For readers of last week's article on Walt
Disney's 100th, the headline"If Walt Were Alive
less a hypothetical statement than a heart-felt wish.
|Among the respondents, a Disneyland cast
I just read your article and I have to tell you that I
agree with everything you said. Walt's legacy and business
philosophy are more of a cash cow than ways to run a business
to Eisner, Pressler, and their ilk. They have forgotten what
this company was based on.
Being a cast member, I see the disconnection between
management and the cast members (and the guests, for that
matter) on a daily basis. They walk around the park in a
hurry, trying not to be stopped by any guests. They wear their
nametags in haphazard ways. They don't even smile! I know the
suits don't care about me or anyone else for that matter. They
care about the bottom line and that is all.
Promotional photo © Disney
Still, I can't help but wonder what lies on the horizon.
Do you think that there is a chance that Walt's business
practices can still be reinstated? Maybe down the line, a new
CEO could wipe out the current management's philosophies (milk
everything for what it's worth; to heck with quality; if it's
good enough for Six Flags
, etc.) and put Walt's
philosophies back into practice. I asked my grandmother this
question and she said it wasn't possible. Today's business
world wouldn't allow it. But I think it can work.
I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens
I agree with both you and your grandmother;
it could work, but I can't see today's business world
allowing it. My guess is that if Eisner could "play"
Walt and spend his days bouncing from new idea to new idea,
Wall Street would crucify himmainly, because he lacks
the ideas and charisma of Walt. There's no twinkle in Uncle
The cast member responded:
I guess we'll have to wait for a future CEO. Eisner has
tarnished his image with the public as well as the fans /
customers. It's too late for him. What the WALT DISNEY Company
needs is a fresh start. A CEO who understands what Walt was
trying to do: diversify.
Diversification is what made Walt's Company great. He
experimented, tried new things, entered new fields. That's why
the competitors couldn't cut it. He was always one step ahead
The current management (Eisner, Pressler, etc.) threw
that away in 1995, after the Indiana Jones Adventure. They
just didn't have the foresight (or the patience) to create
another quality attraction. It just didn't make money fast
enough for them. They wanted something short-term that would
make tons of money. What they got was DCA.
Eisner's (as well as Pressler's) mentality was,
"The public is stupid. They'll see the Disney name on it
and come in droves." Eisner underestimated the
intelligence of the American public and is paying dearly for
it. Walt RESPECTED the intelligence of his audience. He knew
the public was expecting something new and different and he
didn't want to let them down.
Today's business atmosphere is just not akin to taking
risks. They milk whatever they have for all it's worth
(sequels, franchise attractions, etc.). It's really sad to see
that creativity has taken the back seat to money-making and
But, I do have a very positive outlook for the future. I
really do think there will be a future CEO that will look at
the Company we have today and say, "My gosh! Where did
all the magic go? Those were very dark times in the history of
Disney. But, the days of Eisner and his ilk are over!"
It's a silly hope, I know. But, that's what I believe.
Businesses are always saved from the brink of disaster that
way. I mean look at what happened to Walt Disney Productions
in the late '70s/early '80s. I think history will repeat
|Another cast member
Read your latest article on Walt on MousePlanet. My
reaction: Right on the mark!
Just finished reading your latest column, "If Walt
Were Alive," and even before I finished it I knew I had
to write to say thank you. Boy, you really hit the nail on the
head, several times over, and not just about the current
management at Disney. Your article is true for many
The more I read about Disney and the more I read about
Pixar, I realize that John Lasseter is the current heir to
Walt's throne. True entertainment geniuses only come along
every so often, and I find it ironic that the three this past
century (Jim Henson being the second, obviously) have all been
tied to Disney. And Eisner has had both in his grasp and
manage to piss them off (well, Henson's family, anyway).
Promotional photo © Disney
What a dream it would be if Pixar were able to take over
Disney. Premiere had a great article about Pixar recently and
that's when it really struck home to me. THEY are the ones who
are following Walt's grand example, they are proving that
Walt's ideals are just as sound today as they were in 1923.
