A Business Lesson with Walt Disney, Arranged by My Daddy
By Bill Cherry
My daddy was a life insurance company executive. Somehow and for some reason, he had an incongrous assortment of friends who were public figures.
I never thought to ask him why they knew each other; nevertheless, they did.
One of them was Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck’s father.
About 1963 Disneyland in Anaheim had been open for about five years. Daddy and I were in Los Angeles, and he insisted we drive to Anaheim so I could see Disneyland and meet his friend, Walt Disney.
As we walked through the streets of Disneyland, I marveled to Mr. Disney how clean and how freshly painted everything was.
Mr. Disney said, “That’s what we want you to see. In business you should always want to see what’s behind the stage set.”
With that, we turned and followed him through a door that did, indeed, take us to behind the stage set of Disneyland.
It was the opposite of what we had seen on the outside. Trash cans full of litter, paint cans and tools and brooms and machinery sitting on top of random stained, bald concrete.
That was my business lesson from Walt Disney.
When we were leasing the Galveston Historic Strand buildings, we found it to be a tough go. National tenants, at least at that time, did not want to have stores in downtowns that were in the process of revitalization.
My leasing partner, Boston's Carol Todreas, got a phone call from a well-known dress designer. His courtier clothes are sold by Neiman’s, Barney’s, Nordstrom. You’d know the label.
One of his claims to fame is that all of his products are made and sewn in the U.S.
He wanted to go against the tide and put an outlet store in one of the Strand buildings.
Following what I had learned from Mr. Disney, I insisted that we go to Los Angeles and see his offices and manufacturing shop.
I wanted to put Mr. Disney's lesson to me to use. How did things look in the areas that were not for the public to see?
The fellow insisted that he have a driver with a limo pick us up at LAX. When we got into the black Lincoln Town Car, the driver’s door panel had been removed and there was a rifle in its place.
On top of that, the driver reminded me of Candace Mossler’s nephew, Mel Powers. Rough voice, pockmarked face, broad shouldered, in a perpetual bad mood.
I asked the driver why the gun. “This is an Asian neighborhood, and it is not safe for white people to go here unarmed.”
When we arrived, the property was surrounded by a tall wrought iron fence with rolled barbed wire on top. The gate was locked. Our driver’s rifle was now in his lap.
He made a call. A pistol-drawn guard came out of the building, the gate opened and we went in.
The building had a central hall. On the right were beautiful offices. On the left, behind a continuous glass wall were rows and rows of Asian women sitting behind sewing machines.
The room was not air conditioned. They were cutting dress pieces using paper patterns, and then sewing them together.
There was no doubt that it was a sweat shop, a sweat shop that could say its products were made in America.
It was just as Mr. Disney had taught me thirty years before.
I took it on myself to refuse to lease to this famous company. And that’s how Walt Disney influenced my way of doing business as a real estate broker.
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