Jennifer “Jenny” Gaffney: 2020 Women of Innovation® Finalist, Large Business Innovation & Leadership Category
“Organizer of Chaos”
Jenny Gaffney is a Senior Manager for Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International (DTCI) segment, currently supporting ESPN’s Fantasy App and Web portfolio. Jenny is on Disney’s Women + Tech leadership team and previously served on the ESPN+ launch team. She has an MBA and Advanced Business Certification in both Human Resource Management and Project Management from the University of Connecticut.
Jenny never thought she would work for a company like Disney:
“I thought, just like my dad was at General Motors for 30 years, that I would retire with the same educational technology company that I started at, but it’s not like that anymore.”
Early in her career, Jenny worked at a K-12 educational technology startup in Avon, CT.
“At a startup with limited resources, you get to perform a lot of different functions that you wouldn’t be able to do in a corporate environment when you’re hired to do one job. You have to create and innovate in order to survive. I worked in areas ranging from Marketing and Sales to Human Resources and Project and Product Management. I thought I was going to retire with that company.”
Little did Jenny know that she was going on to bigger things. Once the company was acquired, she was relocated to Austin, Texas, to help incorporate their product line into the acquiring company’s overall portfolio of products. She learned the importance of networking while living in Texas as a Connecticut transplant.
After a few years of working in educational technology, Jenny made her way back to Connecticut after her mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She and her husband decided to work in social media management for franchisee/franchisor organizations such as Plato’s Closet, Once Upon a Time, William Raveis, Maaco, and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Shortly after getting married, Jenny decided to get her MBA and took a position within the healthcare data industry. After a few years of working in the healthcare industry, Jenny realized she wanted more.
“I realized reviewing and utilizing Healthcare data to serve medical coders was not for me. I wasn’t helping patients; I was just working with healthcare data.”
Jenny connected with a fellow UConn MBA student who is an Associate Director at ESPN helping to run the X Games. Under his advisement, Jenny decided to apply to ESPN (where their technology department later reorganized to become a part of DTCI under their parent company Disney).
She became the Senior Project Manager for LiveConnect, a product for advertisers that considered the emotional state of fans to determine which advertising would resonate best before, during, and after games. She was later pulled from supporting LiveConnect to be a member of the ESPN+ Launch team – helping to ensure an on-time and smooth product streaming launch.
The best moment in Jenny’s career was the launch night of ESPN+. She managed the launch night communications across three companies – Disney, ESPN, BAMTech (now called Disney Streaming Services). As the Release Night Coordinator, she worked from 11:30 PM until 3:30 PM the next day coordinating and communicating all platform deployments and quality assurance checks throughout the launch.
Currently, Jenny manages Fantasy’s App and Web applications along with managing a team of project managers and supporting the Multimedia development teams.
“I love the challenges of all the different projects I’m thrown into. I live in the chaos of it all. I take a challenge head-on and when I complete it, I’m eager for the next challenge!”
And thus, Jenny is known as the “Organizer of Chaos!”
Even though Jenny loves her startup experiences and considers herself an entrepreneur and innovator, she is extremely happy at Disney and doesn’t see herself doing anything else for the foreseeable future.
“I definitely have my own business ideas and dreams of bringing a product to the market to help students and professionals figure out how to align their passions with their career, but I fell in love with Disney and can’t imagine working anywhere else.”
Jenny is inspired by her work environment and all the creative, innovative people.
“What my team is doing, what I am doing is literally in everyone’s pocket [cellphone application]. Millions of people have the Fantasy app and the ESPN+ app. I’m not curing cancer, but what I do matters. It brings people joy and it brings communities together.”
When she isn’t working, mentoring, or being a mom, “The Organizer of Chaos” likes to spend her time quilting. Before Covid-19, she got together with a group of quilters every Thursday night. To de-stress, Jenny enjoys baking and loves coaching and playing softball. She is also a big advocate for the recruitment, retention, and promotion of women in technology. She thoroughly enjoys mentoring and coaching people.
“I want people to feel like they can come to me and talk about the hard things and issues they may be dealing with. I love brainstorming solutions to problems, especially if they help someone else!”
Jenny loves spending time with her family and is very appreciative of her supportive husband. Shout out to Chris Gaffney for being a great husband and father!
Advice for the Future Workforce: Network, Network, Network
Jenny wants to help shape tomorrow’s leaders through mentorship. At Disney, she loves to work with interns to coach them about the industry and provide them with career advice. While she highly recommends interns apply for positions at Disney, she also recommends students apply for internships at smaller startups because they will have the opportunity to explore a variety of positions and figure out early what they do and don’t like to do.
“Working at a startup is like getting an advanced business degree overnight.”
Jenny also suggests networking a lot.
“I challenged all of our DTCI interns to network with a least 100 people over the course of their summer internship. It’s important to build a network and become comfortable with speaking to industry experts. When I was laid off from one of my positions, I realized I didn’t know anybody at other companies in the city I was living in and that finding a job is really done best through utilizing your network. I can’t emphasize that enough. Now I make sure I network both inside and outside of my company and get to know colleagues from other industries, companies, and positions – because you never know what your next opportunity might be.”
“I didn’t always want to go into project management. In college, I wanted to study astrophysics and work for NASA. After transferring schools, I switched my major to business and I decided I would instead get my MBA and be a business leader. I quickly realized I made the right decision because I truly enjoyed it and was really good at it. As it turns out, serving as Release Night Coordinator on the ESPN+ launch was the closest I’ve come in my career to working in mission control.”
“I’m really passionate about education, technology, and sports. So, my advice is to find something you are really passionate about and then network and meet other people in those industries/fields. Life doesn’t go according to your plans. Life happens, and we have to be agile enough to adjust and come out on top.”
“I didn’t know my career would lead me to Disney, but now I can’t imagine being anywhere else as I have the unique opportunity to work at the intersection of all my passions.”