Tuesday, April 10, 2007

EPCOT 1982: Fortune Magazine

It was almost 25 years ago when EPCOT Center graced the cover of the October 4, 1982 edition of Fortune magazine. The issue hit the stands mere days before the theme park's October 1st opening. In an article entitled Disney Gambles on Tomorrow, it profiled a Walt Disney Company very, very different from the one that exists today.

Just how important was EPCOT Center to the future of the Disney Company in 1982? This excerpt from the article provides some perspective:

The success of Epcot is critical to Disney's future prosperity, for the fabled entertainment company has recently suffered unaccustomed reverses. It sustained a 10% decline in earnings to $121.5 million, on revenues of $1 billion, in its 1981 fiscal year, which ended last September30—a performance considerably worse than that of most of the FORTUNE 500. This was followed by an earnings drop of 14% in the nine months that followed. Disney is still profitable, of course; it provided stockholders with a 10.4% return on equity last year. But for a company that enjoyed an enormous growth rate for three decades, the recent slide is unsettling.

Disney's problems are those of a child prodigy now grown to maturity but still following the script written by its parents. Walt Disney, a genius in the entertainment arts, died of cancer in 1966 at the age of 65. Sixteen years later, the master's presence still pervades the Disney studio in Burbank, California, the corporate headquarters. His picture is everywhere—in the entrances to buildings, in the hallways, in executives' offices. His name and obiter dicta are invoked on all occasions; he is always referred to as Walt, for the company custom is to call everybody by first names. At Disney World, top executives walk around with little Mickey Mouse name tags labeled Dick or Marty or Jack.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from Disney Gambles on Tomorrow in future posts.