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Roy E. Disney returns to Philadelphia to accept PFF's Inspiration Award

Roy E. Disney returns to Philadelphia to accept PFF's Inspiration Award

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Tomorrow night, Roy Disney will be honored by the Philadelphia Film Festival, receiving that event's prestigious Inspiration Award. As part of this event, Mr. Disney will join noted film historian Leonard Maltin on stage at the Prince Music Theater. Where Leonard will then interview Roy, asking this Disney Legend to look back over his lengthy career.

I wonder if Maltin -- as he's walking Walt's nephew through the high points of his life -- will dare to bring up the last time that Roy was in Philadelphia. You know, when Disney led that shareholders revolt at the 2004 annual meeting? Which resulted in Michael Eisner being stripped of his chairman's title by Disney's board of directors.

Back then, at a press conference immediately following this historic corporate gathering (Where 43% of Disney shareholders withheld their vote for Eisner's re-election to the board), Roy and his co-hort from Shamrock Holdings Stanley Gold were downright giddy. These two seemed supremely confident that Disney's CEO was now on his way out. And it would only be a matter of time 'til Michael was on the outside and Roy & Stanley were back on the inside, remaking the Magic Kingdom in their own image.


Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold (L to R)
Photo by Nancy Stadler

But that's not exactly what happened. While it's true that Michael Eisner did step down as the head of the Walt Disney Company in September of 2005 (A full year ahead of when he was originally supposed to), Disney & Gold never did get the chance to play kingmakers. In the end, Disney's board of directors opted to go with Michael's hand-picked successor -- then-company president Bob Iger.

And Iger ... You gotta give this guy props. Even before he officially assumed control at the Mouse House, Bob was able to successfully broker a deal with Roy & Stanley. Getting these two to abandon a pending pair of lawsuits as well as agree not to run an alternate slate of directors for the Walt Disney Company for at least five years.

And what did Disney get in return for agreeing to Iger's terms? Roy was named a Director Emeritus of the Walt Disney Company.

"And what sort of power comes with a title like that?," you query. To be honest, not a whole lot. Oh, sure. In his new role as a consultant for the company that his father & uncle started back in 1923, Disney was now able to push through a number of pet projects. Like launching Walt Disney's Legacy Collection, which finally made the studio's acclaimed True-Life Adventures films available for purchase on DVD.

And his new title did entitle Roy to some special recognition at last month's annual meeting. After Disney's new chairman John E. Pepper Jr. had introduced the company's board of directors, Pepper then made a point of saying ...

... I'm also pleased today to be able to introduce an Emeritus Director, whose name you know well. Who served on the board for 19 years. I'm referring to Roy Disney. Roy, would you please stand? Good to have you with us.

And Roy then stood up and waved to all the shareholders seated in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

But in spite of all of these recent attempts at pretending that fences are mended and there are no hard feelings, there was one telling moment at last month's meeting. It occurred just minutes before officials wrapped up the question & answer portion of that corporate gathering. And though this was a relatively short exchange between a Disney shareholder and the company's chairman & CEO, it spoke volumes in regards to the Mouse House's continuing sense of awkwardness about how it should be dealing with Roy E. Disney.

It all started out innocently enough. With this shareholder stepping up to the mic and introducing himself ...

Michael King: My name's Michael King. I'm from the Alabama Gulf Coast. I am just a lowly shareholder. First and foremost, Mr. Iger and Mr. Pepper, I want to thank you for the hour and 20 minute entertaining presentation. I enjoyed it very much and I do firmly believe that the health of the company can be gauged more on the future of the company than on the past numbers. So to see where we're going was very, very helpful.

My question is are there any plans to add anyone either to the board or to the company in general in a leadership position of any member of the Disney family?


John E. Pepper, Jr. Chairman of the Walt Disney Company
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

John E. Pepper, Jr. : The question … Coming onto the board as a member of the Disney family?

Michael King: Are there any plans to add either in a position of leadership or to -- as a member of the board -- someone from the Disney family?

John E. Pepper, Jr. : No. We're really not looking at a member of the Disney family per se. We are constantly looking at how we can strengthen the board and renew it. And the characteristics there we're looking for -- I'm sure - are the ones you'd expect. Visionary. We're looking for youth. We're looking for diversity. We're looking for people who can help the whole creative process and the business process. So that's a constant subject.

