Learning from the “Big Boys” simply makes sense. Companies that claw their way to the Fortune 500 ranks obviously are doing something right and though few start-up companies will end up in the billion-plus class, there are some attitudes and actions that pop out when you read about those who do.
In a recent edition of Fortune 500 Magazine, the corporate history of Robert Iger, Disney’s most recent chairman and CEO (since 2005) chronicled examples of a leadership style that has boosted Disney back up in the ranks after a bit of temporary stagnation. Now 66th on the Fortune 500 list, the mega-entertainment company estimated 2012 fiscal revenue at $42.4 billion. The money is generated through cable networks, theme parks and resorts, broadcasting, studio entertainment, consumer products and interactive media. How the company manipulates these elements is part of the success story.
Imagination Has No Boundaries
Some of what can be learned from Disney includes a momentum that never stops. Every step taken by any of the various money-makers is expected to dovetail nicely into the whole. Imagination has no boundaries. For instance, passengers aboard Disney’s new cruise ship Fantasy find themselves asked to doodle on their place mats, which are then collected and transformed post-haste into an animated movie that they can watch as they plow through the ocean — a reminder that the ability to create entertainment is near-universal.
Do More Listening Than Talking
Iger has a reputation for “listening more than talking.” But when he takes a stand, he’s tough. If a member of the management team is not contributing in the way he’d like, the individual may be on the way out. “If I can’t trust a person to do that, then I need a different person,” he is quoted as saying. Compassion is nice, but tough gets the job done in some instances. Finding the right managers and then leaving them alone to do their jobs is the first step. But having the smarts to take their good ideas and disseminate them through the business is a cultivated talent.
Expand Your Assets
Sometimes, absorbing the competition is the way to go. When Pixar emerged as the new king of animation, Disney moved to get the company inside its circle, at a cost of $7.4 billion. It marked the end of an animation era in which Disney ruled without peer, but opened up new vistas in the genre that are beneficial to both. Also added to the Disney corral was Marvel Entertainment, which brought the popular mania for such characters as Iron Man and Captain America under the Disney umbrella. It was an immediate boost to a live-action-movie segment that had begun to flag. It also expanded the company’s $3 billion income from consumer products.
Learn From Your Failures
A good lesson in how to handle a failure was embedded in the “John Carter” fiasco. The movie has been described as one of the “biggest bombs” in movie history. Rich Ross, chairman of the live-action division, lost his job shortly after the movie hit local theaters to pan reviews all across the country. But the upshot is that successful companies do not wallow in the occasional flop. They take the steps necessary to go around the failure and learn what it can teach. Internescine warfare is not nice, but someone at the top has to do what must be done.
Think Outside The Box
The penchant for thinking outside the box has been a historic hallmark. The company’s acquisition of ESPN moved Disney even farther beyond Mickey and Minnnie and into a universal entertainment mode. The sports network is considered by some the Disney “outlier,” but if you define entertainment broadly, it fits the definition. Football fans, in particular, who make up the bulk of ESPN’s viewers, certainly hold a near-steady diet of sports to be the epitome of entertainment.
Looking at detail is an Iger quality that contributes to the company success. While scoping out plans for the Shanghai, China version of the Disney Resort, a joint venture with Shanghai Shendi Group, he was looking out for such things as spots that serve as convenient “photo-ops.” The company also is not averse to the occasional lateral move to implant the brand in the minds of those it hopes to make customers. Disney has set up English Language enters in Shanghai, a move that may eventually affect how many of the city’s residents are attracted to the theme part.
Recognize Your Limitations
Knowing, or at least anticipating, your limits can save some headaches in the future. Iger has announced he will leave his Disney post in March 2015. That way, he says, he may avoid some of the turmoil that surrounded his ascension to the company’s top spot. The company is on notice that a suitable successor should be primed and ready when the time comes.
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