The difference between Steve Jobs and Eisner is that Jobs
knows when to get out of the way. Any chance that Pixar can
buy the Jim Henson Company?
Thanks again. I'm posting this one on my wall.
|Another employee wrote:
I realize that you're going to get a boot-load of mail
on this article, so I'll try to keep this brief.
As a 25-year-old guy, I obviously never had the chance
to meet Walt. However, I've worked for four divisions of his
companyincluding the vaunted Feature Animation group and
the downright horrible Disney Store, Inc. I've seen the
company as a fan growing up in the '80s and '90s, and read
many books about the company pre-and post-Walt.
I think your article was wrong. I respect your idea, and
you had many great points in it, don't misunderstand me. But
if Walt was still running the company, and not if he was 100
years old, I think the whole INDUSTRY would be different.
Obviously Florida would have turned out differently.
EPCOT would be what it should be, a city. There'd be no
Studios or Animal Kingdom, or Pleasure Island, either. Sure,
there'd be theme parks, but it would be so very different.
That city could, right now, rival New York and Los Angeles as
a hub of creativity. And I'm not talking Lou Pearlman and boy
bands creative. I don't even think we can imagine it.
The Burbank Studio would be really, really different, as
well. I doubt there'd be a Touchstone, and no Miramax either.
Most likely we'd have had lots of fun family content. I bet
we'd even have had Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Imagine that.
No LucasFilm. No DreamWorks. Disney would be rolling in the
dough. And thus the film industry would be vastly different.
Walt probably wouldn't have made TV Animation. Or at
least as we know it. No Duck Tales, Gummi Bears, Wuzzles,
Recess, Pepper Ann, etc. If he did go this route, the quality
would be so superior to what it is today.
And no lame sequels. No Return of Jafar. No (Belle's)
Enchanted Christmas. Imagine this world. "You can't
follow Mermaids with Mermaids
I'm smiling right now.
But then what about Feature Animation? Would the new
crew have been recruited in the '70s? Would Howard Ashman have
been pulled in? Or would Feature Animation have floundered and
died like it almost did?
Promotional photo © Disney
But more than this, who knows what Walt's next project
would have been after Epcot? You can reasonably say
that his fickle cycle ran about 20 years1920 animation,
1937 Snow White, 1955 Disneyland, 1972 Florida. I bet in the
mid-1990s, imagining that Walt was a robot and not aging and
not getting sick, he would have a new experience. Something
that is beyond you and me.
And right now WDI would be working so hard on this, or
that, or the other thing, that all of this talent would stay.
To get a chance to work with WALT? You bet. Budgets wouldn't
be a problem, either. Imagineering wouldn't be the sieve that
it is today.
Imagine this, a world with Walt. Better, worse, or just
different, it's still something to excite the imagination.
Anyway, keep up the great work at MP!
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could
find out which of us was right? (Though I like your prediction a
|Chris Kitamura wrote:
Hi, David! This was a great article for the anniversary
of Walt's birthday. I definitely agree with the things that
you pointed out that Walt would have still wanted to do the
things that he was famous for. I don't think that those
characteristics would have had to pass if he were still alive
As much as he never seemed to be a great business man,
he really was. He cared about the product and the people more
than the money, and that is a business ethic that I hardly see
at all anymore. The company still probably would have had him
as a figurehead. It's too bad because Walt would have brought
so much to the business world still and still could have been
a pioneer. Of course that's also if we could slow down the
aging process because, after all, he would've been 100 today!
|Rob Kucinski wrote:
It is unfortunate in this day and age, but Walt would
never be able to succeed in what corporate America has become.
What you wrote was not, as you had alluded to, an article
about Disney-specific, but instead all large corporations. I
recently relocated from a large company to a smaller company
for the reasons you stated in the article. Prior to coming to
my new home, I did receive a job offer as an Engineering
Services Manager at Walt Disney World. I had to turn it down,
although it would have been a dream come true for me four
years ago. However, with the current conditions in all large
companies, I am glad I moved to a smaller company. They are
more personable, value the individual, and allow a lot more
individual freedoms in performing one's work.
