Saturday, March 8, 2014

Remembering Roy E. Disney

Roy Edward Disney was a longtime senior executive for The Walt Disney Company, which his father Roy Oliver Disney and his uncle Walt Disney founded. At the time of his death he was a shareholder with more than 16 million shares or about 1%, and served as a consultant for the company and Director Emeritus for the Board of Directors. He is perhaps best known for organizing the ousting of two top Disney executives: first, Ron Miller in 1984, and then Michael Eisner in 2005. As the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company, Roy Disney was often compared to his uncle and father. Continue after the page break as we take a look into the storied life of Roy E. Disney...

Disney was born in Los Angeles, California, the son of Edna and Roy Oliver Disney, and nephew of Walt Disney. He graduated from Pomona College in 1951 and first began working for The Walt Disney Company as an assistant director and producer of the True-Life Adventure series. He continued until 1967 when he was elected to the Board of Directors of the company.

Roy E Disney and Ron Miller

Roy Disney resigned as an executive from the Disney company in 1977 due to disagreements with corporate decisions then. As he claimed later, "I just felt creatively the company was not going anywhere interesting. It was very stifling." He retained a seat on the board of directors. His resignation from the board in 1984, which occurred in the midst of a corporate takeover battle, was the beginning of a series of developments that led to the replacement of company president and CEO Ronald William Miller (married to Walt's daughter Diane Marie Disney) by Michael Eisner and Frank Wells.

Michael Eisner, Roy E and Frank Wells

While investors were attempting hostile takeovers of Disney with the intention on dismantling the company and selling off its assets, Roy organized a consortium of white knight investors to fend off the takeover attempts which led to Eisner and Wells being brought on. Roy soon returned to the company as vice-chairman of the board of directors and head of the animation department.

During the 1990s, Roy's department produced a number of commercially successful, critically acclaimed films and the era has been called a renaissance for the company and animation. The Lion King, for instance, has garnered nearly $1 billion USD since its release in the summer of 1994 and was the second highest grossing film of the year. There was, however, a marked decline in profits starting at the end of the decade as Disney expanded into lower grossing though profitable direct-to-video spin-offs and sequels.

Roy E, Eisner, Dick & Bob Sherman at Disney Legend Award Ceremony

On October 16, 1998, in a surprise presentation made at the newly unveiled Disney Legends Plaza at the company's headquarters, Disney Chairman Michael Eisner presented him with the prestigious Disney Legends Award. Roy Disney's pet project was the film Fantasia 2000, a sequel to the 1940 animated movie Fantasia produced by his uncle Walt Disney. Walt Disney had planned a sequel to the original movie but it was never made. Roy decided to make this long-delayed sequel, and he was the executive producer of the film that took nine years to produce and was finally released on December 17, 1999. Like its predecessor, the film combined high-quality contemporary animation and classical music; however, it was not a financial success at the U.S. box office.

After a struggle with CEO Michael Eisner, Roy Disney's influence began to wane as more executives friendly to Eisner were appointed to high posts. When the board of directors rejected Disney's request for an extension of his term as board member, he announced his resignation on November 30, 2003, citing "serious differences of opinion about the direction and style of management" in the company. He issued a letter criticizing Eisner for mismanaging the company, neglecting the studio's animation division, failures with ABC, timidity in the theme park business, instilling a corporate mentality in the executive structure, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" conglomerate, and for refusing to establish a clear succession plan.

After his resignation, Disney helped establish the website, intended to oust Michael Eisner and his supporters from their positions and revamp the Walt Disney Company. On March 3, 2004, at Disney's annual shareholders' meeting, a surprising and unprecedented 43% of Disney's shareholders, predominantly rallied by former board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, voted to oppose the re-election of Eisner to the corporate board of directors. This vigorous opposition, unusual in major public corporations, persuaded Disney's board to strip Eisner of his chairmanship and give that position to George J. Mitchell. The board did not give Eisner's detractors what they really wanted: his immediate removal as chief executive. Roy Disney's campaign regarded Mitchell himself unfavorably; 25% of shareholders opposed Mitchell's re-election to the board in the same election.

