I think that it's high time that we stopped hammering on Michael Eisner for being a micro-manager.
After all, there have long been stories about how Walt Disney used to prowl through his studio on weekends. How he'd slip into unlocked offices to preview still-in-production sequences and/or check out still-under-construction storyboards. I've even heard tell about how Walt would allegedly paw through the trash in particular artists' offices, just to make sure that they hadn't accidentally discarded any interesting ideas.
Now some might call this sort of behavior on Walt Disney's part obsessive. Intrusive. Overly controlling. Even micro-managing.
But the fact of the matter is ... Walt knew what he wanted. And he was determined to do whatever he had to in order to achieve the end result that he was looking for. Be it the first animated short with synchronized sound, the first feature length animated film and/or the world's first theme park.
So -- when Walt micro-managed the way Walt Disney Productions ran -- company lore now tells us that this is a good thing. That it was Walt's attention to detail that made the movies that he personally produced so magical, the theme parks that he helped design so much fun.
But -- if that's really the case -- then why is it now considered to be such a bad thing that Michael Eisner supposedly micro-manages the modern day Walt Disney Company? I mean, isn't it kind of a double standard that Michael is now being condemned for the very thing that Walt Disney used to be praised for doing?
It just doesn't make sense to me that this whole "micro-managing" thing has become such a hot button issue in the "Save Disney" campaign. I mean, doesn't the financial community as well as Disneyana fans want the guy who's in charge of the Mouse House to be paying attention to the details? To be making sure that all the i's get dotted and all the t's get crossed?
Okay, I'm grant you that the Walt Disney Company is NOT the same corporation that Walt used to run back in the early 1960s. Disney's a multi-national, multi-billion dollar operation nowadays. Which makes it kind of difficult for the company's CEO to actually stay on top of things by prowling around people's offices after hours and/or pawing through their trash cans.
So -- maybe -- in today's Walt Disney Company, micro-managing really is a bad thing. That maybe Michael really wouldn't be in the position he's in today if Eisner had just learned to delegate.
But you have to understand that Michael just THOUGHT that he was working from the old Disney playbook. That Walt was revered because he paid attention to the details. So Eisner thought that: "If I pay attention to the details too, people will come to revere me as well."
Well, that clearly hasn't been the case. If anything, that's the No. 1 reason that former Disney executives give to explain why they actually left the company: "I wasn't allowed to make any decisions by myself. Michael always had to have the final say."
Now -- back in Walt's day -- there was one way to guarantee that you'd get a real ass-chewing before the day was through. And that was to make a significant corporate decision without first consulting with Walt.
Take -- for example -- "it's a small world." As part of the JHM Disneyland tours (which will be held on March 20th and 21st at the Anaheim Resort), I love to tell the story of the REAL reason that "the happiest cruise on earth" exists. NOT because Walt Disney Productions actually wanted to create an attraction that paid tribute to all the children in the world. But -- rather -- because Joe Fowler made the mistake of p*ssing off Walt Disney one day.
To explain: Back in the Fall of 1963, WED already had its hands full with the shows that Disney had agreed to produce for the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. There was the "Magic Skyway" ride for the Ford Rotunda, the "Progressland" show for the G.E. Pavilion as well as the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" show for the State of Illinois Pavilion. So -- as you can -- the Imagineer's plate was already pretty full before Admiral Joe Potter got that desperate call from an executive at Pepsi Cola.
It seemed that Pepsi had agreed to put together an exhibit for the '64 Worlds Fair to honor the United Nation's Children's Fund. The only problem was -- at this late date -- the cola company couldn't find anyone who'd agree to build something for them. So the Pepsi executive thought -- if he asked nice -- Disney would agree to ...
Joe Fowler politely but firmly told the Pepsi executive: "No." That the Walt Disney Company has already made commitments to several other corporations to produce three extremely complicated shows for the Fair. So there was just no way -- with little more than a year 'til the 64 NYWF was due to open -- that the Imagineers would agree to take on another assignment now. Their resources were stretched to the max.
With that, Admiral Joe hung up on the Pepsi exec. And that should have been the end of the story. Except that -- somehow -- Walt got word that the cola giant had called, looking for Disney's help in producing a show for the '64 Worlds Fair.
So Disney called Fowler and read him the riot act: "You don't make the decisions around here," Walt reportedly said. " I do! Now you call Pepsi back up now and tell them we'll do their damned UNICEF show."
You see? "it's a small world" only exists today because Walt Disney got angry. Because someone overstepped their authority and made a decision without first checking with Walt.
Which -- in my book -- makes Walt Disney a micro-manager. Which -- by today's standards -- makes the co-founder of Walt Disney Productions a bad CEO. At least by today's standards.
Okay. I know. Some of you may think that this is a poor example. But my point is: It really just doesn't make any sense to crucify Michael Eisner for the exact same reason that we deify Walt Disney.
Now ... If you want to talk about how Disney's current CEO needs to be removed because his priorities aren't in the proper order. That Michael's consistently made cost containment a higher priority at the modern Walt Disney Company than delivering a quality product. That the man's reputation for always pushing for the best possible deal has made many in Hollywood reluctant to deal with Disney. Or that it's just time for some fresh blood at the top of the Mouse House ... now THOSE are "Oust Eisner" arguments that I can actually get behind.
But to criticize Michael for doing the very same thing that Walt used to do ... well, that just seems silly.