CBS Marketwatch has the contents of Michael’s two-year notice letter. (And I thought I gave plenty of notice with my 1 month warning shots.)
In his 20 years as CEO and sometimes Chair of the Walt Disney Company, Eisner helped guide the mouse house to record profits and through amazing downturns. The first 10 years were notable for the amazing recovery from a company that was a target of take over to the management structure that was profiled, highly praised, and often imitated, in Tom Peter’s “In Search of Excellence“.
Since the mid to late 90s Eisner’s regime began to come under fire for a shift in management philosophy that was something more akin to “In search of high stock prices and dividends” even if it meant sacrificing quality and making drastic cutbacks in service. All the criticism that has been tossed Eisner’s way looks back to this shift (perceived or reality) that the company turned away from producing the highest quality products and settled on ‘good enough’ as the new standard.
In his letter Eisner points out the amazing growth of the company since he and Frank Wells took office in 1984.
Statistics only tell part of the story, but let me throw out a few: Total number of employees, from 28,000 to 117,000; revenues from $1.7 billion to a projection of roughly $30 billion for this fiscal year; enterprise value from $2.8 billion to $57 billion. This, of course, is an outgrowth of the seven new parks, 28,458 new hotel rooms, 70 new cable channels around the world, and 800 new movies we created.
In almost the same breath he mentions keeping his ‘eye on the ball’, but you have to wonder how one man can maintain focus on such a large number of balls and maintain the quality the Disney Company became famous for in the late 80s.
As it turns out, it’s nearly impossible. Many of the blunders of the past few years were the result of not having enough time to focus on a project. California Adventure skipped largely under Eisner’s radar leading to episodes where he famously fumed as he trudged the length of the huge parking lot wondering why guests were being made to do so. The decline of Feature Animation resulting from too much control being placed in the hands of the money people and not enough in the creative.
Over the years, many have pointed to the loss of Frank Wells as the beginning of the decline. Michael Eisner would do well to make sure his legacy these last few years is to find another Eisner and Wells team, echoing the team of Walt and Roy, where the balance between fiscal prudence and creative desire is tempered only with the search for excellence in every project.
Once Michael is truely retired I hope he lives upto his promise that he is ‘Going to Disneyland/DisneyWorld’. I look forward to seeing him on the dance floor at Carnation Gardens with his wife, hanging out with the ragtime pianist at Coke Corner, or taking his granchildren for rides in Fantasyland. I can’t think of a better way to spend one’s retirement.