About two years ago Ed Catmull’s talk on keeping your crises small made the internet circuit (video of his speech). Now the Harvard Business Review has another great object lesson, that once again involves Ed Catmull. This time it’s a bit of Pixar mythology – The Day Our Bosses Saved Our Jobs.
In the article Pixar veteran Craig Good relates the tale of the days when the company that was to become Pixar was still just a small division inside of Lucasfilm. Managers at the company didn’t see the value in computer animation and asked Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith to make some personnel cuts. Believing they had a good thing, Cutmull and Smith delayed and then refused to provide a list of names suitable for layoffs. When push came to shove they gave a list with only two names on it, their own.
This had the desired effect and a short while later Lucasfilm decided to sell the division to Steve Jobs for $5 million. A decision that created the company of Pixar that was eventually bought out by Disney for $7.4 billion. Of course, that couldn’t have happened if the managers hadn’t stood up for their employees and a product they believed in. That spirit of integrity has become one of the building blocks of Pixar and gives them a leg up when producing their top of class product.