I recently purchased the Barnes & Noble Nook, which I must say is an amazing little gadget that has drastically increased my personal reading levels. One of the first books I purchased was Disney War by James Stewart.
Disney War focused on the tenure of Michael Eisner as Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company. The book is extremely in-depth on a whole host of issues faced by Disney and its subsidiaries from 1984 to 2005. The author was able to provide a unique perspective of the inner-workings of Disney because Eisner granted him full access to the company for one year. Little did Eisner know that it would also be his last year running the mouse.
The book begins by foreshadowing the future—Roy E. Disney, son of co-founder Roy O. and nephew to Walt, has been asked to step down from the Disney Board of Directors. This move would effectively end the day-to-day involvement of the Disney family in the company and cement Eisner’s control of the corporation. As we now know, Roy did not fade into the sunset, rather he orchestrated the largest shareholder revolt in the history of corporate America.
The book covers several interesting areas such as:
· The revitalization and investment in the theme parks
· Eisner’s constant struggle to develop films as cheaply as possible, viewing success as hitting “singles and doubles” versus mage-movies
· Eisner’s close relationship with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of film production, which eventually degraded to an all out war
· The debacle that was Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris)
· The acquisitions of ABC and other entertainment companies and the struggle to merge them into the Disney culture
· Company operations after 9/11 and the fear of the theme parks being terrorist targets
What I found must fascinating throughout the book was the constant struggle between running a modern media company and adhering to the vision of Walt. In the beginning you can tell that Eisner understands the shadow in which he walks and seems to respect the legacy while pushing the envelope. Towards the end of his tenure it becomes clear that Eisner views himself as the modern day incarnation of Walt. This hubris leads to his ultimate destruction.
While this book would certainly be good for any Disney fan to read, I think it is also an excellent look into corporate America. The consistent struggle between maintaining a developed brand image and corporate culture while being as profitable as possible exists in every public company. We see that struggle playing out almost everyday on TV as BP, with its public image of corporate social responsibility, repairs the real results of being driven entirely by profit margin.
So, check this book out. If you’re a Disney fan you’ll be fascinated by the internal dynamics that led to every major decision of the past 20 years. If not, it’s an interesting read on modern corporate culture.