Eisner, Michael D. 1942–
Eisner, Michael D. 1942–
(Michael Eisner, Michael Dammann Eisner)
PERSONAL: Born March 7, 1942, in Mount Kisco, NY; son of Lester, Jr. (a lawyer) and Margaret (president of a medical research institute) Eisner; married Jane Breckenridge (a computer programmer and business advisor), 1967; children: Breck, Eric, Anders. Education: Denison University, B.A., 1964. Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Office—The Eisner Foundation, 9401 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 760, Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
CAREER: Writer, entertainment and television executive, business owner, entrepreneur, and television show host. National Broadcasting Company (NBC), New York City, page, c. 1962, Federal Communications Commission logging clerk, 1964; Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) Studios, New York City, programming department worker, 1964; American Broadcasting Company (ABC), assistant to the national programming director, 1966–68, in-house producer, beginning 1967, director of talent and specials and director of program development for the East Coast, 1968–71, vice president of daytime television programming, 1971–75, vice president of program planning and development, 1975–76, senior vice president of prime-time production and development, 1976, also manager of Saturday morning children's programming; Paramount Pictures, president and chief operating officer, 1976–84; Walt Disney Company, chair of the board, 1984–2004, chief executive officer, 1984–2005; founder (with wife, Jane), The Eisner Foundation, 1996; founder, Tornante (an entertainment company).
Appeared on the television series Disney Sunday Movie, ABC, 1986–88; The Magical World of Disney, NBC, 1988–90; American Cinema, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1994–95; and The Wonderful World of Disney, beginning 1997. Appeared on television specials, including The Best of Disney: 50 Years of Magic, 1991; The Dream Is Alive: The 20th Anniversary Celebration of Walt Disney World, 1991; and The Wonderful World of Disney: 40 Years of Television Magic, ABC, 1994. Conversations with Michael Eisner, host, CNBC, 2006. Appeared on televised awards presentations, including The Television Academy Hall of Fame, 1987; Fourth Annual Environmental Media Awards, TBS, 1994; and The 10th Annual Television Academy Hall of Fame, The Disney Channel, 1994. Denison University, member of board of trustees; University of California, Los Angeles, member of executive board for medical science.
MEMBER: California Institute of the Arts (member of board of trustees), Conservative International (member of board of directors), National Committee on United States-China Relations, Missing Half, American Hospital of Paris Foundation (member of board of directors), Committee for Food and Shelter (member of public awareness and education council).
AWARDS, HONORS: Advertising Executive of the Year Award, Advertising Age, 1988.
(With Tony Schwartz) Work in Progress, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Camp, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: As the chair and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, Michael D. Eisner had an enormous influence on family entertainment in the United States and around the world. Eisner succeeded in the entertainment industry by relying on his wits and his uncanny knack for choosing television programming and films that would appeal to large audiences. Eisner's father was a lawyer and entrepreneur who served as the administrator of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His mother, the president of a medical research institute, was the daughter of one of the founders of the American Safety Razor Company.
While a college student, Eisner worked as a page for NBC. After graduating from Denison University in 1964, he worked for the same network as a Federal Communications Commission logging clerk. After a brief stint at CBS, he began working at ABC. Within a few years, Eisner had distinguished himself with successful programming ideas. By 1975 he was the vice president of program planning and development for the network after he helped engineer the success of daytime soap operas All My Children and One Life to Live, as well as the popular prime time programs Happy Days, Welcome Back, Kotter, and Barney Miller. He eventually became ABC's senior vice president of prime-time production and development. While at ABC, Eisner also oversaw the network's Saturday morning children's programming, an experience that would be useful in his later work at Disney.
After having been credited with bringing ABC's ratings from a longstanding third place among the (then) three major networks to number one, Eisner left the network in 1976 to become president and chief operating officer of Paramount Pictures. There he was known for his creative edge and talent for bringing down costs. Even under tight budgets, Paramount produced profitable movies, including Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Eisner stood apart from other studio heads by working with creative aspects of the company, such as overseeing story and script development, instead of focusing exclusively on Paramount's business affairs. Reminiscent of his achievements at ABC, Eisner helped Paramount become the most successful major studio after it had previously been the least successful of the six major movie studios.
In 1984 Eisner became chair and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company at the request of Roy Disney, founder Walt Disney's nephew. The financially troubled company was not making successful films, it had lost television exposure, and it made the bulk of its profit from theme parks. Eisner quickly diversified Disney's operations, approving film and network television programming for adults, and authorized the selling of Disney's old cartoons, films, and programs to television stations in syndication deals. Within a few years Eisner had diversified Disney's operations in other ways, initiating the construction of theme parks in Japan and France as well as approving substantial additions to the American theme parks Disneyland, Disney World, and Epcot Center. In addition, the company reaped profits by issuing videotape releases of its popular films, selling merchandise tie-ins related to its projects, and opening Disney retail outlets. Disney further broadened its corporate empire in 1995 when it bought Eisner's old employer, ABC. The company's success brought Eisner financial rewards in the form of bonuses and stock options. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, Disney's fortunes took a downward turn, and Eisner felt the brunt of the company's woes. Some controversial moves, including the decision to buy ABC, began to seem like mistakes. An acrimonious conflict and lawsuit with former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg cost the company millions and injured Eisner's reputation and effectiveness. Eisner left the Disney board in 2004 and stepped down as CEO in 2005. By the time he left, Disney's financial situation had improved drastically, and Eisner left the company in the care of his hand-picked successor, Robert Iger. After leaving Disney, Eisner pursued other ventures. In 2006, he was the host of a short-lived talk show on MSNBC, Conversations with Michael Eisner, in which he interviewed top business and creative figures such as Martha Stewart, Sony's Sir Howard Stringer, and former Disney special effects expert and designer Bran Ferren. In 2006, Eisner also founded a new company, Tornante (named after an Italian word for hairpin curve on the road), a media and content company.