Roy E and Stanley Gold

As criticism of Eisner intensified in the wake of the shareholder meeting, however, his position became increasingly tenuous, and on March 13, 2005, Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO on September 30, one year before his contract expired. On July 8, Roy and the Walt Disney Company, then still nominally headed by Eisner but, in fact, run by Eisner's long-time lieutenant, Bob Iger, agreed to "put aside their differences." Roy rejoined the Walt Disney Company as a non voting Director Emeritus and consultant. Roy and Gold agreed to shut down their website, which went offline August 7.

On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as use of a corporate jet, a Golden Pass and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was Bob Iger. One of Roy Disney's stated reasons for engineering his second "Save Disney" initiative had been Eisner's well-publicized but financially unjustified dissatisfaction with long-time production partner Pixar Animation Studios and its CEO Steve Jobs, creators of shared hits Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and other critically acclaimed computer animated motion pictures. This estrangement was quickly repaired by successor Iger upon Eisner's exit, and on January 24, 2006, the company announced it would acquire Pixar in an all-stock deal worth US $7.4 billion, catapulting Jobs, also co-founder and CEO of Apple, Inc, to Disney's largest shareholder with 7% of the corporation's outstanding shares. Jobs also gained a new seat on Disney's board of directors. Former CEO Eisner, who still holds 1.7% of shares, became Disney's second-largest shareholder, and Director Emeritus Roy Disney, with 1% of shares, became its third-largest owner. Roy Disney's efforts to oust Eisner from the company were chronicled by James B. Stewart in his best-selling book, DisneyWar. The book DisneyWar was an amazing read that offered a rare look inside the inner workings of Disney's corporate offices and I highly recommend you read it. You can find the book here.

Disney held several sailing speed records including the Los Angeles to Honolulu monohull time record. He set it on his boat Pyewacket in July 1999 (7 days, 11 hours, 41 minutes, 27 seconds).
On January 19, 2007, Roy Disney (then 77 years old) filed for divorce from his wife, Patricia (then 72), citing "irreconcilable differences", according to court documents. The couple, married 52 years, had been living apart for an unspecified amount of time, according to the Los Angeles County Superior Court filing. They had four adult children: Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney, and Susan Disney Lord. Patricia Disney died of Alzheimer's disease on February 3, 2012, aged 77.
In 2008, Roy Disney married Leslie DeMeuse, a CSTV producer, and Emmy winner of various sailing documentaries. The two created the sailing documentary TransPac—A Century Across the Pacific in 2000, and were executive producers of the sailing documentary Morning Light, which follows the selection and training of 18- to 23-year-old sailors on the 2007 Transpacific Yacht Race.

Roy E aboard his beloved Pyewacket


On January 4, 1998, Pope John Paul II made Disney a Knight Commander of the Pontifical Order of St. Gregory the Great.

On April 26, 2008, Disney received an honorary doctorate from the California Maritime Academy, for his many contributions to the state and the nation, including international sailing.

As a tribute to Roy, an animation building at the Walt Disney Studios, in Burbank, California, was re-dedicated as the "Roy E. Disney Animation Building" on May 7, 2010. Hundreds of D23 members were present for the celebration. VIPs Roy Patrick Disney, CEO executive Bob Iger, Producer Don Hahn, and Mickey Mouse were on hand for the dedication.

Roy E Disney Animation Building
Disney died of stomach cancer on December 16, 2009 at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach California. He was 79 years old, and had been suffering from the disease for over a year. After his funeral service, he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

Roy E Disney Tribute video:

I just finished reading this book, Remembering Roy E. Disney: Memories and Photos of a Storied Life, and it is a wonderful view into the life of Roy E. Disney and the impact he had on The Walt Disney Company. This is not a stuffy biography but rather a glimpse into Roy's life as told by some of his friends and co workers at Disney and masterfully woven together by the author, Dave Bossert. Mr. Bossert had the opportunity to work with Roy E. and many of his stories illustrate that this was an extraordinary man with a passion for what his father Roy O. Disney and uncle Walt E. Disney began, keeping the Disney dream alive. You can find the book here.

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