Walt Disney Leadership
Walt Disney (1901-1966)
Famous for his animated films and characters like Mickey Mouse, although Mary Poppins (1964), was his biggest
He (pictured right) opened Disneyland (near Los Angeles) in 1955 and was building
Disney World in Florida, when he died.
Why was he a great leader?
1. Innovation and risk taking
He was a brilliant and innovative storyteller.
The idea of Mickey Mouse came from a real mouse he kept in a cage on his desk.
He wanted to call him Mortimer, but his wife, Lillian, told him this was “too
sissy” and suggested the name Mickey on a train journey from New York to Los Angeles.
Steamboat Willie (1928), Mickey Mouse’s first film (pictured right), was the first popular
Despite the risk of extra expense, he also produced the:
- first film in Technicolor - Flowers and Trees in 1931
- first animated full length feature film - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937),
which was a huge success.
He always preferred technical innovation to cutting costs. Pinocchio (1940),
Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942) all failed to recover their production
costs, despite being artistic triumphs.
He was also the first movie boss to go into television.
2. Vision and challenging aims
His purpose was “to bring happiness to the millions”, giving inoffensive and moralistic
family entertainment like Snow White, pictured right below. So he wanted his cartoon characters to be human and
He believed that the four C’s were vital for success:
Continuously searching for new and better ways of doing things.
b) confidence, courage and constancy
(to achieve his dreams and belief in goodness and decency).
“Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse”, he said.
3. Customer satisfaction
He was motivated by a real love of his customers, not just by profit (saying that Disneyland was “a work
People loved his good-natured heroes like Mickey Mouse, who triumphed over evil with great
drama, emotion, humour and music.
This particularly cheered people up during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
He also cleverly used his characters in:
- merchandising (like Mickey Mouse toys).
4. Great people
He was ably assisted by his brother, Roy (pictured right above), and great animators
like Ub Iwerks (pictured right below) who drew Mickey Mouse, even though Disney led
people to believe that he had.
Continually stealing the animators’ limelight caused a great deal of resentment.
But he still saw his studio as one big happy family and particularly
He was brilliant at giving people the job that was just right for them and paid them well, particularly the
His employees were inspired by his charisma including the women who fell for his handsome looks and charm
He was particularly kind to them as long as they knew their place (ladies didn’t get the best jobs like
On Christmas Eve, 1939, when everyone was working late to get Pinocchio (pictured right
below) finished, he totally ignored the men, whilst giving out presents to the women!
6. Tough disciplinarian
Despite his outward charm, there was a tough, dark side to this character, shown by his:
- pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic views,
- hatred of trade unions, which led to a strike in 1941 (winning his animators the right to
join their trade union, much to his disgust).
He fired men for swearing in front of women and banned:
- alcohol (although he drank secretly in his office) and
- facial hair (despite his pencil moustache).
7. Obsession with work
He ate, slept and breathed movies, immersing himself in his characters and sleeping at work to get away from his
baby daughter’s all night crying!
“I love Mickey Mouse more than any women I have ever known”, he said.
He always thought the future was full of opportunities and hope.
“Believe in the future”, he said.
9. Persistence and determination
He saw his films to completion, despite big artistic and financial problems (e.g. Snow White, took three
years to make).
He also had to overcome:
- frequent nervous exhaustion and depression.
- the psychological scars of his childhood.
His father viciously beat him, and he couldn’t understand why his mother (pictured right with
Walt) let him do it.
He spent a lifetime looking for his real mother, because he feared he was illegitimate and adopted.
But he said that all his troubles:
- made him a better person.
10. Lifelong learning
Charlie Chaplin (pictured right in the film City Lights) was his big hero as a child, and he learned
much from his films.
Disney also learned from his mistakes, came up with better ideas and put them into action.
New ideas, not money, excited him.
Key quotes on vision and
All our dreams come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.
Always remember this thing was started with a dream and a mouse.
Key quote on buyer behaviour
People spend money when they feel good.
Key quote on work
It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.
Fancy being remembered around the world for the invention of a mouse!.
Key quote on
Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is co-ordinating those who work for me and aiming their efforts at a
Key quote on
I do not like to repeat successes, I like to go on to other things.
Key quote on
The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
Key quote on
Get a good idea and stay with it. Do it, and work at it until it’s done right.