Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Corporate Governance In Disneyland: A Sad Chapter

In addition to tendering his letter of resignation to the Walt Disney Company, Roy Disney is circulating the following letter addressed to Disney employees ("cast members"):


December 3, 2003

Dear Disney Cast Members,

It was nearly 20 years ago that a small group of us recognized that dramatic changes were necessary to reinvigorate and reenergize the Disney Company. We changed the composition of the Board and assembled a new leadership team headed by Frank Wells and Michael Eisner. I returned to the Disney cast and, working as a team, we planted the seeds that rekindled the spirit and creativity that is synonymous with Disney. Those efforts paid off handsomely in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Once again, Disney was admired for the wholesome family entertainment it brought to millions of people of all ages. Together we created the dreams and excitement that made Disney respected and beloved throughout the world. We succeeded in recapturing the dream born of Walt and my father and the heritage they left to us.

Sadly, times have changed. Michael Eisner has lost sight of the vision upon which this Company was founded. The focus has shifted to the chase for the quick buck instead of a dedication to new and high quality ideas, the development of enduring value. This has led to division within the Disney workforce, a revolving door of managers, and the exodus of too many of our most creative and inspired employees.

For the last several years, Michael Eisner has done his utmost to isolate me from the members of Disney’s Animation Department and exclude me from participation in decision making regarding the Department. Most recently, I was prevented from even attending the Animation Department screening of three pending feature animation projects. The collegiality and openness that once typified the Disney workplace has been destroyed.

It is against this backdrop that I had no choice but to resign as Chairman of Disney’s Animation Department and as a member of Disney’s Board of Directors. This has been a very painful decision. I am torn between my duties and loyalties to all of you who have made my journey so memorable and special, and the
need to preserve the Disney heritage for future generations. However, I cannot stand idle as the heart and soul of this Company is being systematically eliminated by senior management protected by an ineffective Board of Directors. This is a Board that seeks to avoid the constructive tension necessary to guide management through difficult times. Instead, it is a Board that seeks to stifle dissent and, to that end, has asked me to leave the Board of Directors.

Although this is not how and when I would have liked to leave the Disney Company, I assure you that I view it not as an isolated and sad event, but as part of a process. I hope it is not too late for the Disney Board of Directors to finally recognize that fundamental change is needed to restore the Disney luster, nurture and protect the wonderful characters that together we have developed and, most importantly, to create the environment within the workplace necessary to give life to new Disney icons for the generations to come.

As I now set off on a different course, I cannot fail to publicly and openly once again express to all of you my most heartfelt thanks. I am grateful that we have shared this journey. Without you, your contributions and camaraderie we would not have been able to make the magic and wonder that is Disney. I hope that one day soon the Disney Board gets the message.

Yours faithfully,

Roy E. Disney

UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times has its say.


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