Strong like an amazon, baby
This is the most recent review I’ve written in my occasional hobby of posting them to Amazon. I don’t post them all here (though you could look them up), but I thought one or two readers of this blog might be interested in this one. It’s of James B. Stewart’s DisneyWar.
This morning I finished reading James Stewart’s DisneyWar. Stewart’s investigative journalism credentials are impeccable–the Pulitzer Prize is not, as they say, chopped liver–and the Walt Disney Company under Michael Eisner sure had its share of corporate intrigue to investigate. In the end one of Eisner’s biggest mistakes seems to have been failure to recognize that old show business axiom, “Know when to get off the stage,” until it was clear that more than just the company, the state of the art needed to move on without him.
As the book convincingly shows, if Eisner had left halfway through his reign he would have been hailed as one of the great CEOs in corporate history. Now, all his wins–and they are impressive–must be measured against the standard of his losses, and they are staggering.
My favorite story in the book? Eisner writes in an email to Disney board members, about a film made by another studio and distributed by Disney:
“Of course they think it is great. Trust me, it’s not, but it will open.”
“They” were Pixar, and the film was Finding Nemo. There’s a whole stack full of reasons the board came to feel they couldn’t trust Eisner, but that one stood out at me. If you can’t even trust the man who’s supposed to be running Disney to recognize one of the greatest films ever made (of any kind), why are you paying him so much money?
Although Eisner will be the one most stained by this book, it is not a simple “Michael Eisner bad, Roy Disney good” tale. Stewart makes the point that much of the latter’s goodwill comes from his name and facial features, and that Disney the company is bigger than either of the two men.
Near the beginning of the book Stewart quotes Eisner on the then-looming war with Iraq: “Surely Bush won’t do anything so stupid.” Though he doesn’t draw a direct paralell, I couldn’t help but infer one as I read instance after instance of Eisner’s mistrustful, controlling ways. But it is said that a hallmark of the good executive is that he has structured his company so that if he were to be hit by a bus, it would be able to remain fuctioning unimpaired.
There, at least, Mr. Bush has it over Mr. Eisner.