Walt Disney is quoted as saying “of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the talents of those who work for us and pointing them toward a certain goal” (Disney Dreamer, 2008, 41). It can be said that this management philosophy has contributed to eight decades of business success that has helped the company to become the business conglomerate Walt Disney is today. Co-founded by Walter Elias Disney, the Walt Disney Company today has branched out to various entertainment studios, theme parks, products and other media productions. How did one man’s dream form and manage an enterprise that has established itself as a household name through-out the world?The Walt Disney Company was established in a small office in Los Angeles California in the summer of 1923.
Walt Disney moved to California from Kansas City Missouri with hopes of marketing his creative talent in the film industry. Walt had made a short film called “Alice in Wonderland” that he hoped to use as a pilot film to break into the industry. Partnered with his brother Roy they formed “Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio” and changed the name to “Walt Disney Studio” per Roy’s suggestion. Walt’s first break into the entertainment business came when a distributor by the name of M.J. Winkler contracted with the studio on October 16, 1923 to release a series to the public called “Alice Comedies.” This marked the formal beginnings of the Walt Disney Company (Corporate Disney, 2008).
The company started to take off as Walt Disney hired animators to produce Oswald cartoons through his distributor, Mr. Winkler. As money grew tight Walt needed Winkler to provide him with the finances to keep producing his series. It was at this time that Walt found out the distributor was going behind his back to create his own studio using Walt Disney’s animators. Since Winkler owned the distributor rights to the Oswald cartoons there was nothing that Walt could do. It was at this point that Walt Disney vowed that he would own everything that he made (Corporate Disney, 2008). This was the event that led to the creation of the Mickey Mouse cartoons in1928 and the popularity of the Disney name.
The company grew gradually despite the financial difficulties the brothers experienced over the years. The Disney brothers did not let this hamper their efforts and soon established themselves as an independent production company in Hollywood. In the 1930’s Walt Disney was offered $300 to allow a marketer to imprint Mickey Mouse on paper tablets for children. Walt agreed as he truly needed the money. This began the production of Disney consumer products and has led them to be one of the most recognizable media brands in the world today.
The war years (1939 to 1945) were financially difficult for the company but Disney did not give up. The studio made educational films for the United States government as well as made animated comedies. After the war the company branched out by concentrating their efforts towards films using people versus cartoon characters. In the 1950s Disney tapped into the television audience with a weekly show that featured past and present Disney film characters. In 1955 Disney was inspired by his children to expand his business ventures by opening up the theme park – Disneyland in Anaheim, California. This business venture was and still is one of Disney’s biggest successes.
In the 1970s Disney had a dream to continue to offer family entertainment by developing plans to open up an entertainment and educational complex in Florida. This project became known as Walt Disney World. Unfortunately, Disney did not get to realize the accomplishment of this dream as it was completed after his death. Roy died two month’s after Walt Disney World opened in October of 1971. Despite the deaths of the two Disney brothers the company is still thriving today – not only in the United States but through-out the world. The company continues to expand their business offerings through media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment, and consumer products.
The Walt Disney Company has seen much financial success as it operates as world-wide entertainment company. Headquartered in Burbank California, Disney employs over 130,000 people. Revenue is generated through the operation of the company’s four segments. These operating segments are: Media Networks (television, radio, and the internet); Studio entertainment (live-action and animated motion pictures, musical recordings and video programming); Consumer products (products and licenses to promote and sell the Disney characters and other intellectual property); and Parks and Resorts ticket sales, room nights at the hotels, and rentals at the resort properties).
Financially, the company has earning stability according to the year-end fillings with the Security Exchange Commission (SEC). Positive net income has been reported for the last five years. The Media Networks division appears to be their biggest generator of income for Disney which brings in about 41% of their revenue while the Consumer Products segment produces about 7% of their revenue. Disney’s Parks and Resorts also have been successful revenue generators for the company.
In 2007 alone operating income increase 11% from the prior year. According to Robert Iger, president and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Company, the positive financial results are a direct result of “strong brands, combined with high-quality creative content and our ability to promote and distribute the content across multiple businesses and platforms” this gives Disney “the unique ability to continue delivering growth and value to our shareholders” (Disney.com, 2007, 2). It can be said that Walt Disney’s ability to foster the spirit of creativity, innovation and excellence still continues to underlie the company’s success they enjoy today.
