Walt Disney was an innovator and a visionary. But he was also one of the most successful business leaders of his time. Here are eight principles that made Walt Disney one of the greatest icons of the 20th century:
- Provide a promise, not a product: The legend goes that Walt Disney was sitting on a bench watching his daughters ride a carousel when he came up with the concept for Disney World. He noticed amusement parks and state fairs were always littered and poorly organized, and the employees were generally rude and resentful.
His wife once asked, “Why do you want to build an amusement park? They’re so dirty.” To which Walt replied, “That’s the point. Mine won’t be.” From day one, Disney has focused on “the experience” as a key component to increasing the value of its parks.
- Always exceed customers’ expectations: One of the reasons the Disney tradition stands the test of time is that Walt Disney was more critical of his creations than anyone else could ever possibly be. He was a relentless perfectionist with a keen eye for detail, often forcing projects to go over budget and past deadline because he wasn’t satisfied with the finished product.
- Pursue your passion, and the money will follow: Walt Disney went bankrupt more than once, leveraging everything he had in terms of assets in order to build his studio, his films and his dreams. The more profit one project yielded, the bigger the next would be. His vision was constantly growing, and he used whatever capital he had to allow that vision to evolve. His films and theme parks were labors of love, built to revolutionize an industry, rather than maximize profits.
- Stay true to your company’s mission and values: Walt Disney was famous for saying, “I hope that we never lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.”
Decades later, Mickey Mouse is still the crown jewel of the Disney franchise, representing all the good will and imagination Disney represents. He’s also a constant reminder that the company has strong roots and it embraces American values.
- Differentiate your offer: Every facet of Disney’s operation is unique. Employees are called “associates,” visitors are called “guests,” creative designers are called “Imagineers.” And that’s just the beginning. The experience of being at a Disney theme park or staying at a Disney resort is all about creating a dream vacation — one where the attention to detail and personal service is just as memorable as the attractions themselves.
- Lead by example and delegate: Walt Disney was the artist who originally sketched Mickey Mouse, as well as several of the other iconic Disney characters. He even voiced several characters and provided the inspiration for a lot Disney’s animated classics. But as he built a studio and then an empire, he hired reliable men and women who understood his vision and trusted them to translate that vision to others. By the time Walt broke ground on Disney World, he hadn’t drawn a character for decades, nor was he a daily fixture at creative meetings. He built a strong foundation and developed self-reliant managers who embraced his vision. That allowed him to turn his attention to even bigger dreams, while the company and its employees continued to prosper.
- Defy convention: So much about Walt Disney’s rise was about bucking the odds and ignoring the critics, whether it was show biz insiders telling him no one would ever sit still for a feature-length animated film, or others saying Walt was crazy for buying acres and acres of murky swampland in central Florida, Disney always trusted his instincts first. Einstein once said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Walt Disney was a perfect example.
- Leave behind something to grow: According to one historian, “The true measure of a man’s greatness is what he’s left behind to grow.” Disney World didn’t even open its gates until nearly five years after Walt Disney’s death. And yet, the tradition continues to evolve, almost 45 years later. While Disney has diversified in a number of ways, it’s still the company that started with a mouse. Perhaps Walt himself put it best: “Disney Land is something that will never be finished, something I can keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. I just finished a live-action picture. It’s gone. I can’t touch it. I want something live, something that will grow. The park is that.”
Select quotes taken from The Quotable Walt Disney