Sunday, March 21, 2004

Eat your veggies, and focus


By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service

"I write a column about small business. A question I often get is, 'What's the biggest problem facing a small business?' ... My answer always surprises people: 'Focus.' ... Regardless of the size of the business, we invite trouble when we fail to eat our vegetables - fail to recognize what ingredients make our business healthy and focus on those first."

Those words weren't originally written for this column. They first appeared in my book, Wear Clean Underwear in a chapter titled "Eat Your Vegetables." In that book, I looked at how great companies incorporated fundamental values to build a strategy for success.

The subject of that particular chapter? Michael Eisner and the Walt Disney company.

"Whoops!" I hear you say. The company's stock has fallen, and Eisner's been given an unprecedented no-confidence vote by shareholders.

Ah, but when I wrote that chapter in 1998, I was looking backward. After Walt Disney died, the company lost its focus and neglected its core competencies, reducing the animation budget and neglecting its theme parks.

Fundamentals focus

Eisner was brought in to rescue the company. The first thing he did, his first day on the job, was refocus on Disney's fundamentals, especially animation.

Eisner put Roy Disney - Walt's nephew - in charge of animation, substantially beefed up the animation budget and staff, and put new emphasis on the theme parks.

But then what? Like many business leaders - whether of big corporations or of one-person companies - Eisner lost focus.

Instead of concentrating on his company's core competencies, he became enamored of new challenges and constant growth. Disney acquired other media companies, notably ABC and ESPN, and sports teams. Animation became just another department.

Many of us fall into the same trap. We get bored with the stuff we do every day.


Even Walt Disney himself lost focus. Roy Disney told me his uncle had been neglecting animation and theme parks in the last years of his life.

"Walt was too overextended," said Roy. "We lost a lot of people in the animation department when Walt lost interest."

That's what happens when you lose your focus:

• First, you alienate your own employees. Disney's Jeffrey Katzenberg, who had overseen production of such Disney hits as The Lion King, left to help start the competing company that produced Shrek.

• Even if you don't have employees, you'll lose your competitive edge. Pixar, not Disney, has been the most innovative animation studio the last few years.

• Then, of course, you lose customers and deals. Pixar just ended its distribution agreement with Disney.

Always first pay attention to your basic business, the things that pay the bills.


Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies" and president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and other tools for business planning.

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