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Annual Meeting from an Eyewitness

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By norton35
March 13, 2006

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Hi All,

Sorry I didn't post sooner, but one drawback with having the shareholders meeting at Disneyland is that it is so much fun that you don't want to sit in front of a computer when you could be in the parks. It didn't help that we all received free admission tickets to one of the Anaheim parks when we entered the meeting.

This is the furthest I have traveled for a shareholders meeting, all the way from Connecticut to California, but it was worth the trip. The last Disney meeting I attended was the Philadelphia shareholders revolt. It was nice to be at a meeting where people were content with the direction of the company.

The business part of the meeting was fairly dull so I will try to provide you with some general color and observations. The meeting was held at the Pond in Anaheim, which is about 15 minutes from Disneyland and is the place where the Might Ducks play hockey. I sat on the floor of the auditorium, which was very chilly, since it was just a platform set over the ice. When I arrived, Bayou Brass, the Disneyland New Orleans band, were playing as an incredible array of characters mixed with shareholders. The biggest surprise was that there was a shareholder store, set up in a tent, with a 10% discount on all merchandise. There must have been fifty cast members working at the store alone, and there was a great array of products, including some exclusive Cars merchandise, like toy cars that won't be available until May. There were also people demonstrating and selling ESPN mobile service. By the way, Bob Iger himself made a sales pitch for ESPN Mobile during the meeting, joking in a hucksterish way that it won't dice and slice or give you abs of steel, and it is not recommended if you have communication problems with your wife, but it is the ultimate phone for sports fans. He even did a demonstration on the big screen!

But I'm getting ahead of myself. When the meeting started I was amazed that Iger did the whole company presentation by himself. Eisner used to have the heads of business segments do their own presentations. Iger clearly wants to raise his profile and he did a superb job of talking about every sector of the company. He did, however, turn the stage over to John Lasseter from Pixar. The two men could not have looked more different. Iger was in a 3-button suit and Lasseter wore jeans and an un-tucked shirt under a jacket. But Lasseter was filled with unbelievable energy and enthusiasm. He seemed tickled to present an entire scene from Cars (the tractor tipping scene) for the first time. He also described that the origin of Cars was a cross-country road trip he took with his family a few years ago. The movie is really about finding time for the important people in your life. He also mentioned that his father was a car parts manager. We also were treated to the first look at the Ratatouille trailer. This film looks incredible, with its sophisticated Parisian rodent who finds that eating well in Paris is easy for a rat--but dangerous. The trailer showed the rat nibbling cheese from a cheese cart and then being pursued by an angry mob of chefs and waiters. Intriguingly, Lasseter said that he wants to develop films and rides at the same time, so the movie and ride can open simultaneously. He also said that he is going to make Disney the place you "have to work" if you're in animation. In short, he is talking about an entire culture shift.

It was extremely promising to hear Lasseter say, "Bob Iger is a great man." I'm starting to come round to that way of thinking myself.

Some of the more interesting items from Iger's talk: a Nemo submarine voyage is coming to Disneyland, there are 2600 Disney Corners coming to China (these look like little Disney stores) and Disney is involved in a co-production with China.

One sign of healing was that Roy Disney was in attendance and the presence of him and his wife Patty was recognized by Iger. One of the highlights of this trip for me was later that day seeing Roy and Patty in my hotel (The Grand Californian). Patty was dragging Roy into the gift shop there to look at merchandise.

A true sign that healing has occurred is that there was only one satellite truck in the parking lot. Most of the attendees seemed to be Californians, many of whom brought their children. A number of current and past Disney cast members were there as well, which lead to some pointed questions about benefits and wages, which Iger fielded well.

All in all it was a pleasant cathartic meeting for a company that has clearly learned the hard way that quality is the best business plan (Lasseter's words.) I'll be happy to answer anyone's questions--in the meantime, I'm off to an evening at Disneyland to wish it a happy 50th.

David (norton35)


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