Eisner's book, Work in Progress, written with Tony Schwartz, chronicles Eisner's background and his experiences in the entertainment industry. It addresses the problems of Disney's Parisian theme park (Euro Disney) and Eisner's difficulties with the company's top executives, such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, who later left the company and sued Disney, and Michael Ovitz, who briefly served as Disney's president and received millions in severance pay. Reviewers of Work in Progress expressed their interest to learn more about Eisner than he and Schwartz offered. Business Week contributor Sarah Bartlett commented that, "to their credit, the writers don't duck all the tough questions" in discussing Euro Disney as well as the controversies surrounding other proposed Disney theme parks, but observed that Eisner provides "little insight into how he motivates and challenges people, wrestles with strategic dilemmas, allocates resources, or develops such a strong brand at a time when so many others are stumbling." Reviewing Work in Progress in the New York Times, Deborah Stead noted how "occasionally, there is a glimpse of how deals are done in the rarified realms of really big business," but concluded that "over all, the reader gets little in the way of an inside look at the Magic Kingdom."
In Camp, Eisner reflects on his youth and the source of many of the most important life and business lessons he learned as a young man. These lessons came from his experiences at Camp Keewaydin, a camp in Vermont where Eisner and several generations of boys in his family spent many hot summer days surrounded by trees, lakes, wildlife, and the sounds of nature. Eisner describes his early formative experiences at the camp, and how Keewaydin's code became the basic fabric of Eisner's approach to his personal and business life. He explains that at the camp, he learned such character-defining concepts as "help the other fellow," "be a fair winner," and "be a good loser." His narrative becomes even more personal when he discusses his strained relationship with his father, and how the head of Keewaydin often served as a father figure. Eisner also looks at the experiences of Keewaydin campers today and how they contrast with the camp he fondly remembers from his childhood. An important part of Eisner's present-day story is reflected in the assistance he provided to two disadvantaged campers, giving them the chance to go to Keewaydin and learn the same lessons her learned years ago. Readers "can sense Eisner's manifestly genuine love of the experience" at Camp Keewaydin, noted Kim Masters in Publishers Weekly. The book affords "fleeting glimpses of the man behind the Mouse," observed Entertainment Weekly reviewer Dade Hayes. Fortune contributor Julie Schlosser called the book a "surprisingly moving look" at Eisner's early life and development.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Eisner, Michael D., Camp, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Business Week, October 5, 1998, Sarah Bartlett, review of Work in Progress, p. 19; July 3, 2006, "Life outside the Magic Kingdom," profile of Michael D. Eisner, p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, June 17, 2005, Dade Hayes, review of Camp, p. 86.
Forbes, September 27, 2005, Brett Pulley, "Eisner's Exit Interview," p. 47.
Fortune, June 13, 2005, Julie Schlosser, "Disney's Eisner Reports to Camp," review of Camp, p. 125.
New York Times, October 11, 1998, Deborah Stead, review of Work in Progress, p. BU5; January 11, 2006, Laura M. Holson, "Ex-Disney Chief to be Host of a Talk Show on CNBC," p. C5; March 27, 2006, David Carr, "Same Guy, Smaller Kingdom," p. C1; April 18, 2006, Laura M. Holson, "Eisner Makes Hairpin Turn in His Career," p. C11.
Publishers Weekly, May 9, 2005, Kim Masters, review of Camp, p. 55.
Variety, May 16, 2005, Pamela McClintock, "Camp Spirit Energizes Iger," p. 7.
Weekly Standard, August 15, 2005, Judy Bachrach, "Hello Muddah: How Michael Eisner Learned the Arts and Crafts of Hardball," review of Camp, p. 32.
Academy of Achievement Web site, http://www.achievement.org/ (October 11, 2005), profile of Michael D. Eisner.
Business Week Online, http://www.businessweek.com/ (September 30, 2005), Ronald Grover, "How Eisner Saved the Magic Kingdom;" (March 30, 2006), "Eisner Plays Goofy," review of Conversations with Michael Eisner.
Conversations with Michael Eisner Web site, http://www.eisner.cnbc.com/ (December 5, 2006).
Disney Online, http://corporate.disney.go.com/ (December 5, 2006), biography of Michael D. Eisner.
Eisner Foundation Web site, http://www.eisnerfoundation.org/ (December 5, 2006).