Entrepreneurs build companies. They provide the spark of imagination that creates, develops, and establishes a company. Theirs is a firm hand steering the company towards future and continued success. But when the founder leaves the company, or passes away, the company can flounder for lack of that direction.
This could become a problem at Walt Disney World when training new team members.
Many successful companies have faced this situation when the founder was no longer able to provide a forward-looking direction. Apple floundered when Steve Jobs was fired from the company. Jobs return to the helm of Apple was the catalyst for the company’s rise to its highest levels of success. No that Steve Jobs has passed away, the future of Apple is and unknown.
Walt-Mart did well as long as Sam Walton was around to focus its direction. When Walton died, the company slipped. Although a huge company with deep pockets, Walt-Mart has experienced a string of problematic issues: discrimination lawsuits, IE-employees suing for hours worked without pay, stampedes caused by deal crazed customers.
The Walt Disney Company is not immune form this founder Flounder. Brother Roy provided the financial acumen; Walt Disney was the creative force behind the Disney Brothers Studios. The brothers, in recognition of this reality, changed the company name to Walt Disney Productions. Post Disney brother leaders furthered strengthened that Walt connection by renaming the Company The Walt Disney Company.
When Walt died in 1966, brother Roy postponed retirement and stepped into the leadership role and built Walt Disney World. When Roy passed away three months after The Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, Walt Disney Productions experienced a founder flounder that eventually led to the 1980s takeover battle for Disney and the revitalization of the Disney brand under CEO Michael Eisner and COO Frank Wells.
Eisner too floundered when Wells died in a plane crash and was eventually replaced by current, and highly successful, CEO Bob Iger.
Iger has successfully expanded the Disney brand by reenergizing old properties (IE-Winnie the Pooh, Tron, Pirates of the Caribbean), launching new product (IE-Tangled, the California Adventure revitalization, the upcoming Frozen) and through acquisition (Pixar, Lucas, Marvel).
Where the Disney Company is in danger of a founder flounder is in training. Many people in the learning community assume that Disney’s training is world class. From this Examiner’s perspective as a former Disney training professional, the training at Walt Disney World was very good. It did, however, have some difficulties. Much of it was frontloaded, with new hires getting a week or two of information crammed down their throats at the beginning of their career and little afterwards. Much of it was driven, like most corporations, by legal and human resources issues. Much of it was delivered by operational personnel who did well but were not professional trainers.
Where Disney training excelled, and instilled a sense of pixie-dust in new hires, was by tapping into their memories of Walt Disney. Many of these people had some sort of personal memory of Walt Disney, mostly from Walt Disney’s many television appearances over the years.
The people being hired these days have no first-hand memories of Walt. They, more likely, remember the memories their parents’ and grandparents’ shared. Many also talk about the lifetime of memories gained form Disney movies and theme park visits.
Training at Disney will, given this new lack of Walt memory, will no longer be able to get by on a remembrance of Walt. It’s a potential problem that always worried this Examiner. Current Walt Disney instructional designers would do well to remember it too.
The Walt Disney Company has obviously survived its initial founder flounder and thrived under both Michael Eisner and Bob Iger. Where problems will come, and the company may flounder, is when the memory of Walt Disney, and the pixie dust he delivered, disappears.