Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In Memoriam: Roy Disney.

I haven't been doing much blogging, what with the onset of the holiday season, but I had to mention this. Perhaps it was overshadowed by the death of Britney Murphey, but a death I consider more important is that of Roy Disney. Son of Roy O. Disney and nephew to Walt Disney, Roy was intimately involved with the workings of Disney Corp. from an early age.

What I think Roy will be remembered for is understanding the vision of his father and especially of his uncle. He understood that they were businessmen, but also artists. They wanted to create great things, be it movies for the ages or amusement parks that didn't have dirty carnies wandering about. The last two times Disney lost its way, Roy was on the front line fighting those who wanted to destroy it.

Now it's not that these guys were bad guys. They didn't specifically desire the destruction of Disney. It's just that they were suits-&-ties. Men who got to where they were via well-tread paths and connections, and really had no specific skills. This infection (and trust me, it is an infection), is somewhat unavoidable. As a company grows, the ethos that started with the company becomes diluted. The original guys with all the talent either die or cannot watch over every aspect of the company.

Inevitiably, a suit with an MBA gets hired. And since he has no skills, and knows that he has no real skills, he will surround himself with other skill-free people to ensure that he's never found out. Thus, the infection spreads. You can see this growth of suits-&-ties in many corporate stories. Worldcom, IBM, Disney, all American car companies, etc. It's a business story as old as business. And Roy was there to try and stop Disney Corp. from falling into the same trap.

First he led a shareholder revolt that installed Michael Eisner and brought about the Disney Renaissance. After Eisner slowly but surely lead the company into the artistic crapper, I'm left to wonder how much of the renaissance was Roy's doing, but I'll give Eisner the benefit of the doubt.

Roy was an immense stabilizing force in Disney. He always had his eye on the art, and that resulted in movies that Eisner himself would have never produced, like Fantasia 2000. Disney is incredibly lucky that they now have the guys from Pixar sprinkled throughout the corporation, hopefully providing the same focus and skill that men like Disney once provided.

If Roy had died only a few years ago, I would have lamented that he died with little hope that Disney would ever return to the lofty artistic and productive heights of its golden era and the new renaissance. But, very happily, he died now. He died with a new era of Disney just beginning to stretch its legs. The merger with Pixar and the production of Princess and the Frog must have put his heart at ease, and I'm happy about that.

Rest in peace, Roy, your work was not in vain. The company you love, I think, is safe for the time being.

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