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    N THIS day, 60 years ago, animator
    and business icon Walt Disney
    opened what would become one of
    America’s best loved institutions:
    Disneyland. Successive generations
    of Americans grew up with
    Disney’s lineup of quirky characters,
    and his creations would find
    their way into homes across the
    globe. By the 80s, Disney’s universe
    would become a definitive cultural
    export, marked with insignia of
    American soft power. That Walt
    Disney always had an eye on the
    future is indisputable – remember
    those crackpot conspiracy theories
    about him being cryogenically
    frozen for future resurrection?
    While we can be fairly convinced
    that there isn’t a Second Coming for
    the media mogul, Disney did leave
    behind a meticulously-planned
    legacy – a roadmap for where he
    saw his company going. Professor
    Todd Zenger of the University of
    Utah calls this strategic recipe the
    ‘corporate theory of sustained
    growth’ in a Harvard Business
    Review piece. Ever the vanguard,
    Disney, who started out as a sketch
    artist, found ways to diversify his
    assets across the entertainment
    spectrum. Zenger points out that
    Disney always had ‘foresight about
    an industry’s evolution’.
    This included speculation
    about future changes in technology
    and consumer preferences.
    When motion pictures came
    along, Disney was among the
    first animators to adapt to
    the new technology.
    He also had a
    particularly
    sharp “crosssight”
    — the ability, as Zenger
    explains, ‘to identify adjacent
    assets uniquely valuable to your
    firm’. His successor team would
    have mixed success with acquisitions;
    the legendary Jef frey
    Kat z e n b e r g wo u l d f a r e
    better by annexing up-and-comers
    like Miramax Films, while others
    like Mike Eisner brought Disney’s
    legacy to near-ruin.
    At the heart of Disney’s good
    years was a constant effort to reinvent
    itself, innovate and expand,
    while retaining those archetypal
    elements of the brand that have
    garnered goodwill over the decades.
    For start-ups, the key to sustainable
    business ideas is to know where
    your industry is heading, as
    opposed to simply putting out variations
    of what’s already around.
    Even today, Disney’s cross-sight
    isn’t compromised; last week, the
    company kicked off the second
    iteration of its accelerator programme
    for start-ups. Even Bob
    Igor, the company’s CEO, has taken
    personal interest in the programme,
    serving as one of its mentors
    for the fledgling entertainment
    start-ups.
    As Disney’s stock price and revenue
    growth continue to outperform
    the rest of the industry this
    year, its deceased patriarch can rest
    easy in his pod, and not worry too
    much about being de-frosted out of
    retirement anytime soon.
    — pauldharamraj@
    gmail.com

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