What Apple Can Learn From Walt Disney | Fast Company


No one knows how long Steve Jobs will be absent from the helm of Apple. The challenge for Apple one day–and I hope it is decades from now–is to find a new CEO. Right now the decision would be straightforward. Tim Cook, the current COO, is a skilled operations man, and according to The New York Times very much “in charge” at Apple. He is the ideal person for the job.

Finding a replacement for Steve Jobs, as the Times noted, the breakthrough innovator, dealmaker and person of influence, is frankly impossible. And so Apple would do well to forget trying to find one. Rather, as many have pointed out, it would be wise to turn to a committee of people to do what Jobs has done.

Steve Jobs is irreplaceable as was another innovator-entrepreneur, Walt Disney. He began his career as a cartoonist but early in his career turned his talents to thinking and creating and running a creative department. The Walt Disney Company became the tour de force in animation. Walt’s genius was in storytelling and in getting so many other talented artists to go along with his ideas and work together. He shepherded the Imagineers, creative types who thought out of the box but were willing to work collaboratively to create the most exciting entertainment products their day.

Disney was also restless. If you could create fantasies on celluloid, couldn’t you do it in real life? Thus was born Disneyland where so many of his characters came to life in 3D in the form of walking characters and amusement park rides. Disney also created and hosted a television series on ABC as a means of promoting the park as well as finding an outlet for the many Disney films, including specially produced nature films.

Disney’s attention to detail ensured that his park would not be the sleazy carny style he knew from boyhood but would be very different. Customers were called “guests” and cleanliness, service and hospitality were paramount. When Walt died in 1966, plans for his next big thing, Disney World in Orlando, were well under way. The park opened in 1971. A succession of CEOs ran the company as caretakers, doing what Walt would do operationally but not what he would do creatively. They were not innovators.

It took a new generation of management, headed by Michael Eisner, to take the Walt Disney Company to new horizons. Eisner’s lieutenant, Jeffrey Katzenberg, let the company’s return to producing animated features. It also expanded its theme parks and found new sources of revenue in merchandising its characters and in the steady release of its film library on videotape and later DVD.

The company acquired Capital Cities, which owned ABC television and ESPN. [It even bought Pixar, a company headed by Steve Jobs.] Eisner unlike Disney eventually drove off senior talent and was replaced by Robert Iger. Today the Walt Disney Company remains an icon force in entertainment, theme parks and retail.

Walt Disney, like Steve Jobs, was a once in a lifetime executive. Companies do not replace them. They prepare for their departure by promoting the cadre of people of many different talents and do what Walt did better than anyone–get them all to work together to create something valuable that consumers will want to experience.

That challenge will be one that will define Apple’s future.

Via FC Expert Blogger John Baldoni



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