And as I may have mentioned, you know, you reach my age and spend 40 years at Procter & Gamble, you've been on a lot of boards. And seen a lot of boards. And I just … I'd say to you this is a great board. I've been on some wonderful boards. This is as good a board as I've ever seen in terms of its diversity.

Of course, we've got … Steve Jobs has come on the board as a result of the Pixar acquisition. That's a dose of creativity, I can assure you. So it's very good. But we'll continue to look at renewing it. The Disney family is not a particular criteria. Even though it's just wonderful to have Roy Disney with us here today as a representative of the family …

Michael King: Please don't misconstrue. You guys are doing a great job. I just thought if someone should be able to carry on Walt's vision, that would be nice …

John E. Pepper, Jr. : Yeah. An interesting thought. Thank you very much. Station 2, please?

Which should have been the end of it. But Bob Iger -- sensing that the company's new chairman of the board may have unintentionally said something that might upset the Disney faithful and/or given the business press an intriguing new issue to poke at -- quickly chimed in from his side of the stage.

Bob Iger : We introduced Roy Disney earlier as a Director Emeritus. Roy's also a consultant to the company, has an office at the company, spends a fair amount of time on the Disney lot in Burbank and is welcome in a number of our processes and has interaction with a number of the people that are helping make this company what it is today. It's nice to have him around.

And with Pepper's unintentional gaffe now effectively defused, the meeting moved on.


Photo by Nancy Stadler

But even so ... That can't have been easy for Roy E. Disney to hear. That the creative legacy of his father & uncle's company was now entrusted to a group of people who didn't feel that the corporation needed to maintain any ties to the Disney family. More importantly, that the executives who are now in charge of the Mouse House still feel like they have to walk on egg shells whenever they're around Walt's nephew.

But given everything that's going on in Roy's life these days (I.E. His filing for divorce from his wife of 52 years plus Disney's recent unretirement from competitive yachting) ... One wonders if Walt's nephew has grown beyond caring about stuff like this. That this 77-year-old has far too much on his plate right now to worry about unintended corporate slights and/or give much thought to how things in the past didn't work out as well as Roy may have originally hoped.

That said ... I'd still dearly love to know what Roy E. Disney is thinking right about now, as he makes his way back to Philadelphia this weekend. To the city where -- just three years ago -- it seemed like he & Stanley Gold were about to retake control of the Magical Kingdom. Only to then have this corporate fairy tale play out in a very different way.

Your thoughts?

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  •  If I were Maltin I'd ask him about his 3 year old statements about how Disney is too corporate now and shouldn't be getting into all those deals/mergers etc with ESPN, Fox Family ABC, etc...and how that figures into Disney's current relationship with, um, Apple.

  • Very interesting article Jim. I do wonder though at age 77 & his pending divorce he has other things on his mind now. The sad truth is, the Disney family probably doesn't have much to do with running the company anymore. Yes they are still shareholders, and several of Walt and Lillians grandchildren work for the company but running it was given to suits sometime ago.

  • Nobody can say for sure what he would have wanted, but Disney hasn't been a privately run family concern for... Well, a long time. Walt was able to leave his family with the rewards of his work and he was able to make a lot of people happy at the same time. What more could you possibly ask for?

    While it's fun to see a real full-blooded Disney at Disney, it doesn't really guarantee any amount of progress for the company to have one around. Even if we did have a bunch of relatives running the company who knew what Walt would have wanted, it would be best to put them in creative positions, not executive positions. Walt's product and stories were timeless, his business sense was firmly rooted in the past.

    From 1977-1985 Disney had been chasing after the metaphorical rainbow, hoping to bring the company to some point where customers and audiences can feel as though Walt Disney never left us. Starting with Touchstone, and then continuing with the ABC acquisition, this hasn't been the case. There's a lot of arms of the Disney company producing content that Walt wouldn't have touched. So really, all connections to Disney of the past and the family themselves are almost symbolic now.

    Bottom line: Roy doesn't have as much to bring to the table as he once did, the company has changed and so has he. Let someone like Steve Jobs can lay out a modern plan for the company's future and steer Iger along the right course.

  • I wasn't going to post anything, but MatterhornYeti brought up Steve Jobs.  You're saying you want Steve Jobs to lay out a modern plan for the company's future///I think he's probably a little preoccupied with a little company called Apple.  Disney needs more people who are focused on JUST Disney.  Quality, not quantity.  That's for John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and the other Pixar people- only half their time can be spent at Disney- get more people who can truly focus all their time and energy on Disney.