Disney corporations pride is in maintaining the “magic “of Disney. Their slogan is the happiest place on earth. Guests from all over the world come and enjoy the magical experience of the imagination of Walt Disney. All of this imagination has created characters and a world of fantasy that is shared in a full day at theme parks. The mission statement that the company has created is to make people happy, all of this through the entertainment values of no cynicism, nurturing, and promulgation of “wholesome American values” and the creativity of dreams and imagination. The organization structure of Disney involves the board of directors; any decision related to the organization is brainstormed through the directors before the decision is approved by the CEO Bob Iger.
Keeping in consideration that Disney Corporation has subsidiaries under them such as Disney Studios, the theme parks in California, Florida, Japan, Paris and Hong Kong; Disney also has Disney consumer products and media networks. All these Disney entities have different business proposals that require attentive decision making. This is all carefully done with the board of directors. At Disney, “the bottom line is imagination, our culture is magic and wonder, and required previous work experience: childhood dreams.” Such insightful rhetoric entices employees to put forth their best effort to live up to the self-imposed hype.
Disney’s approach to employee motivation and satisfaction is based on Frederick Herzberg’s theory that motivation comes from within the individual, rather than from a policy imposed by the company. Disney provides each of its 130,000 employees world-wide with the opportunity for recognition for achievement, increased responsibility because of performance, opportunity to grow in knowledge, chance for advancement, and improved maintenance items such as wages, off-hour programs and self-development opportunities. Disney is very aware that the only way of meeting customer’s expectations is by delivering the magic through the staff.
The culture of quality perfected at Disney’s theme parks could not prevail without employee buy-in. To gain employee acceptance, the concept of show business is promoted as an organizational culture. The employee is not hired for a job, but cast for a role in the show. Hired employees are called cast members, wear costumes not uniforms, and they play before an audience of guests, not a crowd of customers. When they are in a guest environment; they are onstage; when they are in an employee environment, he or she is backstage. Prior to any interview, Disney prescreens applicant by showing prospective employees a video prior to filling out an application. This provides an opportunity to opt out of the hiring process if they do not agree with Disney’s expectations regarding appearance, guidelines, or even having their own transportation.
After being selected for a role, cast members spend their first day at Disney University where are taught, amongst Disney traditional values, that their roles are bigger than their jobs. The cast is charged with creating magic moments for its guests. Additionally, cast members are empowered to make the right decision and provide the right behavior for each guest he or she comes into contact with. Empowerment of the Disney cast begins with a service theme of “creating happiness” for people. Disney then provides extensive training, ongoing communication, and dependable support systems to help the cast make the right decisions in each guest encounter. Cast members uphold the standards of courtesy, efficiency, safety and show, along with aligning personal values, traits and behavior with those of the organization.
Disney has 10 management principles in place that have contributed to the success of the company. These principles are: (1) Make Everyone’s Dreams Come True, (2) You Better Believe It, (3) Never a Customer, Always a Guest, (4) All for One and One for All, (5) Share the Spotlight, (6) Dare to Dare, (7) Practice, Practice, Practice, (8) Make Your Elephant Fly, (9) Capture the Magic with Storyboards, and (10) Give Details Top Billing (Capodagli and Jackson, 1999). Although all these are an integral part of the company, the first, fourth, and seventh principles are significant for employee motivation.
“Make Everyone’s Dream Come True,” outlines the importance of allowing members of the organization to dream and develop his or her creative talents (Capodagli and Jackson, 1999). Disney encourages creativity in all its employees. This encourages participation and is credited with a decreased turnover rate as compared to the industry’s competitors (Capodagli and Jackson, 1999.
The fourth principle, “All for One and One for All,” highlights the importance of teamwork and empowerment of the employees. Teamwork is described as a method of fostering intense loyalty, enthusiasm and commitment. Because the focus at the Disney Company is to make sure that each guest has a memorable and pleasant experience, it doesn’t matter whose “job” is to pick up a piece of trash. It becomes everyone’s responsibility (Capodagli and Jackson, 1999).
The seventh principle, “Practice, Practice, Practice” outlines the importance of formal and continuous training (Capodagli and Jackson, 1999). Initially, Disney’s initial training programs covered only the very basic essentials to keep operations going. During those early years, the training consisted of a first-day orientation, with some on-the-job training and a few recreational programs for employees. As Disney began to grow, more emphasis on training and the total employee environment was needed. Disney University’s challenge is to offer employees the finest working environment possible. To meet this challenge Disney training programs had to be executed in an effort to show interest and concern for the growth of the employees and the Disney organization.
