The Boss . . . Mickey Mouse



I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.  ~Walt Disney

Today I am in Orlando, Florida at one of the big Walt Disney Resort hotels getting ready for a 2-day workshop on Leadership for Strategy Execution.  I got here early in order to properly prepare and had the luxury this morning of a workout, swim and leisurely breakfast in the hotel. Of course several of the Disney characters were there in costume entertaining the children.  Great fun with lots of laughter and pictures.

rolex-mickey-2I was sitting next to an older gentleman (even older than me!) having breakfast alone when I noticed his watch. It was a gold Rolex style, but with a picture of Mickey Mouse on the watch face. I normally associate Mickey Mouse watches with kids so obviously my curiosity was peaked.  I leaned over, pointing at his watch and said: “A Disney fan I see.” He replied straight away. “Mickey is the boss!”

We chatted for a few minutes.  He lives in a retirement village a few miles away but comes to the hotel for breakfast and then to Disney World for a walk around.  He likes to see the families and hear the squeals of delight from the children.

DavyCrockettI could definitely understand what he was talking about. When I was seven years old my aunt and uncle took me to Disneyland in Anaheim, California the first year it opened, 1955. I can still close my eyes and recall the sounds, the smells, and the entire experience. I even bought a Davy Crockett coon-skin cap.

Mickey is the Boss!

After I left breakfast I got to thinking about what the man said: “Mickey is the boss”. It was not the cartoon character he was referring to, but the values and principles that Mickey Mouse represents. It’s the Disney culture!  The principles that Walt Disney built into all of his Disney fun parks and even in the older movies and television shows (like the Mickey Mouse Club) are what makes the Disney franchise such a valuable business, and such great entertainment for children and adults.

And the principles represented by Mickey Mouse show up prominently in the training that Disney employees receive. They aren’t employees, they are Cast members, and they don’t refer to people in the parks as customers, but Guests.

Mickey Mouse stands for a set of brand values, a culture and business principles that are baked into every facet of the company.  Here is how one blogger described it (

Brand essence:
Magical family fun

Brand Promise:
Only Disney can deliver a fantasy experience for families to share.

Core values:
trustworthy – after years of interaction with the brand, it has brand integrity
wholesomeness – there will be no need for me to shield my kids from a Disney product
reliability – the characters have stood the test of time. People know that to expect with a new Mickey Mouse short or another film in the “Princess series”
quality – especially in the disney and pixar movies
likeable – c’mon, it’s Mickey!
imaginative – it captures the imagination of kids

I believe the essence, promise and values all have a positive effect on the brand equity. The key to all of these is the family focus, to me it is what Disney truly stands for.

 As someone who helps CEOs and senior teams build strong cultures that support and enable effective strategy execution and sustainability, I see Mickey Mouse as a symbol of all that the Walt Disney Company stands for.  One simple character epitomizes the entire successful Disney franchise.

So, I have to ask. Who is the “boss” in your company? A person with the title of CEO, or a set of cultural principles that deliver outstanding value? CEO’s come and go (and faster and faster these days), but core principles and culture can deliver long-term value.

Written and Posted by: John R. Childress

Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid

Twitter @bizjrchildress

Read John’s blog,  Business Books Website

On Amazon: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture

Read  The Economist review of LEVERAGE
Also on Amazon:   FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution

John also writes thriller novels!

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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