While I have never used this blog to discuss Walt Disney Company "politics" except as they relate to Epcot, I have to make an exception this once. It's a situation that once again showcases how little regard Disney's management has for the extraordinary business founded by the man whose statue is pictured to the left.
(As an aside, if you want to learn just how bold and extraordinary the creation of The Walt Disney Company actually was and what a profound impact it had on the world, I urge you to read Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. It's truly revelatory for those who think of Disney simply as a "dream factory" and/or the modern, commercially driven incarnation it has become.)
I'm distressed by the news, announced a few days ago, that the 2007 Annual Shareholder's Meeting will be taking place not at Walt Disney World in Florida; in Anaheim, Calif.; in Burbank or New York -- none of the logical places that would be associated with Disney -- but in New Orleans, La.
Citing the "devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina," Disney is shamelessly using a national tragedy for its own political purposes. While the company outsources and downsizes Walt Disney World and Disneyland to within an inch of their lives, they compensate Disney President Bob Iger with a $15-million payday. Although the company employs tens of thousands of people in Burbank, Orlando and Anaheim, it won't allow them to participate in the company's annual meeting unless they go to great personal expense -- thereby disallowing any valid or pressing criticism of management.
This is a page straight out of Eisner's playbook and, frankly, it stinks. Exploiting the people of New Orleans simply to avoid active participation by smaller shareholders and the sometimes embarrassing scrutiny that they bring with them is a horrible maneuver for Disney to take.
Disney had a great year financially and a pretty lousy one creatively. From the perspective of the parks, Disney continues to chip away at the one business it clearly "owned" just a decade ago. Exactly as competition forced Disney to concede its crown in the animation business, it is threatening to do so in theme parks.
Perhaps that will lead to Disney being a financially successful media conglomerate, but it won't change the fact that Disney's management should be answering some tough questions about the state of its theme-park business ... not running from them.