The name “Disney University” extends well beyond training and education implications (Cook, 1974). More than training is included at the university. The university feels a responsibility to the whole person; the university helps employees achieve their goals as the organization achieves its goals. A very important responsibility of the Disney University is the preservation of Walt Disney’s motivational philosophies and traditions. The university staff is concerned not only with an employee’s education and development, but also with his or her motivation, morale, communication and physical working atmosphere. The university also provides social and recreational activities for the employee.
The Disney web site states: “The Company has a tradition of innovation and creativity that is the result of hiring and motivating diverse employees with a wide range of talents” (Walt Disney Company, 2008). The Walt Disney Company wants to empower its cast; to do this they start with committed leaders at the top who are willing to set examples. Disney applies the concept of cross servicing during peak hours. During these periods, supervisors and managers set aside their normal duties and help the cast in all other areas of the operation, including; food service, janitorial service, ticketing and guest assistance at all attractions. The cross-servicing concept allows cast members to see management in action and provides an extraordinary opportunity to model good behaviors and appropriate job/people skills.
Every year, The Walt Disney Company holds service awards dinners at its theme parks around the world. All the company vice presidents are in attendance, and Disney employees receive plaques, jewelry and other merchandise depending on their years of service. “When we hear of an employee doing something special, we bring it to the attention of Michael Eisner and he personally sends them a letter of thanks” (Alonzo, 1994). Every Christmas, the Walt Disney Company opens Disneyland for employees and families only with executives running the park.
Disney provides a broad spectrum of recreational, social, cultural and special activities for employees and their families. These activities include sport programs of all types, theater workshops, community services, special employee-only visits to the “Magic Kingdom,” film festivals and previews, various travel and entertainment programs, and comfortable break and eating areas for employees. Employees are also provided with housing assistance, doctor and dentist referrals, and a variety of merchants who offer discounts to Disney employees (Cook, 1974).
Employees (or Cast Members as they are commonly referred to) are afforded a wide range of benefits such as health, dental and life insurance packages. Cast members are also given complimentary theme park passports allowing them to access any of the Disney parks at no charge as well as Cast Member discounts on products and merchandise. Disney associates are also reimbursed for education, receive stock options and are eligible for service awards. Those with children who live near Anaheim or Orlando can take advantage of the childcare centers while they go to work. The many benefits motivate employees and form a good basis for employee retention.
Disney incorporates distinctive values in it workplace. Innovation, quality, community, storytelling, optimism and decency are the foreground to its success. These core values resonate in very product Disney produces ensuring the consumer receives the highest quality entertainment product available. In 2006 Disney ranked number one on the BusinessWeek’s “best places to launch a career” (Disney 2006, Business Week). Disney’s strong on-campus recruiting, solid benefits and collaborative culture helped put the entertainment giant at the head of the Business Week ranking, which identifies top employers for new college graduates.
At Disney, life is fun. People who come to enjoy Disney products are having fun and therefore, those providing these products and services should also be having fun – and be in good spirits. It helps motivate the guests to have fun. When the guests have fun they come back; when they come back the company generates revenue. Walt Disney was able to transform his imagination into a living organism that attracts people from all over the world. This business has left a legacy for many generations and is still an attraction that our upcoming generations are looking forward to exhaust and live for their children. Walt Disney was a true genius. He was able to turn fantasies and stories into a booming business that appears will be never ending.
Walt Disney recognized that “whatever we accomplish is due to the combined effort. The organization must be with you or you don’t get it done. In my organization there is respect for every individual, and we all have a keen respect for the public” (Disney Dreamer, 2008, 54) Walt Disney’s management philosophy holds true today. Disney is a model for success. The company’s proven methods for employee motivation leave little if any for improvement.
The finely evolved practice of putting associates before profits has yielded abundance in popularity and name recognition for the organization all over the world. For the foreseeable future, it does appear that Walt Disney Company will continue to expand its business and remain profitable. This can be contributed to the ability of management to foster the spirit of employee creativity, innovation, and excellence that continues to underlie all the company’s success.
Alonzo, V. (1994). The more the merrier. Incentive, 168(6), 47. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from MasterFILE Premier database.
Capodagli, B. and Jackson, L. (1999). The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in Your Company. McGraw-Hill.
Cook, M. (1974). What Can I Do For You?. Training and Development Journal, 28(9), 30. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.
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