From China to Fantasy, empowering dreams
San Francisco, May 12th, 2017
Madeleine DiBiasi, Senior Producer at Fantasy, is not afraid to stand up, look you in the eye and make you react. Many times this reaction will be a spark creativity or productivity, especially while working with her team at Fantasy. If you catch her at night or at the weekend, she might just make you laugh during one of her stand up comedies or acting improvisation.
Now on her late 20s, Madeleine is a Philadelphia native with great pride in her ‘East Coast heritage.’ Currently, however, she is living in the exact opposite side of the USA, enjoying the mild weather and buzzing cultural scene of San Francisco.
We know the route to success is not always a straight line. She has been working for Fantasy for less than a year, and she is already making waves in the organisation thanks to her drive. We asked Madeleine how did she get to where she is today.
She says that there have been three important events that became beacons, indicating a path. But they all required determination and fearlessness.
“I received a BA and MA in Cultural Heritage Management from Boston University”, she says. “When I attended Boston University, they offered a five-year BA/MA program. I knew I wanted my Masters, but I also knew there was no way I could afford an additional year. So, I started overloading my semesters, taking extra classes and talking my way into graduate-level courses. In my forth year, I had enough credits to qualify for a Masters and received permission to write a Masters thesis. I did in four years what usually takes five. The experience gave me the confidence to tackle challenges that feel too big, that people tell you to give up on.”
When she finished her studies, Madeleine worked for a short while in non-profit organisation, in the Development Department for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, managing grants from foundations and corporations.
Then, following her love for travelling, she took a year off and went to the Far East, to China, where she taught English at a University.
“Taking a year to travel after graduating was hugely important in my trajectory. I wasn’t sure how I was going to transition my education into a job. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. And I knew that if I stayed where I was, I wouldn’t grow personally or professionally. Moving to the middle-of-nowhere China for a year gave me the time to think about what was really important to me and started me on an action plan.”
Madeline path to producing started on her return to the US when she took a job with Lonely Planet in Nashville, TN.
“I got a job as a Project Manager at Lonely Planet. There, I developed my skills managing digital projects and eventually became a Senior Program Manager. I worked on large scale, multichannel-marketing partnerships for clients like Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Budget Rent-a-Car.”
A year ago, she moved to San Francisco. At first she was working in a job that was not what she wanted, with narrow responsibilities, no creativity or inspiration and little room to use her full potential.
“The job wasn’t right for me. Instead of “toughing it out” and staying unhappy, I took a leap and changed jobs, not knowing if I was trading up or down,” she confesses and adds “I’m so happy I made the choice to move to Fantasy. I got my career back on track and now I work at a job that I’m excited to go to everyday.”
“San Francisco is probably my favourite city in the world. Bay Area has amazing art and culture, great food, beautiful weather and it’s so close to amazing weekend getaways.”
What do you believe has been the key to your success thus far at Fantasy?
At Fantasy, producers are not only responsible for overseeing the budget, scope, and schedule for a given project, but also for providing creative feedback. I always say, at Fantasy everyone is expected to have an opinion. And opinions are nothing I’ve ever been short of!
Does being a woman provide advantages/disadvantages in your industry/line of work? Please explain and give examples.
In recent years, I’ve been involved in several projects where I am the only woman on my internal team and on the client’s team. When that happens, I’m often put in the position of representing all women’s opinions on a given topic. While I’m glad I’m there to provide a female perspective, I know I can’t possibly represent the variety of female opinions that exist in the world.
Having more diversity in a room leads to more well rounded conversations about user behaviour and user preferences, ultimately leading to design that speaks to more audiences. I would be thrilled to see more female faces in senior positions in the Bay Area. I think it could only positively impact the kind of products our tech companies are putting into market.
How do you organise and prioritise your workload?
I’m my most creative in the mornings. So if I have to help write a project proposal or a strategy summary, I block out the first few hours of the day. If I’m working in spreadsheets, estimating for a project or creating a project schedule, I reserve time later in the day. I also block out my calendar with tasks so that I know I’ll have concentrated time to work on pressing areas of my to-do list.
How do you monitor and review the delegated responsibilities?
As a producer, I assume trust in my team. If someone says they’ll get a task done in two days time, I check in with them two days later. It’s only when a team member isn’t delivering on their self-prescribed time frames that I’ll monitor work more closely. I find people perform best when they know they are trusted and feel empowered.
How much time do you spend with customers?
I would say I spend a one-third of my time with clients.
What upcoming initiatives do you find particularly exciting?
Fantasy is starting to partner more and more with financial clients. While on the surface these might not seem like the sexiest projects, the financial industry is ripe for a design overhaul. Users today expect all digital experiences to have simple interaction design with a beautiful interface. In the digital space, finance is lagging and companies like Fantasy can help reimaging the industry’s future.
Can you tell me about an example where you have had to resolve an issue between a creative team and a client?
I think it’s the job of a producer to advocate for a creative vision.
Prior to Fantasy, I was working much more in the advertising space and my clients weren’t designers, so convincing them that we were making the right design decisions could sometimes be challenging.
When conflicts like this come up I always default to the same message: Our team succeeds if our client succeeds. We want to create the best result possible. We’re never truly in conflict if we’re working toward the same goal.
What is your communication style with your team?
I try to protect my team from distractions during the workday. I like to schedule short meetings if I need to discuss something so that everyone can plan their time. An interruption every once in a while isn’t the worst thing, but I never want my team to feel that their concentration is getting pulled in too many directions.
How would you describe your company culture?
We like having people here who have positive attitudes. Work can be stressful and having a team that lifts you up and doesn’t add to daily stress is extremely important. It’s cliché, but I think Fantasy is very much a happy family.
When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I go to bed between 10pm and 11pm. I usually wake up around 7am. I always set an alarm, but I never actually need it. I must have a very regulated body clock.
What book or movie has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter—And How to Make the Most of Them Now had a profound impact on me in my early twenties. I had just left a job teaching in China and was travelling around Eastern Europe, trying to figure out what would come next. For me, the whole book was a fantastic guide on how to become an adult.
One chapter struck me in particular: The author, a psychologist, has a conversation with one of her patients who talks about the feeling of not being able to pick a career path. He says he feels like he’s in the middle of the ocean and he knows he has to choose a direction and start swimming if he wants to make it to land and survive, but he’s so paralyzed by choice, he stays put and risks drowning.
When I read that, I knew that I needed to take the next step in my career. I just needed to choose a new direction. I was passionate about travel, and so that was the direction I chose. Three months later I was moving to Nashville for a Project Management job at Lonely Planet.
If you could do any other job, what would that be?
I’d be an actor. I’ve always loved performing and continue to in my free time.
By Geny Caloisi.
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