Iger faces many challenges on the road ahead

The New York Times has a piece on Bob Iger, current President and future CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and the challenges he faces in the wake of Eisner’s destructive tendancies. The story lists three major hurdles for Iger: fixing the relationship with Pixar, fixing the mess in his own animation house, and shepherding overseas expansion.

I would add to that: restore the Disney Themepark Magic as the top quality destination for vacations, fix the mess left by the Disney Store debacle, make the WDC the leader in family entertainment again (movies, television programming, other venutes), and join the Web 2.0 conversation.

(More below the fold)

I’ll take the last one first. If Bob, (may I call you Bob?) started a
public blog tomorrow (it’s not too hard, just call up one of your internal
Wiki experts) and followed in the footsteps of GM’s Vice Chairman Bob
(what a great first name) Lutz (have one of your assistants get him on
the line and see how he does it, and ask if he’d like to sponsor a new
ride at DCA while you’re at it) that would be one giant step toward
restoring some of the Walt Disney Company’s position as a leader in
family entertainment and its relationship with the fans. Your revenue
base is rooted in those fans. If they’re not happy your bottom line won’t be happy either eventually. These are the same fans who voted 44% in favor of
tossing out the current leadership, of which you are a part. So I’d say
you have some work to do there. Open up a direct, honest, and
frequently updated blog (we don’t care if your assistants write most of
it for you (heck have guests spots with division chairs, meeting
transcripts, previews, the voices of Mickey and Minnie doing podcasts,
etc… make it fun)), with open comments (you should read those, btw),
and start a conversation with your base audience.

The Disney Store debacle (unhappy CMs (now mostly exCMs), annoyed customers, bad product
mix and over saturation) is going to be a little more difficult. In the
greedy quest for easy money with no eye on long term affects, the once
glorious stores (did you ever see your Disney Gallery Store in Vegas it was amazing (gone!) and the Caesar’s Palace store, also great (gone!)), outposts of Disneydom in the backyard shopping malls
of America, Europe, and Japan too, were worn down by poor product mix,
overselling, and over-saturated markets (having the same products in
Target, Wal-Mart, and Sears for half of what it cost in The Disney
Stores was an incredibly short sighted move by someone who just knew
they needed to make their 20% numbers, damn the long term view). Now,
you’ve lost the chance to fix that for 15 years. You can take your
product out of Target and Wal-Mart, but why when you don’t control TDS, and
70% of them are closed now anyway. Your opportunity to spread the
Disney Magic (much more than just retail, btw (Cruises, Broadway, Art, History, Brand placement, etc) on a face-to-face basis in towns around the globe is gone.
So, in the meantime, treat Children’s Place nice, help them out if you
have to. Work very hard to make sure your flagship World of Disney
Stores are run efficiently, but with great product mix and better
staff. Make sure your themepark product is tops in class in quality and diversity, but
affordable enough that guests leave with a few bucks in their pockets
and not feeling ripped off. On a related note, you had better have
someone take a close look at the theme park special events and
merchandising division. Every event at Disneyland is a major foul-up in multiple
ways. The fact that WDW has been without a Disney collectible
convention in nearly a decade is shame too.

Your biggest challenge, as big as dealing with Pixar (my suggestion,
heretical I know, is don’t compromise on characters and sequel rights –
if Jobs won’t compromise then steal his best talent from him like Katzenberg
did to Disney with Dreamworks), is to restore the glory of your
American Theme Parks. As go the parks, so goes the Walt Disney Company,
look at the cash they’ve generated for the company for 50 years (dropping off only here and there). But those numbers
won’t last forever if steps aren’t taken immediately. To prepare
yourself for this role involves a reading assignment with two out of
print books and a few dinner appointments. For your reading pleasure,
visit the Disney Archives (talk to Dave Smith while you’re there… in fact, set up a weekly meeting with him to review an obscure part of Disney history) and find a copy of Van Arsdale France’s
amazing book "A Window on Main Street".  France is a dear departed friend
who was there at the beginning of Disneyland and helped shape Walt’s creation of the
modern day theme park. The lessons learned during the first 20 years of
Disneyland’s operations have been mostly forgotten by previous
management teams (the jury is still out on Ouimet and Eggers, but I
have hope). After you’ve absorbed the lessons of that book ask Bruce
Gordon from Imagineering (remember those guys?) to read his book ‘The
Nickel Tour’. Now, go take a walk around California Adventure (I refuse
to put the name Disney in front of it) dressed as a tourist without an escort and see how
few of the lessons from the early days were utilized in building this
sham of a second gate. (Can you believe the old parking lot used to bring in more money than the second gate does on some days?)

Take a week to soak all that in, then set up separate dinner appointments (and
‘walk the site’ with them (if you don’t know what ‘walk the site’
means, ask them)) with former WDI employees Alice Davis, Terri Hardin,
Bob Baranick, Bob Gurr, and Rolly Crump (to name a few). Ask them to
tell you Walt Stories, what Disneyland means to them, when and where
the park went wrong, etc. Set up a monthly email and phone call relationship
with each. It’s a shame you haven’t done this earlier as you missed
many of the great ones, Marc Davis, John Hench, Herbert Ryman, Sam
McKim, and so many more. Now, have a meeting and walk-through with some
of the current Imagineers, Bruce Gordon, Tony Baxter, etc… Then set
up a focus group with the two groups together to come up with a vision
for the Disneyland Resort that echos Walt’s original goals for his
theme parks, while keeping a keen eye on the future of themed
entertainment. You might want to bring some expert level fans into that
focus group too. But definitely keep the penny pinches and pencil
pushers out. They ruined California Adventure and gave it no hope for
recovery by saddling it with it’s theme. (You might also be advised to
do the same over here on the east coast as competition mounts for theme park guests.)

Finally, if you’re not already reading all the Walt and Roy biographies
(Don’t miss "Building a Company" by Bob Thomas. Roy was not so
uninvolved in the creative as you think, neither was Wells for that
matter) you can get your hands on, I don’t know why you’re interested
in this job. If you’re in-progress with the biographies and want a
break, I recommend all the back issues of ‘The E-Ticket’ a wonderful
magazine put out by The Janzen Brothers, "In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters (he had something to say about Disney recently in his blog) to see how far the company has fallen, and yes, "Disney War" by James
Stewart. You lived it and may have a different memory of the events,
but the book is quickly becoming the permanent record of the time.
Learn from the past or you’re doomed to repeat it.

Well Bob and my readers,
this piece could have been longer, but I’m quite under the weather right now and
posting might be light for a day or two more while I convalesce.

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