Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why Michael Eisner Failed

What a coincidence, as I am reading my ongoing tale of sturm und drang in the form of the rise of Disney and the subsequent creation of Dreamworks, a study comes out showing why Michael Eisner failed. It paints in raw, scientific language, the very impression that I think any person would take away from the Books Keys to the Kingdom and Disney War.

Both of those books showed a relationship between Michael Eisner and the late Frank Wells as one where Eisner would go off into a bout of mental and verbal diarrhea, and then Frank Wells would jump in, clean it all up, and get it ready for prime time, as it were. After Wells died, Eisner lost that binary partner that took his ideas and work and made them functional elements of a grand machine.

What this illustrates very well for me is that the high-powered people at the top of company are frequently, if not primarily, not important. What is important is the machine around them. This just makes me even angrier when you see the chief executives and presidents of major corporations earning tens of millions in salary while their average employee barely brings home $50k. They think, nay, they are convinced that they are critically important.

In defense of Eisner, and I think this a very important point since so much of Eisner's later tenure was defined by conflict with Jeffrey Katzenberg, is that he was correct not to give Katzenberg Frank Wells' job. Katzenberg is another high-powered, hard-charging executive type, and that would have likely either only amplified Eisner's problems, or caused so much internal conflict that it could have ripped Disney apart.

But again, in defense of Katzenberg, he appears to be more aware of this limitation than Eisner was. Katzenberg is famous in Hollywood for surrounding himself with powerful women -- a group that is more than slightly underrepresented in most studios. This drive to associate with those that are not simply more hard-charging white guys has undoubtedly played a large role in his ongoing success.

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