In this depiction of Disney, James Stewart gives us an insider’s guide to the management of the company. In 1984, Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew) brought in Michael Eisner to help revive the Walt Disney brand. In the beginning, Eisner is depicted as a humble individual who is very thankful for the opportunity that Roy Disney has given him. He tells Roy that at any time he doesn’t think that Eisner himself is doing a good job, Eisner will leave.
That would be the last time in this book that Eisner appeared humble. His 1984 salary was negotiated at $750,000, plus an additional $750,000 as a sign-on bonus, and options on 2 million Disney shares. Ironically, Eisner was very frugal with business decisions. Perhaps, he needed to make sure Disney had plenty of cash available to pay his salary. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was using new technology mixing cartoons and humans. Robert Zemeckis led the budget of the film. However, Michael Eisner was trying to cut expenses as much as possible during the filming. Fortunately, the movie was a huge success.
Jeffrey Katzenberg was Michael Eisner’s right hand man. He was brilliant and did things when told. Katzenberg believed he would eventually succeed Frank Wells as the President of the company. In 1994, Frank Wells died in a helicopter accident. Eisner did not appoint Katzenberg to the position of President. Katzenberg left Disney and started Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. Michael Eisner hired his friend, Michael Ovitz for this role. The book goes into detail about how they went on ski trips together, spent the holidays together. 14 months later Ovitz would be forced out of the company. Ovitz was very angry with the way Eisner had backstabbed him. But Ovitz also managed to leave the company with a $38 million severance payout and stock options worth $100 million at the time.
Disney had acquired ABC television. They had caught great success when they created ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’. The show’s popularity had a good run. A few years later, a new writer from Las Vegas had pitched the show CSI to ABC. Michael Eisner did not want to pick it up. Eventually, CBS would acquire CSI. Unfortunately, CSI ran the same prime time slot as ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and CSI would get the better ratings. In early 2005, Roy Disney had successfully went after Michael Eisner to get him to leave his position.
This book shows us the greed that goes on in the board room of America’s most well known children’s entertainment brand. I found it interesting that the theme parks themselves were hardly mentioned. The only mention was the failure of Euro Disney under Michael Eisner. It looks like Disney’s production studio is much more important to the success the company. In this book Michael Eisner definitely plays the villain. But he also was the CEO of the company for over 20 years and that was during the time that Disney had achieved success.