  • As a member of the board and a huge stockholder Jobs certainly has input into Iger's ear. I'm not saying Jobs should run the place by hand, mind you. I'm saying that Disney's business is entertainment and Jobs has a fantastically clear picture of where entertainment is going to be going, especially since he's guiding a large factor in that future.

    Roy is a gentleman from most accounts, but I really doubt he knows too much about, say, digital content distribution. That's an enormous new channel for the future of entertainment. It's something Disney should capitalize on and be ahead of the pack rather than a runner-up like they were with DVD.

    Lasseter, Catmull, etc, are concerned with the side of the business regarding content creation. This is historically where the Disney family has made it's greatest impact in the company. I'm not worried about the dreamers, I'm talking about the business people because that's who Roy (the subject of all this) is surrounded by. Roy isn't overlooking animation anymore. He doesn't have a role in green lighting projects or making changes to films in production.

    Instead, he has a tenuous connection to the chief businessman of the company. What's that worth to a guy whose background is in film-making? I can't blame him for taking up old hobbies, his position doesn't give him access to the realms he's skilled in.

  • I think that Roy is probably content with how things turned out or else he wouldn't have given up so easily. I doubt that the SaveDisney fight was about Roy, but was about Disney. And once the save part was accomplished, he could fade into the background.

    The company has made HUGE steps in the right direction and I think it says alot about the "new" Disney and about Bob Iger that they made sure NOT to offend Roy or Disney "dweebs". The OLD Disney of Eisner wouldn't have cared. And the "new" Disney has made a place for Roy, whereas the "old" Disney locked him out.

    As to Steve Jobs. When will everyone realize that he is NOT as brillant as everyone pretends he is. Or has everyone forgot that HE tried to SHUT down Pixar, OR the DISASTER that is Apple, OR that HE said that MP3 players were dumb toys, etc, etc, etc. Steve Jobs is both lucky AND has brillant people surrounding him (Steve Wozniak, John Lassner, Ed Catmul, etc).

  • Also sometime ago Roy himself commented about a member of the Disney family being put on the board and he replied that those positions need to go to people who will be effective and not to a Disney family member just because that person is a Disney.

  • Anyone remember how the Anaheim property looked, or the movies that were released, or the deals that were approved (Ovitz etc) when Roy Jr was "on the board?" Disney Co should be able to get by without him on the board. If he wasn't born with the right uncle, I doubt he would have been on any board or making any multi-million dollar stock decisions.

  • I'm more curious about what will happen when the nephew passes.  Who will step into Roy's shoes?  I would hate to see not a single member of the Disney family working with the company to ensure Walt's vision continued.

  •   "As to Steve Jobs. When will everyone realize that he is NOT as brillant as everyone pretends he is. Or has everyone forgot that HE tried to SHUT down Pixar, OR the DISASTER that is Apple, OR that HE said that MP3 players were dumb toys, etc, etc, etc. Steve Jobs is both lucky AND has brillant people surrounding him (Steve Wozniak, John Lassner, Ed Catmul, etc)."

       So very true, jedited.  I'm also inclined to recall how, with the launch of such programs like nExt, Jobs (as Jim has pointed out before) wanted to put on the market computer programs that would allow businesses/individuals to create their own computer animation and sell it....whether or not it had ANY artistic integrity.

    So funny how many articles praise Jobs as "the only one" (other than Lassetter) who could see the "promise" of coomputer animation and bought Pixar for a cheap price while Disney ended up paying 7 billion.  Hello, he only bought Pixar so he could sell it later on! :P

     ;)

  • Jim mentioned that the execs seem to walk on eggshells when it comes to Roy Disney.  This is prudent.  First, Mr. Disney represents a link with the past; any organization values long-term employees and managers who help maintain the collective memory of the company.  Second, the Disney/Gold movement motivated 43% of shareholders to withhold their votes - a stunning number, especially when you consider that the Disney company had remained reasonably profitable over the years.  Even more incredible is that those 43% were not entirely organized.  I was one of the dissenting shareholders who decided to voice my disapproval of Mr. Eisner's policies (and the way he treated Messrs. Gold & Disney) even though I was never contacted by anyone from the dissenting side and told how to vote my shares!  Undoubtedly there was some level of organization to the Disney/Gold move,  but part of the Eisner Sanction was also a grass-roots reaction to the way the company had turned its back on its most prominent collective memory.

