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One-to-one with Jennifer Twiner McCarron


Jennifer Twiner McCarron is the CEO of Atomic Cartoons and Thunderbird Entertainment. She is an award-winning producer who has led production on multiple critically-acclaimed titles, including Emmy-winning The Last Kids on Earth for Netflix, and was named the Equity and Inclusion Champion during BC Business' 2021 "Women of the Year" Awards.

What was your first job?

When I was 13, I was hired to work at a pickle farm – and was tasked with the decision-making around cucumbers – which would become pickles, and which would become relish – I learnt very early on about the importance of being decisive when it comes to decision-making. I still think of stars as 'baby dills!'

Flash forward many years – I still remember lessons I learned from this experience. For example, if you are having trouble with a decision, do what's hardest. It's usually the right decision. In my current role, I have turned down business because our team was at capacity, and the work wasn't a good fit for our company's values. This may sound crazy and, at times, a hard choice, but these decisions were the best for my team.

What inspires you?

Personally, my family. Professionally, my team. I am constantly inspired by the talented artists and creators I am lucky to work with each day and I am thrilled about the amazing content we are creating for some of the top broadcasters and streamers in the world, from Disney+ to Netflix to NBCUniversal and more. Working and supporting such creative artists is truly inspiring – and I have had a front row seat to watching the careers soar of some of the most immensely talented and intelligent people.

How do you balance work and maintaining a personal life?

Right now, I'm focused on being a great mom, a wife and then a CEO and Chair. I'm fortunate that I have many long-standing friendships, some from elementary school, that withstand the test of time. Do I see them as much as I like? No. Am I running half marathons? No. I am an early riser – and I treasure this time. I get up at 5 a.m. to walk my dogs, one of which is a special needs Labradoodle. I also swim laps three times a week before my day starts.

At this stage in my life, I'm not extremely social outside of work. I travel a lot for work so I prioritize family time when I am home. I wouldn't pretend to have it all, and I am genuinely happy with my life and consider myself blessed.

What is the biggest challenge facing Greater Vancouver?

Vancouver is such a vibrant city, attracting many people who want to live and work here. One big obstacle Greater Vancouver faces is the cost of living, and lack of affordable housing. While this impacts all of us, this is a particular issue for those who are starting their careers, and can't find places to live within their budgets.

What do you like most about doing business in Greater Vancouver?

I appreciate the varied business community in Vancouver, and the Canadian tax incentives that improve our company cash flows and reduce expenses. I would be remiss if I also didn't mention the beautiful surroundings.

What is your most prized possession and why?

If this relates to work, my incredibly talented team, only they are not my possession. Rather, I work to support their work – and to help their careers soar. Without these talented individuals, Thunderbird would be nothing but an old building and aging computers.

Where do you see untapped potential in Greater Vancouver?

If we could find ways to make our city less cost prohibitive, we could draw more high-end talent to the city. Vancouver is a very desirable (albeit expensive) place to live; it is hard for people to relocate here based on affordability

What is the most important lesson, business or otherwise, life has taught you? 

To prioritize leading with patience and kindness. As a leader, I work for my team, and work hard to find ways to lift them up.

I have also learned how important it is to have compassion for yourself. To be an effective leader and do the best possible job for everyone, you must accept within yourself that mistakes will happen within your team - and you will also make them. When they do, do not get down, Instead, learn from them. That's when innovation happens - at all levels.

What keeps you awake at night?

I worry about the economic downturn – and how it will impact my team and their families. Since the pandemic, I have also noticed a slowing of talent progression with some beginning and mid-level experience team members missing out on the intangible learnings you get from in-house creative collaborations. This has created a different learning trajectory for many, but we are addressing it within our hybrid working structure and building in a lot of opportunities for teams to come together for the creative process to watch, learn and innovate.

What do you think makes a great leader?

True leadership is when you are more invested in the success of others than yourself. I also think that as a successful leader, you need to work for your team. I believe it is my job to help bring out the best in my team. I do this by creating clarity, allowing autonomy, and making space for people to take risks that could result in mistakes and further learning. I want my team to feel empowered in what they do, and I want to help them grow and develop. I think people thrive if they feel safe in their working environment and if they have clear expectations in conjunction with room to try new things. I may be at the forefront of the organization, but I also see my role in the background setting the stage.

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Where is your favourite place in Greater Vancouver?

I love Deep Cove for its beauty and all that it offers.

What do you think Greater Vancouver needs more of?

Vancouver needs more networking and chances for people to learn and connect with their peers. Networking serves many purposes, one of which is the simple comfort in understanding that you are not alone in your daily struggles and others experience the same professional challenges. It is also very rewarding to connect and help others.

Who has helped you most in your career?

My parents have been the biggest influences in my life. From day one, they instilled strong values in me and the importance of having a solid work ethic. They taught me all the important stuff, like how success is rooted in the way you treat people, and that you will only get out of something what you put into it.

What do you do when you aren't working?

I have a wonderful husband, three children and two dogs, one of which is special needs. My eldest daughter is in her first year of university at Queens, and I try to visit her when I can. I am also very involved with my kids' activities – I manage my son's baseball team and my daughter's softball team. My family life is full – and I am fortunate that it keeps me busy when I am not working.

What might someone be surprised to know about you?

I was over six feet tall at 11 years old – school dances were challenging. This allowed me to understand what it is like to literally not "fit in" and it helped shape my view of the world.

Thunderbird Entertainment Group is a Vancouver-based, publicly traded multi-platform entertainment company with offices in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Ottawa. Thunderbird creates scripted, unscripted and animated programming for global digital platforms, as well as Canadian and International broadcasters. The company develops, produces and distributes animated, factual and scripted content through its various divisions, including Atomic Cartoons (kids and family), Great Pacific Television (factual) and Thunderbird Productions (scripted).
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