This speech was delivered by Roy Disney at a shareholders meeting on March 3, 2004. Could it be, the closer you are to a founder and/or their principles, the better the understanding you have of the brand’s essence? Clearly Roy shared Walt’s compass.
“First of all, I want to thank everyone for your many letters and emails and all your encouragement in this campaign.
Stanley has talked about why we need to make a change. I want to spend a few minutes talking about what kind of change we need.
The Walt Disney Company is more than just a business. It is an authentic American icon — which is to say that over the years it has come to stand for something real and meaningful and worthwhile to millions of people of all ages and backgrounds around the world.
This is not something you can describe easily on a balance sheet, but it is tangible enough. Indeed, it is the foundation on which everything we have accomplished as a company — both artistically and financially — is based.
I believe our mission has always been to be bringers of joy, to be affirmers of the good in each of us, to be — in subtle ways — teachers. To speak, as Walt once put it, “not to children but to the child in each of us.”
We do this through great storytelling, by giving our guests a few hours in another world where their cares can be momentarily put aside, by creating memories that will remain with them forever.
This is the core of what we’ve come to call “Disney,” and to my mind, our single biggest need is to get back to that core.
In my view, the essence of who we are lies in the business of film — especially animation — and the stories, characters, music, and humor that well-made films generate. This is the engine that drives the train, and everything we do as a company basically flows from it.
You will note that I refer to our film work as a business. Whatever else it may be, it is always that as well — a business that needs to be run on a sound basis by people who are sensible as well as sensitive.
My Dad was quoted once as saying, “It’s easy to make decisions, once you know what your values are.” Unfortunately, our corporate values have been compromised in recent years.
In large part, this is the result of a cynical management’s belief that, in the absence of ideas, the road to success is to cut back on everyone and everything that once made you successful, that you don’t really need to give your guests value for money, that creativity and originality are luxuries you can no longer afford … that art and artists are commodities to be bought and sold like any other office supply.
To me, the wrong-headedness of these beliefs is self-evident.
The creative process is the lifeblood of the Disney Company. If it is to thrive, we must do everything possible to establish an environment in which it can once again flourish.
Creativity is a funny thing — difficult to quantify, but obvious when it’s missing. It’s a living, breathing force with a life of its own, and it tends to flower among individuals or small groups. It doesn’t always show up on demand … or at convenient times or places. And it often gets killed by committees or by something called strategic planning. So we need to always be on the lookout for ways to nurture it, and not let it be trampled by a lowest-common-denominator mentality.
One of creativity’s worst enemies is something I call “Institution Think.” This is a very tricky issue. After all, Disney is an institution. But that doesn’t mean it has to think like one.
Let me tell you about the danger of Institution Think: It is often said that our company’s most valuable asset is the Disney name. You’ll get no argument from me. I kind of like the name myself. But, in recent times, there’s been a tendency to refer to it as the “Disney brand.” To me, this degrades Disney into a “thing” to be bureaucratically managed, rather than a “name” to be creatively championed. And lately I’ve been seeing Mickey receive this treatment too, as well as Pooh and a lot of others.
As I’ve said on other occasions, branding is something you do to cows. It makes sense if you’re a rancher, since cows do tend to look alike. It’s also useful to lots of businessmen, and they brand things like detergents or shoes for almost the same reason as ranchers. Branding is what you do when there’s nothing original about your product.
But there is something original about our products. Or at least there used to be. Our name already means something to consumers.
I really believe that if we keep thinking of Disney as a “brand,” we will lose all the meaning that has been built into those six letters for more than three-quarters of a century. We need to get back to thinking of it as a “name” that needs to be prized and enhanced, escape the clutches of Institution Think and resume our trajectory of creative and financial success.
How did the Disney Company create enormous shareholder value in the past? Two ways: first by trusting the talents and imagination of its creative people — and then by supporting them with the resources they required.
I don’t care what current management may tell you. The plain fact is, you can’t fool all the people all the time. Nor can you succeed in our business by trying to get by on the cheap. Consumers know when they are getting value for their money, and they know when you’re trying to sell them second-hand goods.
So what kind of change do we need to make? It’s really quite simple. We need to install a new management team, one that understands and believes in the enormously valuable legacy that’s been entrusted to us.
Speaking as someone with the last name of “Disney,” it is my firm belief that we are not a commodity. As long as we continue to believe in the power of creative ideas, then our best years still lie ahead.
Thank you for your attention.”
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