MY LIFE IN LICENSING: Al Ovadia

The 20-year veteran of the business talks The Simpsons, Spider-man and ballet...
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Time spent in licensing industry:
20 years

First job in licensing:
My first exposure to licensing actually started as a licensee for the 1980 Olympics. I resigned my role at NBC Television and bought the rights to their logo for the 1980 Games. My first job was when I was hired at 20th Century Fox as VP of licensing and merchandising. Funnily, I had actually interviewed for a completely different role, and the interviewer called me back and said he had just the job for me. Little did I know what I was getting into.

What were your responsibilities?
I was responsible for worldwide licensing of all 20th Century Fox's film and TV properties, promotional tie-ins and product placement. I had a staff of three; it was nuts!

Current job:
President, Al Ovadia & Associates

Current responsibilities?
As a sole proprietor, I guess I do it all.

What is your greatest achievement so far?
Staying afloat in a very tough market.

What licence would you most like to have in your portfolio?
Spider-man.

What is the best licence you have worked on in your career and why?
I would have to say it's a tie between Spider-man and The Simpsons. The Simpsons was my first property to manage. It was a very exciting time, character licensing was exploding and having a chance to work on this fabulous property was amazing. It was a baptism of fire as I had no past working experience in the industry and the response was so strong that I had to navigate my way on sheer instinct. I made a number of mistakes, no doubt, but all in all it was a wonderful experience, I learned a lot.
Spider-man was also a terriific experience. It was great to have a chance to work on this well-established property and what ended up becoming the launch pad for many other film-based super hero properties in the years following.

If you could choose your dream job in licensing, what would it be and why?
Head of Disney Licensing. An unending collection of terrific brands and an organisation unsurpassed in the business. Can you tell I'm a fan?

What's the best thing about working in the licensing industry?
It may sound corny, but without question it's the people. I have had the pleasure over my career of working with some of the most amazing people on all sides of the licensing equation.

What is your embarrassing moment so far?
Well, that would have to be in high school when... oh, you mean in licensing? I really haven't had any outright embarrassing moments to speak of so far. But, hey, tomorrow's another day.

What would you most like to change about the licensing business?
The business model. I think the long-standing model which has served the industry well to this point, is outdated, most especially because of the consolidation of both manufacturers and retailers. I may receive the ire of my colleagues but the market needs to be shaken up a bit. Reluctance on the part of retailers and, therefore, licensees to absorb risk has frozen the opportunities for the majority of new properties.
As most property owners, especially in the entertainment sector, look to licensing as a key means to reduce production deficits and expand profits, creative approaches need to be explored to help the players mitigate risk. While we all recognise that risk is inherent in licensing, it is critical that we be open to new ways of doing business on all sides of the equation, if new properties will ever have the opportunity they deserve.

Tell us a secret about someone you know in the industry.
This is a little known fact and I am going to swear you to secrecy. Rob Corney of Bulldog Licensing's first career choice was to be a ballet instructor. Sadly, Rob suffered a severe ankle injury ending his career before it began while at university in Durham when he attempted a battement frappé and slammed his foot into the floor with too much force and shattered his ankle in several pieces. Devastating.

What's the best thing about being based in Hidden Hills?
Well that's easy, licensees can't find me if a property under delivers.

If you weren't working in the licensing business, what would you be doing?
Teaching English as a second language on the Greek island of Santorini.

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