On Saturday, October 20, the Ukrainian Institute of America and Branch 113 of UNWLA presented An Evening with Zenia Mucha, a successful and spirited question and answer session with the current Executive Vice President, Chief Communications Officer for The Walt Disney Company, and former powerhouse advisor to politicians Governor George E. Pataki and Senator Alfonse D’Amato.
After an introduction by Branch president Christina Samilenko and brief remarks by Mucha—during which the 2012 Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications stressed the importance of the work ethic and sense of limitless possibility that her immigrant parents had instilled in her—the floor was opened to questions. The diverse capacity audience included many young communications professionals eager to hear from a superstar in their field, as well as, much to Mucha’s delight, some of her former classmates from the East Village’s St. George Ukrainian Catholic School. Topics ranged between the personal, the political, and the professional; in response to a crowd appreciative of her time and achievements, Mucha was generous in turn, and answered questions for well over an hour.
While deeply committed to and inspired by her work over the past decade with the Walt Disney corporation, many of Mucha’s most revealing comments had to do with her enormously influential time in the public sector. A life-long Republican, Mucha, whose biggest personal and professional regret is not being in New York on September 11, 2001, spoke candidly about the disenfranchisement she feels from the current iteration of the party, which she characterized as consumed with a focus on social issues to the detriment of the kind of impact-making policies she had a hand in shaping during her tenure with Governor Pataki. And while her time with the Governor was among the happiest and most professionally fulfilling in a career full of highlights, best—or at least most influential—boss honors went to Senator D’Amato, whose indefatigable energy and high expectations of those around him resulted in Mucha’s developing the consummate communications skill set that laid the foundation for her ascension to the very highest ranks in that field.
When Mucha spoke of her time at Disney, it was the company’s commitment to quality and the way in which it represents America around the globe that seemed to inspire her most—as well as the fact that her job allows her to interface with each facet of the company, making every day different from the next. While she side-stepped the inevitable “What Disney princess would you be?” question, Mucha did admit that, like all top executives, she had to take a costumed turn around the theme park as part of her corporate initiation process. The memory of rapturous responses from young fans clearly left Mucha moved, but the strategic communicator in her was loathe to divulge the Disney character involved. But perhaps the most direct answer of the evening came in response to a young woman curious as to how Mucha navigated her way to the pinnacle of such an iconic company (she reports directly to Disney CEO Robert Iger). “Well, I came in at the top,” said Mucha with a well-earned chuckle. “So I can’t really answer that question.”
At the conclusion of the Q & A, Mucha was presented with a bouquet of flowers and a selection of catalogs from the Ukrainian Museum. The reception immediately following featured an abundant culinary spread and a continuation of the lively dialogue that preceded it. Mucha stayed and answered questions until the very end of the evening, a Los Angeles-based power broker happy to be back among the community and in the city that shaped her destiny.
by Adriana Leshko