Monthly Archives: May 2011

People who inspire me: Frank Wells

Michael Eisner, Ted Turner, Steven Spielberg and Frank Wells. Wait – Frank Wells, Who’s he? You’re probably wondering why he belongs among such famous execs; he was among them, one of the most successful studio executives of the past twenty years even though, you probably hadn’t heard of him until now.

Frank Wells was the Chief Operating Officer and President of the Walt Disney Company from 1984 until his untimely death in 1994. During those years he worked alongside Michael Eisner to make Disney the most profitable entertainment company in the world, but we’ve never heard of him. According to Disney.com:

“During his 10-year-tenure, Disney enjoyed unprecedented growth and revitalization with annual revenues up from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion. Disney stocks increased a whopping 1,500 percent, while its theme parks and resorts revenues tripled. Disney Consumer Products revenues rose 13-fold, while its filmed entertainment revenues jumped 15-fold. Frank helped make Disney one of the most successful film studios in the world.”

Frank received a BA at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar in 1953. As a young man he had the fortune of meeting Roy E. Disney who would later recruit him to his position at the Walt Disney Company. By the late 60′s he was junior executive with Warner Brothers, eventually working his way up the ladder to Vice Chairmen in the early 80′s.

In 1984 Roy E. Disney started his first “Save Disney War” which ended in the ousting of Ron Miller, the CEO of the failing company. Michael Eisenberg took over as CEO of the company, but Roy knew that equally important was the position of President and COO. This person who would keep the practical end of the company running, much like his father Roy O. Disney had, just over a decade earlier. For this task, Roy asked Frank Wells to join Disney.

If you’re a mountain climbing enthusiast (and really, who isn’t?) you would’ve heard of Dick Bass, who wrote a book, The Seven Summits. Bass successfully climbed each continent’s tallest mountain including Everest. Bass was a businessman and his partner in this venture was none other than Frank Wells. Wells completed six of the seven summits, climbing all but Everest because of bad weather while he was camped at the base. He did this all in one year right before joining the Disney family, which placed him in the limelight in a way he never had been before.

In the 2009 documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, it’s made clear that the media wanted to paint Eisner as the maverick visionary and Wells as the straight-laced numbers man. In reality, Wells was both the maverick and accountant. Eisner was more concerned with the bottom line than the soul of the company; when he hired Jeffrey Katzenberg, Eisner simply pointed toward the animation building and said to him “That’s your problem.” This was a bit of an insult to Roy E. Disney who had asked Eisner for the Animation division to fall under him.

Katzenberg was the visionary that pushed animation to make great movies like the Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King. Eisner was the CEO and the face of the company as it found new success with these new animation classics. Roy was the heir to the Disney throne if there was any. Between these three talented men there was considerable amount of ego and Frank Wells was the mediator. Proof of his importance to the company came with his death in 1994 which resulted in Katzenberg leaving the company to co-found Dreamworks. It also began the chain reaction that resulted in the ousting of Eisner by Roy Disney.

Frank believed in staying in the background. He wasn’t afraid of the spotlight, he just didn’t need it. Several workers in the animation department regarded him as both an avuncular moderator and a shrewd businessman. He was known for being quick and to the point, often asking questions and only giving a few moments for the person to come up with an answer, moving on to the next person after a few short seconds if they couldn’t answer him. He was known for having a good sense of humor, taking a pie in the face for one in-house video shot with Eisner. But above all, he never allowed pride to interfere with him serving his company. He was more interested in giving to others.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4

Would that we all took the same philosophy in our calling; to be adventurous yet grounded, to be hardworking, yet gracious, to be confident yet humble. What a great example of what Christian leaders are called to be.

If I’m honest, I’m probably more like Eisner, Roy or Katzenberg, wanting to do right by the company, but also wanting my way. That’s why I find Frank so inspiring: he did what was best for the company in a way that the rest of them weren’t willing to, yet he stayed backstage and was barely recognized by the public.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3:8

Grace and Peace,

W

A Culture of Giving

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

My father played basketball at his high school in Indiana, during his time there he was on a team that won the mid-state championship. It was a small school and so the experience wasn’t all that unlike the plot of the movie Hoosiers. This is perhaps why that movie is one of my family’s favorites.

When my Dad’s team returned from the championship game the entire school had shown up to congratulate them. Several of the players spoke to the student body on behalf of the team. When my dad spoke up he told this story:

A certain saint asked God to show him the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take him, first to hell. There he saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he showed the saint his hand. A long fork about 4ft long was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity” said the saint. Then the angel took him to heaven. There he was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with a four-foot fork strapped to their arms. But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. “What!” said the saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said the man in heaven, “Here we feed one another.”

My dad told this story and then explained that the team wasn’t selfish; they fed one another and that’s why they won the championship. The funny thing is that at this point in his life my dad didn’t know Jesus from Buddha, yet he grasped a simple truth about human nature and Christianity; selfishness is common but generosity is the key to success in community.

I’ve had the honor these past four years of being the class sponsor of Asbury University’s class of 2011 and I don’t use the word ‘honor’ lightly. I really consider it to be one of the greatest outpourings of God’s grace on my life. The responsibility included being involved with the class’s activities during their freshman year at school and later returning for their major events over the next three years. This past weekend they had their senior retreat and commencement. I and my partner, Tiff Hassler, were in attendance and I had one of the best weekends in recent memory.

