by Ray Keating
January 12, 2022
Bob Chapek offered a memo to Disney staff on Monday (January 10) that outlined his vision for the company. And as much as this comment will aggravate Chapek’s legions of critics, the Chapek memo clearly was influenced by Walt Disney.
To say that Bob Chapek took over the reins of The Walt Disney Company during a challenging time would be to vastly understate matters. Chapek assumed the role of CEO on February 20, 2020. What quickly followed was a global pandemic with near-economy-wide shutdowns, and an ongoing struggle to emerge from a pandemic featuring variants and spikes, supply-chain challenges, labor shortages, and raging inflation.
While Chapek has come under sometimes withering criticism, it’s hard to get a real feel for his performance as CEO given the unique circumstances. Other than World War II, when Disney was still exclusively a movie studio, it’s difficult to think of a more exacting time for the company.
So, what about the memo?
Chapek starts off by thanking staff for their “talent, dedication, and optimism during the most disruptive time in our company’s history,” and for what they were able to achieve during the pandemic.
He then goes on to note that the company is getting set to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and offers three pillars to “ensure Disney’s next 100 years are as successful as our first.”
Chapek describes the first pillar of the company as “storytelling excellence.” He describes one of the tools he will implement to “continue to set the creative bar higher and higher,” that is, “I am establishing a new standing monthly meeting with our senior creative leaders to discuss the opportunities we face as a storytelling enterprise. This will encourage collaboration, sharing of best practices, and stimulate cross-studio ideation.”
The second pillar, according to Chapek, is innovation, specifically, to continue to be “the world’s foremost innovative storytellers,” using technology to give “our creative teams new canvases like the metaverse on which to paint.” He adds, “We should be especially innovative as we seek to bring stories to life in new ways—particularly if they enhance what many call our ‘franchise ecosystem,’ which is one of the things that sets us apart.”
And the third pillar is a “relentless focus on our audience.” Chapek is very clear here, writing that “our most important guide—our North Star—is the consumer. Right now, their behavior tells us and our industry that the way they want to experience entertainment is changing—and changing fast thanks to technology and the pandemic. We must evolve with our audience, not work against them. And so we will put them at the center of every decision we make.”
The Chapek memo is very “Disney,” in that it hits on three big points that started with Walt Disney himself – great storytelling, innovation, and focusing on the consumers, that is, on the Disney guest. Keep in mind that Chapek was promoted from within the company, having spent almost 30 years with Disney in a variety of areas. That’s a very different background compared to the two previous CEOs, Bob Iger and Michael Eisner. So, the fact that his vision memo aligns with long-held company culture is in no way surprising.
Again, his critics already have written Chapek off. But a fair and sober assessment of his performance must wait until the economy returns to something much closer to normal, and he is given some time to advance his agenda. That will include, for example, a significant amount of content scheduled to arrive on Disney+ later this year and going forward, and expanded theme park, cruise line and merchandise operations, for example, as we deal more ably with the pandemic and, hopefully, supply-chain, labor and inflation problems.
Indeed, there’s little to argue with in terms of the vision Chapek laid out in his memo to Disney staff. The question remains: What will Chapek’s execution look like? At this point, a sound assessment just isn’t possible.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at email@example.com.
The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
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