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Crazy Disney Rumors, The Secret Genius of Nottingham Spirk, and Chick-fil-A
"Walt [Disney] has been accused of many things and he was not guilty of any of them."
Happy Thursday and welcome to our new subscribers!
Don’t feel jealous of that single, anonymous, Mega Millions jackpot winner. Pity the poor, tax-ravaged wretch, instead.
This tongue-in-cheek tweet reminds me — surprise, surprise — of a Warren Buffett story.
Back in the 1950s, when Buffett was still growing his partnership and recruiting prospective new investors, he would show them his tax return and ask, “Don’t you wish you could pay this much in taxes?”
And, as always, the great Genevieve Roch-Decter swoops in with some sage advice:
If only I had been thinking that way twenty-five years ago…
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🔪 Knives Out for Walt Disney World?!?
Very few businesses boast the pricing power of the Disney Parks — and, in particular, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Whether it’s theme park admission, hotel room rates, food and drink, or souvenirs, Disney wrings every last cent out of its devoted fanbase on every visit.
This ruthless approach wins CEO Bob Chapek no friends, but can you really blame him when there seems to be no limit to what Disney fans will pay to vacation there?
This video makes my wallet hurt.
In 2019 — the last full year unaffected by the pandemic — the company’s Parks division brought in $26 billion of revenue and $6.7 billion of net income. That latter number accounted for nearly half of Disney’s overall profit.
And, while 2020 and 2021 suffered due to Covid shutdowns, limited capacities, and restricted international travel, Disney is currently on pace to surpass those 2019 results this year.
The Disney Parks are back — and just as big of cash cows as ever.
And, at a time when Disney+ still loses money and theatrical releases remain on somewhat shaky financial ground, Disney would never do anything to rock the boat of its main profit driver, right?
Not so fast, my friends. (Said in my best Lee Corso voice.)
Enter the insane rumor that Disney is thinking about dropping the “Walt” from Walt Disney World because the beloved company founder has become too “controversial” for modern sensibilities.
I really really really don’t think there’s any truth to this, but Disney has picked up an unenviable knack for stumbling headlong into PR crises and subjecting itself to struggle sessions over imagined slights. So, while the rumor makes no sense at all, I’m loath to rule anything out completely.
Very few historical figures have suffered more muckraking, calumny, and insinuation in recent years than Walt Disney. It seemed to kick off with Marc Eliot’s “biography” (1993) before PBS took the scurrilous narrative mainstream in its American Experience documentary (2015) on Walt’s life and legacy.
[While the most unhinged comments were removed before the film’s final release, PBS released all of them on its website and social media accounts to drum up publicity for the finished product.]
Bob Gurr, a former Disney Imagineer, once remarked that the PBS doc should best be watched as a silent movie. The archival photos and video footage were extraordinary; the “expert” commentary, not so much.
The accusations include all the usual suspects: anti-woman, racist, antisemitic, Nazi (especially risible considering Disney produced Allied propaganda during World War II), and more. All easily refuted — but all stubbornly slow to die.
A few years ago, I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing Floyd Norman, the first African-American animator at the Disney studio, about his experiences working with Walt in the ‘50s and ‘60s. In particular, I asked him about these attempts to rewrite his former boss into a tyrannical figure.
Walt Disney was a remarkable man. Sadly, whenever a person is remarkable, there are those critics who want to tear that person down and find faults. Especially faults that aren’t even valid. I guess that’s always the situation when you have someone who’s larger than life, a real-life hero.
Walt has been accused of many things and he was not guilty of any of them.
Now, having said that, he was not a perfect man. He would be the first to admit that. He drank too much and definitely smoked too much. But, putting those things aside, he was one of the nicest people that I’ve ever known. Very honest and very fair.
He’s certainly not the person that he’s been accused of — anti-woman, antisemitic, or racist. None of that holds water. They are just not true.
I was at the studio for ten years and I worked with Walt Disney in a very close way, especially in the last year of his life in 1966. If anyone had the opportunity to see Walt up close and personal, it was me. If anyone were to know his strengths and faults, it would be me.
