"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."
I guess I was a late developer – I was well into my thirties before I ‘discovered’ the work of Walt Disney. We had gone with friends to Florida with the idea of a lot of wildlife watching in the Everglades. Taking advantage of mushrooming budget air travel – remember that? – we had flown into Orlando to hire a car and drive south.
They suggested we take in Disney World while there and I half-heartedly agreed. And what a shock – I was astonished by it. Now this is kind of sadlife.com but what really intrigued me was how these theme parks had been constructed and were being run – the quality was so high! And in America too! (Apologies to our American readers).
I now know why I had missed Disney in my childhood – indeed the first three films I remember going to were, ‘The Guns of Navarone’, ‘How the West Was Won (in glorious Cinerama), and ‘The Sound of Music’. We were not really regular cinema go-ers, driven I think by the expense.
But missing Disney was the result of something different. My Dad was no lover of anything American and he regarded Disney as a right-wing strike breaker. We are talking about a man steeped in the life and times of Glasgow Corporation.
Over time his views mellowed and, finally, in the mid-90’s at the age of 76 he agreed to come to the States with us. This was after a visit to Russia where he saw the extremes of left-wing views and he became a radical middle-of-the-road man, espousing the benefits of a mixed economy!
His first visit was to Disneyland on the west coast, followed a few years later with a trip to Disney World Florida on the Eastern seaboard. This view of Epcot’s Spaceship Earth at night was his favourite place in the Disney parks.
"When you're curious, you find lots of interesting things to do."
It was around this time that Disney was bouncing back from some years in the doldrums. And as my family expanded with children, the Disney family expanded with the purchase of Pixar (a great story to read) and I was introduced to the wonders of Toy Story.
I used to joke that all I needed to know about leadership and management I learned from Buzz and Woody. And there really is an element of truth in that...
But the growth of the Disney Company has been amazing. And seeing it spread across the globe is an interesting phenomenon. Getting aboard a themed Disney train in Hong Kong last year was an eye-opener for me. And seeing how popular Buzz was made me think about some of the benefits and pitfalls there are with globalisation.
Of course, this was all pre-pandemic and it has been sad to see how Disney has been hammered. It is a company built on leisure, travel and hospitality – where the worst economic impact has hit.
“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”
One bright spot for the company has been the Disney Plus TV network. Launched just before Covid it has climbed past 70 million, but it remains a fraction of the income lost in their other businesses.
Tucked away are many ‘behind-the-scenes’ documentaries including the story of the creatives behind the company who Walt called 'Imagineers.' (Yes, I confess, I am a subscriber….but only for the children and grand-children of course!) And the title of this blog, ‘You don’t get motion without friction’ came from Tony Baxter, one of these Imagineers.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
I was fortunate to hear Tony speak a few years ago when he shared a platform with Marty Sklar, another of the fold. As well as their unassuming personalities, what struck me was their can-do attitude, but also acknowledging they had no idea how big their ideas could become when turned into theme park attractions. Baxter told how often it was such an uphill battle to do what they were doing, with many failures on the way to success.
My Dad loved understanding the business side of it too but there is no under-estimating the power of fun and story. Having his 82nd birthday breakfast while being charmed by Minnie Mouse was a sight to behold.
“Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”
Stay safe, lead well