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Reanimating Disney


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REANIMATING DISNEY

THE DISNEY TOUCH: HOW A DARING MANAGEMENT TEAM REVIVED AN ENTERTAINMENT EMPIRE By Ron Grover Business One Irwin -- 315pp -- $22.95

Ron Grover has called his study of Walt Disney Co.'s rebirth The Disney Touch, but he might as aptly have used The Midas Touch. Almost everything Disney tried during the period covered--late 1984 to early 1991--turned to gold.

The alchemists were Michael Eisner and Frank Wells, who took over in 1984. Disney's old management had been trapped in fidelity to the strategy founder Walt Disney had crafted decades earlier. Too dependent on faded theme parks, profits dwindling, Disney was a takeover target.

Eisner, formerly president of Paramount Pictures, was known as one of Hollywood's most creative executives. Lawyer Wells had run Warner Bros. Inc.'s business side. Grover, this magazine's Los Angeles bureau manager, theorizes that in pairing them, Disney's board may have subconsciously replicated the team of creative genius Walt Disney and his business-minded brother, Roy. In any case, the two were up to the job. Grover details the blend of imagination and fierce cost control that revitalized Disney's movie studio, exploited its rich library, refurbished and expanded its parks, and launched Disney Stores.

Only at the end of this account do Eisner and Wells face real setbacks, including an earnings dip in 1991's first quarter. But five years of good news left investors confident. As 1990 ended, Wall Street anticipated a wave of entertainment mergers, including the marriage of a studio and a network--and Disney, Grover reports, figured in almost all the speculation. No merger has taken place, but thanks to Eisner and Wells, Disney, so recently a target, has "the financial muscle to launch one of the biggest takeovers ever."


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