Pivot: From Disney Executive to Author and Food Network Star
The idea of a career pivot for Melissa d’Arabian (MBA’93) isn’t necessarily an epiphanic event. Sometimes it’s made of tiny steps that lead you to a new path. Her steps looked like this. Step one: Cruise ship entertainer as a college graduate in need of cash. Step two: A Georgetown MBA degree and a consultancy job with Andersen Consulting. Step three: Disney executive. Step four: Stay-at-home mom to four daughters. Step five: Help other parents be cost-effective by sharing a video about making homemade yogurt. Step six: Upload video to Food Network Star competition show. Step seven: Win the show and land a Food Network contract. Full pivot: Become a Food Network star and author. For d’Arabian, each step led to the next—and every lesson she learned along the way informed her next adventure.
One of my core values is that education is always a good investment in myself. Any time there was somebody who said, “I will take you under my wing, and I will teach you this cool thing,” I was game. I’d show up for that opportunity—be it coding at Andersen or working for the CFO at Disney or opting to become a stay-at-home mom or showing up on the set of a Food Network competition show. I ask the right questions, and I bring whatever it is that I have from my past. I have a spirit of fundamental optimism that there’s an adventure to be had, and I’m going to learn from it.
The decision to leave Disney and become a stay-at-home mom, for example, came with wide-eyed excitement. It was a new world for me. We moved to Dallas for my husband’s job, and I plunged into the experience in a community that really does stay-at-home momdom well. It was in that space that I continued to use my background and my experience from my past roles. I grew up on a tight budget, and I knew how to prepare economic meals—which was really helpful for my growing family operating on a single income. But I was also using the strategic planning, budgeting, and financial analysis skills that I honed at Disney. I started to speak at local groups about money-saving strategies for busy moms. My approach was to show them how much they could save, and then how much that meant they were getting paid an hour. One of the things that people were really drawn to was this idea of how to make your own homemade yogurt without special equipment.
So I made a video to show other moms how to do it, and then I uploaded that video to the audition site for Food Network Star.
It may seem like an odd thing for a former executive to do, but it’s not that far-fetched. I worked in the entertainment industry for years on the business side. Then I had this theater background. In fact, in my most recent book, Tasting Grace, I talk about how I tried so hard to make a career in performance in my 20s. It didn’t happen for me then—but maybe I had lessons to learn first.
Perhaps the biggest reason I won Food Network Star was because of my MBA training and my thinking in terms of business strategy. I understood that they were looking for somebody to help create a show that could have long legs.
Finding the intersection of my past experiences has been a hallmark of my career. So while some people might say, “Wait, what? She’s now on Food Network? That makes no sense.” But it makes sense to me, and to anybody who knows me well.
Sure, sometimes life and careers take major, unexpected turns. But career pivoting is often made up of smaller pivots and responding thoughtfully to change.
This story was originally featured in the Georgetown Business Fall 2022 Magazine.