Walt Disney’s Mid-Century Business Strategy Charts

My Dithering co-host Ben Thompson referenced this famous 1957 Disney org/strategy chart in a (very good) Stratechery post this week. I just now added a link to it in the footnote regarding company org charts in my Disney/Apple piece from yesterday, but it feels worth a post of its own.

At the center of the Disney business in the 1957 chart were theatrical films. Everything else — TV, music, magazines and comics, and the then-new Disneyland — funneled into and revolved around the theatrical films.

Lesser known is this 1967 revision. Or at least lesser known to me — I hadn’t seen it before today. Walt Disney died in 1966, so this chart reflects the company as he left it. The differences from the 1957 chart that strike me:

  • Disneyland moved closer to the core of the company, nearly rivaling the motion picture studio in centrality.

  • “Disney World Florida” is tucked down in the corner, but wouldn’t open until October 1971. The trend is obvious: theme parks (including, eventually, floating ones1) would replace movies as the core of the company.

  • Unfamiliar to me was a box named “Mineral King”, illustrated with a skiing Goofy. Turns out this was to be a ski resort in Sequoia National Forest in California, with land rights granted by the National Forest Service in 1965. Embroiled in lawsuits from the no-fun Sierra Club for a decade, Disney abandoned the project in 1976.

  • “Comic strips” are listed separately from “publications” on both charts. I’m old enough to remember reading the newspaper comics page daily, but not old enough to remember when Mickey and pals were on them. Pre-TV, a daily newspaper comic strip filled the role that social media does today: a free way to engage everyone with small nuggets of entertainment.2

Lastly, WED Enterprises — a.k.a. Imagineering — is a big part of the 1967 chart, but wasn’t even listed on the 1957 one. [Update: WED was a private company owned by Walt, personally, until 1965, which explains its omission from the 1957 chart for the Disney company.] Disney was, and should remain, a serious engineering company. In 1967, WED engineers were creating everything from theme park animatronics to transportation systems. Sounds familiar. Queue Alan Kay’s adage: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Also, the Cook Doctrine: “We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.”

  1. It’s kinda bananas that Disney’s theme park and cruise line websites are still subdomains of go.com. Not to mention that the root-level go.com site is so bare-bones that it isn’t even served using HTTPS. Disney’s go.com domain name is a vestige of the late 1990s “portal” craze — but Disney abandoned the portal itself in 2001↩︎

  2. In October 1930, near the outset of the strip’s decades-long run and only two years after Mickey debuted in Steamboat Willie, there was a bizarrely dark week-long storyline where each day’s gag involved Mickey trying to kill himself because Minnie had left him for another mouse. Jiminy. ↩︎︎