommunications, and he spent eight years of his career with Unilever, focusing on sales and retail marketing for personal-care items. Not long afterward, a friend made the move to Disney, and Noonan was intrigued. On the surface, the producer of Q-tips, Klondike, and Country Crock—just to name a few—may not seem complementary to the cartoon creative house, but with just a little consideration, it doesn’t take long to realize how ubiquitous the Disney brand is and how many consumer products it touches.

DCP’s product portfolio is divided into hard and soft lines. Consumer electronics, toys, sporting goods, food, and health and beauty products all comprise the hard-line business, while apparel, accessories, footwear, infant products, home furnishings, stationery, and party goods make up the soft. With a range so wide, it’s easy to see how selling Little Mermaid bubble bath might be informed by years marketing Dove products.

11

Number of Disney princesses that the brand now accounts for

130+

Number of toys DCP unveiled that were inspired by the Disney Junior network

At one time, the scope of DCP’s licenses could be categorized under three main properties: Disney Media, Classics & Entertainment; Disney & Pixar Animation Studios; and Disney Princess & Disney Fairies. Think of every animated Disney film and cartoon you’ve ever seen, and you might scratch the surface of the content that fills those coffers.

In his tenure with the brand, Noonan has seen the acquisition of two merchandising giants: Marvel Entertainment in 2009 and Lucasfilm in 2012. Both brought respective troves of content into the DCP portfolio, significantly increasing the licensing opportunities for the company and complementing its dominance in the little girls consumer market with two top boy brands. It’s a move that has widened Disney’s reach by bringing the two brands into its family.

Part of the success of the Marvel acquisition was the smooth transition of the business from one ownership and location to another—something Noonan is working to replicate with Lucasfilm. Canadian licensing of Marvel content, which was formerly managed in New York, benefitted from the local resources and expertise that Noonan’s team offered in Toronto. Noonan expects the incorporation of Lucasfilm to be similarly successful, in part because the brand already had a working partnership with Disney before the acquisition. Two key properties of Lucasfilm—Star Wars and Indiana Jones—have a long-standing presence in Disney theme parks. “Our company has been working with Lucasfilm for years,” Noonan says. “The acquisition is a natural fit.”

Noonan didn’t walk into the position from which he would lead DCP Canada Licensing. He spent a few years in sales at the DCP Toronto office, selling the brand experience and products to retailers, which forced him to become an expert. He transitioned to the licensing side of the business so that when his boss at the time left the company, Noonan was primed to fill his position.

“Working for Disney in Toronto is different from working for Disney in Burbank, California,” Noonan says. The first time he visited the head office in the home of Disneyland, he was reminded of the excitement he felt as a child entering the Magic Kingdom—an excitement that permeates the corporation. “I always say, ‘If you’re not excited about what you’re doing, you should rethink it,’” he says. “People who work for Disney are very brand-positive people. They’re people who are really passionate.”

Particularly in the Toronto DCP Canada office, Noonan’s team has been proving that statement true. It’s a mentality, Noonan believes, that led to Walt Disney Co. being named as the number-one brand by Canadian Business in 2013. “It’s an honour for all of us,” Noonan says. “It’s a testament to the entire Disney company in Canada—from parks and resorts to television to the Disney Store to interactive games, and to the studio.”

But Noonan isn’t content to stop there. He and his team are always striving to increase the company’s reach. Doing so involves constantly trying to new things. New products include 100 percent fruit juice and yogurt, representing a continued push into the healthy foods market, and a focus on technology and growing the company’s adult-minded portfolio. These are initiatives, Noonan says, that hold great potential for DCP’s brands.

Ultimately, the role of managing director,­ while driven by revenue, requires strong leadership, and Noonan has learned that effective team management is what earns results. Among his team, Noonan has found that what’s taken him furthest are honesty, compassion, and trust. “Attitude is paramount when managing people,” he says. “I try to manage my team the way I like to be managed, which is not on a micro level. I have a smart team. I give them clear direction and let them do their jobs.”