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Licensing International UK Rising Stars: Karina Rhoden

We find out more about The Smiley Company’s junior category manager.

Karina Rhoden,

Junior Category Manager, The Smiley Company

My route into the licensing industry went something like this…

I was in my second year of university, studying Economics with Business and I came across a course in brand management. Our main project was to create a brand extension product from three brands provided. I had chosen Lurpak Butter, and created pastry making kits aimed in time for the Christmas market. I would spend most, if not all, of my time on every tiny detail of the project. I even emailed Lurpak to tell them all about it!

I struggled with anxiety and looking at how brands extended into other consumer product categories was something I enjoyed reading about; I thought it was so creative and gave me a purpose for focus.
 When my teacher explained licensing and that this could be a potential career option and there was an entire industry behind it, I thought, “I would love this to be me”.

I first did some internship work before landing my first full time role at Smiley.

How long in the industry?

2 years, 8 months.

When I was growing up, I had no idea that ‘licensing’ was an industry, so I wanted to be…

Depending on how far back we are going, I had my heart set on becoming Iron Man. When I realised that was an unlikely profession, I wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer.

Biggest inspiration in the licensing industry?

The person that will always come to my mind first will be my manager Lori Heiss-Tiplady, senior global vp. Not only is she a licensing legend, with many years in the industry, but she continues to surprise me with her creativity, professionalism and all-around positive, personable attitude. She has consistently supported me since the start, so I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.

Best thing about your current role?

The best thing about my current role is the various product categories I am across. Smiley has around 15 categories in our licensed products portfolio. I work on the toys, FMCG, publishing, promotions and live events team, to name a few. The range of amazing projects and products we get to create in partnership with our licensees every day never ends. Our team is small, so we get full visibility and I am able to manage everything from start to finish.

What are you most proud of within your licensing career to date?

I think nothing will ever beat the pride of simply seeing a product you worked very hard on become an actual physical product situated on the shelf for someone to take home and enjoy.

Licensed character you can most identify with (and why)?


The Very Hungry Caterpillar, because I am usually snacking, and I have grown as a person dramatically from when I first started my licensing journey.

What were your first thoughts when you were revealed as a nominee for the Licensing International UK Rising Star Award?

Most of my colleagues had tricked me into thinking they needed my photo for another purpose, so it was a big conspiracy I knew nothing about. When the email came through, my direct team called me and told me to open it right away. I was in absolute shock to be a finalist, more so heart-felt that my colleagues and licensing professionals believed and appreciated my efforts and feel I deserved recognition in the industry. We all celebrated with Lemon drizzle after that, as you do.

The adage goes, once you enter the licensing industry, you never really leave… what are your short-term goals for your career in licensing?

In the next two years, I hope to continue to love the job I am doing and be exposed to many more opportunities to enhance my knowledge for the industry. It is early days, but I am currently working on the creation of my own licensed character, after being inspired by the success story of Keith Chapman at a YPN event last year – stay tuned!

The Licensing International UK Rising Star award will be presented as part of The Licensing Awards, which take place on Tuesday September 10 at The Grosvenor Hotel, London.

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