I wish to write down a few thoughts about Steve Jobs and the impact he had on his organization and compare it to that of Walt Disney. I must also point out that it is my opinion that the current Walt Disney Company would do well to follow similar patterns.
As I type this, ABC Nightline states, “He was our Edison, our Disney, our Da Vinci.” Right now, the current leader of The Walt Disney Company is speaking about his friend and colleague Steve Jobs who died today.
Let me get right to my main point. If you look at cartain aspects of Jobs’ leadership at Apple in recent years and compare them to certain aspects of Walt Disney’s leadership back in his day you see many similarities. Neither was perfect. Both men had his share of follies. I won’t say one is more important than the other. We’re not here to do that.
Both of these men were a father-figure type leader of their company. Both men were trusted by their organization for their vision, proven record, genius, and even personality. Both leaders had a positive and popular public image (for the most part). Both leaders were pleasant yet frank. Neither put up with crap from the people around them. Both leaders were extremely aware of their company's history, both good and bad.
Both of their companies had focus. Both of their companies could focus because neither was too widely spread. Disney at the time had essentially two divisions– The Studio (animation, live-action film) and Disneyland. Apple has essentially two divisions as well– Hardware and Software. Both men knew quite well how much to expand their company. More importantly, perhaps, both knew when not to expand. Walt could have put a Disneyland in any number of places but he wisely limited this. Though Apple Stores are now beginning to dot the globe, Steve was very select in his placement of these stores. Jobs is known to simplify his product line-up. Apple could have manufacturing hundreds of gadgets but Jobs saw wisdom in seeking perfection in only a few core products.
Neither leader was driven by money only. Both knew the value of a quality product (Mac-haters, bear with me...). Both leaders cared more about a customer's experience with a product than the money it would generate. Both held back from releasing products if the product was not just right. Both Disney and Jobs knew that if something was done right, people would pay and money wouldn’t be a problem.
Both leaders had a knack for picking business and creative leaders. Both owned top animation studios. :) Both were innovators. Both developed concepts that proved to be timeless. Walt’s “formula” for building and maintaining a theme park still stands as the most successful and beloved of any in the world. Steve’s ideas about accessable entertainment and communication changed the way everyone would operate– even if you don’t own a single Apple product. Both developed specific technologies and techniques that left all their competitors in the dust. Both paid less attention on what others were doing and more attention on what they weren't doing. Both sought out to do what had never been done before. Neither had a tendancy for low-risk, play-it-safe behavior yet both were wise in their "gambles".
People around the world could hardly wait to see what both these men would present next. Few corporate leaders were household names like these two. Few corporate heads have ever had fans. Few corporate heads have directly affected the day-to-day entertainment of so many people.
Interestingly enough, both presented plans for a circular community shortly before dying:
Both men died young. Walt in his mid-60s and Steve in his mid-50s.