As large companies go, however, what I have read about
Disney's downsizing is about as good as a company can do,
since they all have to respond to the almighty shareholder (of
which I am one, but have no desire to have huge profits and
growth, but instead long-term value, which would be near
impossible to lose with Disney). They did a much better job of
letting people go than my former employer has done recently.
(Just a note, I left before the downsizing, and had been
looking for over three years for the right move).
I hope Disney does not give in totally to the $$$ of the
shareholder and investment shareholders, and try to look
focused on the future and big picture. It looks like they are
beginning to see the downside of the short-term with DCA vs.
DisneySea, and maybe the wake-up call has come.
I will still continue to vacation at Walt Disney World
every year or so with my family because, despite all the
problems, it's still in my book, "the Best of the
Worst" of Corporate America.
I'm a big fan of Mouse Tales; I've read it a couple of
times. I recently picked up a copy of More Mouse Tales. The
reviews that I read said that while the book was good, it was
a bit more depressing. While the first book focused mainly on
funny and humorous anecdotes about Disneyland and more of a
"behind the ears look," the second book focused
largely on why Disneyland today is not the same place it was
just a decade ago and what the problems have been that lead to
that decline in show quality.
While I found that review to be somewhat true, what it
really did for me was get me even more excited to someday work
for the company. I had a brief internship with WDI while in
college and saw firsthand how many problems the company had.
But at the same time, especially when talking to some of the
people who had been around forever such as Marty Sklar, Bruce
Gordon, David Mumford, etc., I also saw how much potential
there was in the company.
In short, your book did not depress me but rather had
the exact opposite effect. I am more eager now than ever to
strive for excellence and put every effort forward to join the
company and rise to a position of leadership to restore
Disneyland to its former glory.
Promotional photo © Disney
I would make every effort to walk the park and talk with
guests to hear their opinions first hand. I would not want to
be "back-doored" to every attraction but rather wait
in lines to see the guest's experience. I would hope to listen
to suggestions from cast members on how to improve things.
Basically, I'd want to run things the way Walt did. Now,
I don't claim to be the genius that he was but I do have the
innate desire to produce the best quality work environment for
employees. The happier they are, the happier the guests are.
I'd want to see as much as I could from the guest's
perspective to ensure a quality show every time. Every day
there are hundreds of people who walk through Disneyland's
gates for the first and last time. I would not want to
short-change them. I would hope to make Disneyland one of
those places that people flock to in droves to work.
So I say, "Thank you," for that book. I'm sure
I'm not the only one who feels this way and I appreciate you
presenting the standard to which upcoming management needs to
aspire to in order to not only maintain the current Disney
standard but to break through it and achieve the old Disney
Now let's all get out there and create a park that would
make Walt proud!
|Finally, fed up with cast
members bemoaning the park's recent serve-yourself Costume
Shopping program, Gary wrote:
I'm sure this subject has been beaten to death by now.
However, there is a great little book out now called Who Moved
My Cheese. What a great tie-in to the Kingdom of the Mouse! I
would recommend it to anyone who is having a difficult time
coping with change in the workplace.
If it's any consolation, it appears that no one in the
American workplace is escaping change. Success is measured
these days by how well and how quickly one adapts to all the
Promotional photo © Disney
David Koenig is the senior editor of the 80-year-old business journal, The Merchant Magazine.
After receiving his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton (aka Cal State Disneyland), he began years of research for his first book, Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland (1994), which he followed with Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks (1997, revised 2001) and More Mouse Tales: A Closer Peek Backstage at Disneyland (1999); all titles published by Bonaventure Press.
He lives in Aliso Viejo, California, with his lovely wife, Laura, their wonderful son, Zachary, and their adorable daughter, Rebecca.
You can contact David here.
Click here to go to David's main page for a list of archived articles.
Visit MouseShoppe to purchase copies of David's books. (Clicking on the link opens a new window.)