Walt Disney’s Success Story

Success begins with a Dream

“When you wish upon a star…” begins the song used as a theme for Disney television programs, and, perhaps, a theme for the entire Disney operation.

Walt Disney was a man of dreams. He dreamed big dreams. And he made his dreams come true.

Walt Disney would agree, and is himself ample proof, that dreams can come true. His example reveals that making dreams come true takes more than just wishing. In Walt’s case, the “star” was Mickey Mouse, and combined with a lot of vision, planning, and hard work, Walt made dream after dream come true.

Most people think of Walt Disney as an animator, the “inventor” of Mickey Mouse. He is more accurately thought of as an entertainer, not in the sense that he wanted to be the center of attention, but that he wanted to create something that would excite an audience and make them laugh.

Walt had talent, and developed a keen commercial sense of what would appeal to the public. This combination enabled him to parlay $40 and a few drawing tools into a film studio producing popular cartoons, feature length animated features, and live action movies.

Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and ultimately the other Disney theme parks around the world all came about because Walt Disney insisted that he could build an amusement park that was so much bigger and better than other amusement parks that it shouldn’t even be called an amusement park.

How did this dream come about?

As a child in Kansas City, Walt watched through the fence at Fairmont Park, wanting to participate, but not having enough money to enter.

A parent in the 1930’s, Walt would take his children to amusement parks. But he was not amused, convinced he could do much better. By 1937, at the premiere of Snow White, Walt told Wilfred Jackson that someday he would “make a park for kids, a place scaled down to kid size.”

In 1940 he revealed a plan to showcase Disney characters in their fantasy surroundings at a park across the street from the Disney studio in Burbank.

The vision of an amusement park grew in Walt’s mind as he traveled through the US and Europe and visited attractions of all kinds. He visited county fairs, state fairs, circuses, carnivals, and parks. He was distressed at operations where things were run down and ride operators were hostile. And he loved the spotless Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, with bright, upbeat music, excellent food and drink, and warm, friendly employees.

Walt was convinced that an amusement park would be successful in the United States if it offered a “good show” that families could enjoy together, was clean, and had friendly employees.

In 1948 he shared his concept with trusted friends, a modest amusement park with a central village including a town hall, a small park, railroad station movie theater, and small stores. Outlying areas would include a carnival area and a western village. Soon he added spaceship and submarine rides, a steamboat, and exhibit halls.

Four years later, in 1952, he decided on “Disneyland” for the name and formed a company to develop the park, Disneyland, Inc.

Walt’s brother Roy, the studio’s financial head, was against investing in Disneyland. Bankers and amusement industry experts forecast doom. That’s why Walt stepped outside the studio organization to develop the idea. Eventually Roy agreed to help, and the Disney studio became part of the operation.

In 1953 Walt brilliantly strategized combining television production with development of the park. The Disneyland television program on ABC had a dual benefit. It promoted the new park through a weekly program, and it became part of a deal where the network invested half a million dollars plus substantial loan guarantees in return for a 35% ownership in Disneyland Park.

That same year he enlisted Stanford Research Institute to examine the economic prospects of Disneyland (it was deemed profitable) and to find the ideal location (Anaheim).

They broke ground in July, 1954, and one year later, on July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened.

Within 7 weeks, a million visitors had visited Disneyland, making it one of the biggest tourist attractions in the US. Attendance was 50 per cent ahead of predictions and guests were spending 30 per cent more than expected.

Walt combined his talent and his sense of what the public would want with lots of hard work. Today we might call him a “workaholic.” His work was driven, not by guilt or insecurity, but by a dream. As he told an interviewer in 1955: “Everybody can make their dreams come true. It takes a dream… faith in it… and hard work. But that’s not quite true because it’s so much fun you hardly realize it’s work.”

At a dinner party at Herb Ryman’s house in 1960, someone commented that Walt could be elected president if he wanted it. His response? “Why would I want to be President of the United States? I’m the King of Disneyland!”

In 1960, after 37 years in Hollywood, with a mixture of huge successes and frustrating setbacks, Disney had created something that was successful beyond Walt’s own dreams. With Disneyland and its continuing stream of visitors, Walt had finally achieved financial stability.

(Excerpted from the book, Disney Magic: Business Strategy You Can Use at Work and at Home.)