I’m not sure how to describe why I enjoy the culture at Asbury so much, but I think that the closest phrase I can use to explain it is ‘a Culture of Giving.’ And when I say giving, I don’t mean money or anything material, though those things aren’t excluded. I mean a whole attitude of giving to the other people – in conversation, in competition, in creativity and in every other kind of interaction. This is what I think Jesus meant when he told us to love one another.

Late one evening on the retreat I just sat watching groups playing cards and boardgames and time and time again I saw this form of social grace extended in the way people just showed love to each other in common interaction.

I know that I often feel like the most selfish person in the world, so don’t think that I’m trying to claim any sort of perfection in this realm, but I do know this: when everyone decides that the other person is more important than themselves, something amazing happens in a community. So often even in the churches and in Christian families people are looking out for what they want, looking out for their own needs and desires, but we claim to love our neighbors as ourselves. Have you ever considered what that means? What it really looks like to care as much about the people around you as you do for your own good? We say that all the time, even secular humanists call it ‘the golden rule,’ but what does it really look like in practice?

It looks like a whole culture of giving. It looks like Acts 2:44 where all the believers were together and they had everything in common. It starts in conversations where everyone is genuinely engaged in listening as much as they are in talking. It starts in misunderstandings and moments of frustration and says ‘I will show them the same grace that Christ has shown me.’ It starts in times where I don’t get my way and it says ‘that’s ok, it wasn’t about me anyway.’

What if we turned John 13:35 into a question: “Will everyone know that you are my disciples by this?” And we asked it about our behavior when we’re interacting with a friend or colleague, meeting a brother-in-Christ for that first time or dealing with a fellow church member who really gets on your nerves – “Will everyone know that I am your disciple by this?” Or when you’re talking to your siblings, parents, children or spouse. “…by this?” Jesus says that it is by our treatment of other Christians that the world will know that we are His. That’s because the pull of heaven is irresistible: when people see it in others they have a longing in their heart to live in a culture of that kind of generosity. It is something that both convicted and encouraged me. As long as we choose to sit and complain about our forks while we starve to death – that’s Hell. But when we feed each other – that’s real Christian community. That’s Heaven.

So my fellow Christ followers, are we feeding each other? By this does everyone know that we are His disciples?

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People who Inspire me: Blake Mycoskie

If you don’t know about Blake Mycoskie and his company, TOMS Shoes – you must be living under a Rock. For every pair of shoes you buy from them, TOMS will give a pair to a child in need.

I first heard of TOMS several years ago and have owned a few pairs and bought them as gifts for friends and family, but when I got to hear the founder of the company, Blake Mycoskie speak at the Willow Creek leadership Summit last year I was very impressed with him. I was most impressed with his economic ingenuity and his determination to create self sufficient ways of providing for people in impoverished countries. This came alive for me, when I took this picture in Haiti last month.

TOMS on a child in the deaf community

Blake is a Christian and was on the reality series The Amazing Race when he first encountered the simple problem that many children have in developing countries: they don’t have shoes. This is especially intriguing considering the number one cause of disease in these countries is soil-bourne parasitizes and bacteria, meaning that in many cases basic hygiene and wearing shoes can prevent these diseases.

“TOMS” is not a name of person but rather an ideal – its short for “Tomorrow” meaning these shoes are providing for the next generation in these countries. But most impressive about this charity, is that it isn’t a charity at all – its a for-profit company that is totally self-sustaining and its model has inspired many other similar companies to adopt their one-for-one strategy. In short, TOMS has made compassion cool. To borrow Tim Elmore’s language from his book Generation iY, this generation isn’t compassionate – they are ‘fassionate’ and this company fits the bill.

Posers

TOMS has become so popular that several other companies are mimicking their gimmick – Sketchers started ‘BOBS’ a blatant rip-off of TOMS. They boast that for the same price as a pair of TOMS that you can get a pair of BOBS and they will donate TWO pairs of shoes to a child in need.

I think sketcher is missing the point, however – TOMS is a people company that is more about a movement then it is about a price or numbers. For example, for the past two years TOMS has organized ‘A day without shoes’ to promote awareness about the shoeless children in developing countries. Thousands of people, including myself, went without shoes in an effort to get the word out. Can you think of any other shoe company that has done anything like this? That’s because its not about the shoes, its about the people, and to go further to the point, Blake makes a point that every pair of shoes they donate is taken into a village and put on the feet of a child. You can hear more about this in the shoe drop video below.

The Movement

Tom’s biggest mode of advertisement is word of mouth. In addition to their ‘Day without shoes.’ They have thousands of people who are walking around wearing TOMS and telling their friends about how they can get involved – it spreads like wildfire. They’ve taken great advantage of social networking, continually posting shoe drop videos. Last fall they topped on million shoes given to kids.

Last month they announced that in June they’ll be moving forward with the company: adding more than shoes as Blake said “TOMS is no longer a shoe company, its a one for one company.”

 

Buy a Pair

Everytime you buy a pair of TOMS they will donate a pair to child in need. The shoes are comfy and great for any job where you have to be on your feet all day. They come in lots of styles now and they make great gifts. You can buy a pair today visit their website at TOMS.com

Another company you might be interested in is Pangea water bottles. For every Pangea bottle you buy (BPA free btw) the company will  be able to provide clean water to someone in a developing country for four years. You can find out more at their website Pangeabottles.com