    And so here we are debating the past rather than a future interview!  Yet the past is critical to the Disney organization - it's what built the franchise, and even the company takes pains to honor the past by re-involving "legends" in company promotions.  Sure, keep moving forward, but you have to keep an eye on the Mouse that started it all.

  • Wow. People here think I'm some member of the Steve Jobs Love Brigade. Truth is, I think he's overrated, and I'm not suggesting he should be directing movies. All I was saying is that he's got a huge role in the future of entertainment distribution. Content delivered digitally is a major player in the technologies vying to be the new method through which you'll watch everything. Jobs has a good record predicting trends before they happen and being there to give people what they want when they've realized they want it.

    OTOH, Eisner shared a story at a stockholder meeting about how Disney DVD was launched because he walked through an electronics store one day and saw that all the other studios were putting their whole catalog on DVD, so naturally this studio should, too. That's playing catch-up, not looking forward.

  •  "Wow. People here think I'm some member of the Steve Jobs Love Brigade. Truth is, I think he's overrated, and I'm not suggesting he should be directing movies. All I was saying is that he's got a huge role in the future of entertainment distribution. Content delivered digitally is a major player in the technologies vying to be the new method through which you'll watch everything. Jobs has a good record predicting trends before they happen and being there to give people what they want when they've realized they want it."

      Yes, Steve Jobs knows plenty about content distribtion and trends concerning techology and all that--I'm not faulting him there.  

    But does he know anything about judging that content and its creative integrity? I think there's a big difference between sitting down and inventing the ipod (which he wasn't completely a part of either) and actually greenlighting films, developing television series/shows/rides, etc...I thought the whole "content distribution/brands/trends" was what Roy wanted to get AWAY from.  Just my 2 cents, anyway.

  •  Also, two more things:

     1.) Didn't Roy say he didn't want being a member of the Disney family to be a criteria for getting on the board AFTER he said that he DID want it to be "all about the family", particularly the SaveDisney site stressing that a Disney should be the one in charge of "his uncle's company," etc...etc....Wasn't it due to Roy's fears that Diane Disney Miller and Ron's kid's (the "Walt" side of the fam as opposed to the Roy O side) would go vying for control and leave him and his children out?

     2.)  OK, I give Steve Jobs props for resurrecting Apple and being pretty darn brillant at running it.  I do belive he's extraordinary at what he does.  But (and it's so interesting that very few have asked this question, although I think Jim at one point did) does he truly care about "Disney"?

    I mean the Walt Disney company, the animated films, the rides, the parks? Has he ever expressed love for a Disney film, shared stories about going to DisneyWorld as a child, shaking hands with Mickey, watching Pinnochio for the first time, etc...I could be wrong, maybe he has.  I just haven't read anything about it.

      (You could say the same about Eisner but at least he was in the MOVIE business and had a role in developing films/shows (even animation) before he became CEO.  Jobs has ALWAYS been in computers.  Also, at least for the first ten years of Disney Eisner was enormously enthusiastic about the company and played a vital part in its day to day business....he even hosted the WWOD.  I doubt Jobs would even pose in a photo with Mickey Mouse much less guest star/host WWOD...because..he's an Apple guy! :P )

     You could also make the argument that "it's not about how much he loves Disney, it's about how good an executive/board member he is."  I'm sorry but that just does not fly with me.  Not after that whole SaveDisney campaign and and nth number of essays on line about how the company has lost its spirit and about how we need someone at the helm who is creative and cares about the soul of the company.  

    Which I do believe, by the way.  I just think it's incredibly ironic how after stressing all these things, Roy gets behind someone like Jobs and has no problem with the Disney logo fused with the Apple logo in a metaphorical sense, with no regard for what Jobs' actual feelings for Disney or what his true agenda is.

    I

  • Actually Steve Jobs is very Walt: a visionary who surround themself with people who can make the impossible possible.  

    Walt had the 9 Old Men, John Hench, Mary Blair, etc;

    Jobs has Jonathan Ive, Phil Schiller, John Lassiter, Ed Catmull

    Even George Lucas fits this category as a visionary.

    Ironically both Jobs & Lucas have been doing Disney's business better than Disney for the past 10 years.  Pixar & ILM have been pushing the boundaries of animation where Disney once was the king.  And Apple and LucasFilm have made innovations in imagineering where Disney was once the king.

    Walt didn't invent the story, he just found a way to do it better;

    Jobs didn't invent the portable music player, he just found a better way to do it.

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