What Walt Disney Teaches Us About American Values

Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Ryan Gosling and Lindsay Lohan all have one thing in common besides doing crazy things in public that should embarrass them– they all worked for Disney as child stars. Why this should matter after they have been released to their adulthood and bigger and better things than the Mickey Mouse Club is part of a question that goes hand in hand with the culture we have created in business and how it effects real people, even if they are celebrities.

We had some major changes at my work and it shook me up enough to go look at the business pages and see what the current wisdom was.  At the top of the sidebar on the business page was an article about how working more than five years at a company was a bad idea.  *I* just got an award for being at my job for five years.  My supervisor had been at this company ten years.  What was wrong with staying at a company more than 5 years?  That used to be a sign of a good worker.  Now it’s not?

That is short term thinking, I thought, and it marks the change in our culture from thinking about things in the long term.  This thinking effects not only business, but politics and economics.  More than ten years ago, when gas was climbing above 1.50 a gallon, we heard people in Washington tell us that drilling for oil would have no effect on the economy because it would take ten years to feel the effect of drilling at that time.  Ten years later, you see the gas price more than doubled and we hear the same arguments of why we should not drill now.  I didn’t give this example to complain about politics in Washington, but to illustrate how short sighted our thinking has become.

But what does this have to do with Britney Spears and Walt Disney?

When Walt Disney hired employees, especially young employees like Annette Funnicello, Haley Mills and Kirk Russel, he took personal interest in their welfare.  He didn’t treat them like just another number that added to his own numbers on the bottom line.  He took their hiring on as a long term responsibility of his own.  This did not stop when they went onto other things, like Beach Party Movies, past their work at Disney Studios.  He not only continued to stay in touch with these child actors, but he also counseled them when he thought their behavior was inappropriate for a ‘former Disney actor.’  He was so influential in their lives that they called him “Uncle Walt” when they penned memoirs and so respected that they called him “Mr. Disney” in public to this day.  If they had public or private problems, they were able to rely on Walt Disney as a personal resource.  If they were in need of counsel or money, he was there to consult with on how best to satisfy those needs, even after they worked for him.

Walt Disney’s approach to his own finances was mirrored in his approach to his employees, though people will focus on the fact that he went bankrupt supporting World War II and again building Disneyland.  His efforts in aiding the war effort came at the cost of his business, but the long term goal of winning the war was primary in his mind.  Even when it affected his short term finances, his long term goals were always kept in mind.  The same went for the building of Disneyland, his very personal dream come true.  When the building of Disneyland was making him bankrupt, he still took care of the employees and former employees, ensuring that they did not feel a negative impact from his personal finances.  His loyalty to them was reflected back in their loyalty to him.

When we lament today on the way people are treated like numbers by big corporations, we should try to improve our own thinking to help change the new culture.  Instead of making decisions that only fill short term needs, we need to keep long term goals in mind.  Instead of thinking of the immediate consequences, we need to think of the long term consequences.  Offer loyalty to your employer, loyalty and respect.  And to your employees, offer long term beneficial relationships.  Give people long term goals and their ability to continue their relationships with employer even beyond their employment.  These are the things that Walt Disney did with regards to his business, and they built a foundation strong enough to thrive LONG after his death.  These were values that once made America a prime ground for employment and gave us a strong foundation for the future.  We would do well to restore these values and begin to think long term solutions for problems.  This would allow us to pour our resources into our dreams, which are long term construction jobs, instead of having to readdress old problems every few years.


By Serendipity – a blog friend posted about Disney too: http://diamondmikewatson.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/have-courage

One thought on “What Walt Disney Teaches Us About American Values

  1. Amen, sister. But I’m afraid you’re preaching to the choir. The people who need to hear this are past the point of listening to advice from anyone outside of their little, liberal bubble. Personal responsibility and loyalty to anything beside your own gain is so passe.

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