The Story of Company Values

NOV 28, 2017
How Roy E. Disney Stuck to His Values and Saved an Empire
(Originally appeared in the November 28, 2017 'Across the Board' publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor and Business Newsletter reaching 23,500+ thought-leaders and visionaries in over 65 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy and governance topics - sign up here)
With all of the recent high-profile media attention on sexual harassment in the workplace, the main word that continuously resonates in my mind is 'Values.' How can these trust-breaking and reputation-jarring instances continually happen in a company? How is it that a single person can behave like this for so long, decades in some cases, without appropriate repercussions? The answer is a lack of Values, at both the individual and company level.

In my recent speaking engagements around the country on various Board topics, I have continued to emphasize the importance of Values at the Board level, including how a company's Values sits above its Vision and Mission.

I personally believe that the Values of a company are owned at the Board level and this has garnered an uptick in audience questions regarding the topic - something I am always happy to explain. My go-to example when speaking about Values starts with Roy E. Disney and his quote that will live forever:
"It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are"
Roy E. Disney was a longtime senior executive, Board Member and Director Emeritus for The Walt Disney Company, which was founded by his father, Roy O. Disney and uncle Walt Disney. Roy E. believed that every company decision could be made quickly and effectively simply by referencing the company's Values. He was a master in effectively implementing this 'Values Decisioning' methodology and his story is worth telling.

Roy E. Disney was born in Los Angeles in 1930 and watched as his father and Uncle continued to build and grow The Walt Disney Company, a modern powerhouse founded in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio establishing itself as a leader in the animation industry and later expanding into live film production, television and theme parks. Roy E. graduated from Pomona College in 1951 and subsequently became an assistant director and producer at Disney. In 1967 he was elected to the company's Board of Directors.

...But it is what happened in the upcoming years where Roy E.'s commitment to his company's and his own core Values that truly makes him exceptional. In 1977, Roy E. resigned as an executive from Disney over disagreements with corporate decisions. He felt the company had lost itself and created a "stiffling" environment that limited creative pursuits... and company numbers reflected this. He did retain his Board seat, however, until 1984 when he resigned during a corporate takeover battle. This is when his first 'Save Disney' campaign started in an effort to stave off a hostile takeover of Disney with the goal of dismantling the company and selling off its assets. In defiance, Roy E. led a group of investors which successfully halted the hostile takeover. Yes, you guessed it - his approach was to bring the company back on track to its original Values... and it succeeded in rallying big money to the rescue.

Roy E. would be tested again in the second 'Save Disney' campaign he started in 2003. He cited "serious differences of opinion about the direction and style of management" in the company with Michael Eisner at the helm. Similar to the first 'Save Disney' campaign, albeit this time with the rallied existing shareholder base, Roy E. was once again able to prevail by aligning his campaign to the foundational Values of the company.

Throughout all of the struggles, hardships and uphill battles that Roy E. fought over the years to save the company founded by his father and uncle, he always credited his quick decision-making and success in seemingly overwhelming circumstances to his steadfast belief in the company's Values as well as his own Values. Once again, he  knew the secret that "it's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are."

Roy E. was the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company and passed in 2009, but his relentless pursuit of The Disney Company's Values-guided decision-making lives on to this day. Truly a worthy legacy to bequeath upon the company he loved so much.

A few recommendations of how to keep your company Values 'real' within your organization:
  • Start off meetings, town halls, even Board meetings with a reminder of one of your company's core Values
  • Provide an example, with a person's name, of someone who lived up to a core Value in your company and tell the story!
  • Have a yearly award for each of your company core Values and choose the person who individually exemplified each one
How will you infuse your company's Values into your
decision-making processes?

Reach out to Mark A. Pfister to discuss how your company's Values
start with the Board.

About the Author: In addition to sitting on numerous Boards, Mark A. Pfister is a Board Macro-Influencer, a certified Board Director and advises public, private and nonprofit boards in efficient and effective operations. He is the inventor of the 'Board as a Service' (BaaS) engagement model and an expert project/program manager frequently consulting on strategic global initiatives in their initiation and operational phases....... << Read full bio here >>

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