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Exploring the Unknown Paves Surprising, Remarkable Path

June 10, 2019

Warner Bros. Executive Kim Williams, ’92, Urges Grads to Be Open to What Life Presents

TBird Kim Williams

The incredible professional career of Kim Williams, Warner Bros. Entertainment executive vice president and chief financial officer, is a series of bold, confident steps into the unknown. Life, she says, really is about the journey — not the destination — that should be enjoyed, savored, and shared.  

That personal philosophy has worked well for Williams, who currently is part of a tripartite interim executive leadership team at Warner Bros. Since graduating from Thunderbird School of Global Management in 1992, she has been on a professional journey with career stops that would be the final destinations of many executives’ dreams.

 The self-described “poster child for a career unplanned” likes the unknown for its opportunities, thrills, and mysteries, and for the promise of knowledge and experiences. 

 “ ‘Life really is about the journey — not the destination — that should be enjoyed, savored, and shared.’ ~ Kim Williams, ‘92”– Click to tweet

That’s how a ninth-grader who attended high school in Italy after moving there with her family became a Japanese/Asian studies double major at Connecticut College who then found her way to her first finance class in graduate school at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. It’s how a young woman with an MBA but little interest at the time in working for a big corporation spent more than the first decade of her career with GE in Europe and the United States, including a stint as senior vice president and chief financial officer at NBC West Coast. Prior to joining Warner Bros. in 2015, Williams was chief financial officer for CORE Media Group, chief operating officer for NFL Network and chief financial officer for the NFL.

None of this was laid out for a straight-talking, intellectually curious woman who once had thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. But all of it makes sense for someone who sees no other way to live life than to pursue passions with due diligence and high integrity. 

Williams was the keynote speaker May 7 at the 2019 Thunderbird School of Global Management commencement ceremony

“ ‘Opportunities beget opportunities and being open to what life presents is the greatest advice I can give anyone’. ~ Kim Williams, ‘92”– Click to tweet 

“Opportunities beget opportunities and being open to what life presents is the greatest advice I can give anyone,” she said at the ceremony. “And that is what the Thunderbird experience is, in part, all about. To help us recognize through the curriculum, the students, the professors, the programs, and yes, the ‘mystique’ that the world is our proverbial oyster, filled with an infinite number of possibilities and roads less travelled.”

Kim Williams, Spring 2019 Convocation SpeakerDr. Sanjeev Khagram, dean and director of Thunderbird said Williams has had a remarkable career, but it is her spirit — that of “such an incredible Thunderbird” — that prompted him to invite her to speak at commencement. 

Williams dropped these pearls of wisdom on the Thunderbird Class of 2019:

  • “Don’t Panic.  If you have no idea of what to do with any part of your life, don’t panic.  It’s not like there’s a bus leaving and if you’re not on it, you’re toast.  It doesn’t work that way. There’s no bus, there’s no schedule, there’s no route you’re on that can’t be changed.  Whatever path you take, just keep searching for the spark, the passion that lights your way. 
  • “Shit happens, but it happens to everyone. … It’s how we deal with it and get through it, what we take away from it, what we decide is important and not important, how it evolves who we are, and who we are to others.”  
  • “Don’t be a jerk. No one likes a jerk and no one wants to work hard for a jerk or see a jerk succeed. Rise above and set a higher standard for empathy, kindness, generosity, inclusiveness, and graciousness.” 

Williams, who at a young age earned a reputation in her field for being smart and focused, strides so confidently on her journey to the unknown because she relies on a moral compass showing true north. She reminded graduates that their impact on others might be unknown at times and that the greatest compliments may be the ones they never hear. 

“Kim Williams, Tbird alumni, tells graduates that their impact on others might be unknown at times and that the greatest compliments may be the ones they never hear.” – Click to tweet

“The notion that we can and should inspire others in small ways, day in and day out, by simply raising the bar for good behavior, supports the concept that the greatest influence you can have in this world may in fact be the one you may by wholly unaware of,” Williams said. “And as T-birds the recognition that we are well-equipped, dare I say best-equipped, to embrace and celebrate and be influenced by our differences is what sets us apart. It is in many ways the measure of our character as a citizen of the world.” 

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