Carlson MBA Alum Brings DreamWorks Stories to Life beyond the Box Office

Friday, January 22, 2016

John Hackbarth

Josh Hackbarth, ’08 MBA, has his dream job. As a VP of DreamWorks Animation’s global brand strategy and franchise development team, he works with some of the best creative minds in the world to enliven small ideas into grand stories that inspire wonder in millions of viewers around the world.

Hackbarth oversees DreamWorks’ brands by imagining how films like "How to Train Your Dragon" can transcend the big screen. He works with various units across the organization to develop merchandise, consumer products, and interactive media that engage fans of the film.

“It’s all about the story here at DreamWorks,” he says. “On the business side, I take the same approach. It can be 'Kung Fu Panda,' or it could be why we should launch into a new business—without a good story, you don’t have anything.”

MBA lessons resurface on the job

In his role he makes constant use of one skill, gleaned in part from his time at the Carlson School: how to simplify complex problems to guide strategy.

To break down big challenges into manageable pieces, he relies on frameworks and tools he learned in from the Carlson MBA Program and through his participation in the Carlson Brand Enterprise. As a student, he learned the case interview method by addressing questions like “how many golf balls could you fit into a 747 jet.” As the business arm of a leading animation studio, he thinks about questions like, “why is 'How to Train Your Dragon' appealing to girls?”

“Big questions pop up all the time, and you have to start from the top and think about what you can anchor on,” he says. “The level of detail you go into in business to break down a complex problem has helped significantly in guiding the creative teams here.”

A crucial global mindset

Not only does DreamWorks target big ideas to tackle big questions, the organization demands its leaders think globally. Hackbarth nurtured this crucial global mindset in his final semester as an MBA student, which he spent studying at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and he urges all business students to seize opportunities to sharpen their international business acumen. 

“I spend my days thinking just as much about Germany and China as I do about the United States,” he says. “If you work at a Fortune 500 company, you quickly learn the U.S. is becoming a smaller and smaller market, relative to the entire planet.”

DreamWorks partners with the Carlson School

Despite living and working on the west coast, Hackbarth has remained connected to the Carlson School community. Throughout his career, he’s continually tapped into students’ expertise by serving as a client for the Carlson Brand Enterprise—an experiential learning program that challenges students to act as brand consultants to address real-world challenges for client organizations.

“At DreamWorks, we’re on our fourth project now with the Brand Enterprise,” he says. “It’s an incredible resource for us to have 4-5 students who are going to dive into a challenge that we’re facing. The Carlson students are top-notch talent, and they offer a third-party, unbiased source of research that’s hard to find.”