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Preston Lewis

preston-lewis-100It’s the 4th of July and so we’ve talked to the head of consumer products at Warner Bros in Australia, Preston Lewis, on what it’s like doing business in Australia compared to America.

Warner Bros owns some of the best-known fictional characters in popular culture, such as Harry Potter, Batman and Superman and Lewis tells us how he licenses the rights to these characters to makers of a wide range of consumer products, such as clothing, toys, and homewares.

For Lewis, whether in Australia or America it all comes down to the people you hire.

Warner Bros

Age: 47

Managing Director of Warner Bros Consumer Products

Lives: Melbourne

So you have been in Australia since 2006?

I came here in November of 2006 to do my first reconnaissance mission, which was basically to go back to my boss with what we saw as a future opportunity for the business in Australia. I was here for three weeks and went back with three perspectives. The first was that Australia is an incredibly robust licensing opportunity in terms of business opportunity but also, if we were going to continue to build our business here, there were a number of things we needed to look at from people to organisational direction to strategic structure.

What was Warner Brother’s Consumer Products like at that time?

The consumer products division had been here for years but like many businesses it was at a point of really needing to make a decision of what the future was and what the future direction was for the business. That’s what I came here to do; take a look at the business as it existed and work out what the future for the licensing business in Australia was going to be.

So then you moved here?

I went back and said there was significant opportunity in Australia but we had to look at our people, the organisational structure and the strategic plan. My boss’s response was to tell me to keep coming back to Australia for the next eight months. I spent two weeks each month in Australia and two weeks with my family in LA basically putting into place those things I had articulated. For the most part, my expectation was that I thought I was going to go and hire a managing director and go back to the United States, but then I got the opportunity to move my family here and take on this role.

What were those significant opportunities you saw?

That entertainment is highly valued here, licensing is highly valued and Australia is a wealthy country. It’s easy to say you have 22 million people, but very often people think that sums it up. What we were able to see is it is 22 million people, but with a robust appreciation for entertainment and for licensing in general. Deloitte does a yearly plan where it looks at the top retail organisations in the world and always on that list are the Wesfarmers Group and Woolworths Group somewhere between 18 and 23. I think it speaks volumes for how powerful Australia is and the consumer appreciation for brands and entertainment as a whole.

Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.