I got a chance to see the old man in action and I can honestly tell you that he was a very fair person, a very good person, and a man who I’ve had to continually defend when I hear people accuse him of various offenses. They are totally wrong.
The accusations are usually based on rumors, hearsay, and conjecture by people who weren’t even here during Walt’s lifetime. Nothing angers me more than when people spout off strong opinions about Walt Disney even though they never met the man.
Again, the chances of Disney actually changing the name of its flagship vacation kingdom are infinitesimally small. But this is yet another bad news cycle for a company that’s had its fill of them in recent months.
Walt Disney remains wildly popular among the Disney faithful. And, to me, it seems the insinuations and lies about his character are best explained by this famous George Orwell quote: “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”
Disney would be wise to distance themselves from such critics — and not Walt.
Nottingham Spirk Turns The Big 5-0 🎉🎊
Back in June, I named LEGO and Chick-fil-A as examples of private companies that I desperately wish were traded on public markets.
I forgot to mention the third name on that list: Nottingham Spirk.
You may not have ever heard of this company, but you likely know (and use) at least one of its game-changing creations.
The Cleveland-based design and idea shop, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this month, has a sterling track record of invention and innovation.
And, just as importantly, Nottingham Spirk excels at bringing those ideas to market. The company holds 1,350 patents — of which 95% are commercialized. That’s a far sight better than the national average of 5%.
Here are just some of the highlights from the last five decades:
Ever had an upset stomach? Nottingham Spirk created the packaging for Pepto-Bismol (with dose cup on top for the first time ever) for Procter & Gamble.
The company’s Spin Pop (an electric, spinning lollipop) led to an even bigger creation a few years down the road: the Crest SpinBrush.
Painting the bedroom got much easier after Nottingham Spirk designed the Twist & Pour paint container for Sherwin-Williams.
And there are many, many more where those came from.
I spoke with John Nottingham and John Spirk last year and, due to the strict word counts of print magazines, had to leave one of my favorite stories from the interview on the cutting room floor.
Being an economical sort, I figured I would dust it off for your (hopeful) enjoyment…
John Spirk: We were looking for some companies to work with right out of college and we were going through a list of Greater Cleveland companies and one came up called Rotadyne. They made bed pans and water tanks for agricultural businesses and they had one little line that said “Juvenile Furniture”.
We got a meeting with an individual out there who said, “Can you design more than just furniture?”
We said, “Sure, we can do a lot of things.”
That individual introduced us to Rotadyne’s founder and he asked if we could design toys. We did some concepts, he liked what he saw, and the toys started selling very well when they were introduced.
They actually created their own little brand-within-a-brand and that brand was called Little Tikes. Pretty soon, the toys became so successful that they ended up dropping the name Rotadyne and they became Little Tikes.
John Nottingham: We did hundreds of products for them and we watched them grow from $1 million to about $600 million.
When we first went into Rotadyne, they were doing medical products (bed pans) and we kind of helped them work towards consumer products. Now, we’re doing medical products. (Laughs) We’ve come full circle.
As Nottingham alluded to there at the end, his company’s next big innovation will likely come in the medical field. Nottingham Spirk’s TecTraum pro2cool, a therapy for concussions, received “breakthrough” designation from the FDA and is currently in the midst of a large-scale clinical trial.
And, according to the two Johns, the early returns look pretty good.
If TecTraum pans out, Nottingham Spirk’s next fifty years might be their best ones yet.
🐄 Chick-fil-A: The One That Got Away?
Earlier this week, The Rational Walk retweeted an intriguing letter from Warren Buffett to Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy.
Nothing is spelled out, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to believe that this letter came after a Buffett approach to purchase Chick-fil-A for Berkshire Hathaway had been politely rebuffed.
So, when you’re reading Berkshire’s Q2 2022 results this weekend, just imagine what the numbers would look like if Buffett had succeeded in adding Chick-fil-A to his empire.
Ah, what could have been…
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Disclosure: This is not financial advice. I am not a financial advisor. Do your own research before making any investment decisions.