The Emperor Unclothed
Fourteen years ago, it was just me and Michael Eisner ("Performance Review," page 33) in the back of a white Lincoln Continental in Orlando, Florida, and Eisner was taking off his clothes. Eisner was just six years into his tenure as Disney CEO in the summer of 1990, but the turnaround he masterminded was in full flower. Eisner still had a full head of hair then and a slim face (that's him, at left, in 1991), and Disney was one-fifth its current size. Eisner's pay of $40.1 million for 1988 was fresh—and a bit awe-inspiring. It was, in every way, a more innocent and more forgiving time. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the Michael Eisner of 2004—beset by critics and his own shareholders—letting a reporter trail him for hours.
He was changing clothes, he said, because if he wore a suit into the park, he would be recognized and mobbed by guests. Some of the traits that served Eisner well in Disney's revival—traits for which he is now condemned—were on display. We were on our way to a fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom (one he was seeing for the third time), and he was just making sure his tweaks were being done. Although his year of earning $570 million was still in the future, he was already touchy about money. As a goof, I asked him how much cash he carried in his pocket. I got a pained look that indicated my interview could be over quickly. "Please," he said, "let's not discuss the money." -Charles Fishman
The Blue-Chip Airline
When I began exploring JetBlue's growth ("And Now the Hard Part," page 66), I realized that I needed to taste the "JetBlue experience," the airline's cocktail of cheap frills and attentive customer service. I decided to immerse myself. I took six flights in just over 48 hours—Washington, DC, to Ft. Lauderdale to New York to Long Beach, California, to Las Vegas, then back to Long Beach before returning to Washington. It was more than a taste; it was a shot of 100-proof JetBlue.
And it was good (also cheap: less than $625). Whenever I checked in at a new airport, the ticket agent offered to improve my seat. I can assure you that the all-you-can-eat snack policy is no lie, but you should draw the line at four bags of chips. Flight attendants collected trash more often than I've ever seen, and even the pilots pitched in. When a flight attendant explained that we should clean up after ourselves because this helped JetBlue offer low fares, everyone cleaned like Merry Maids on steroids.
My most vivid memory, the incident that I recounted a week or more after my trip, wasn't the free TV. As I was boarding a plane in Long Beach, a flight attendant named Mark took my carry-on bag from me as I entered the cabin, walked to my seat, and stored my bag overhead. I didn't need his help. My bag wasn't unwieldy or heavy. But he helped anyway, in a way I had never before experienced while flying. -Chuck Salter
The Daily Show
When the C Theater at Industrial Light & Magic ("Movie Magic," page 84) isn't being used to dazzle visiting journalists, it's used for dailies and nightlies. (I watched previews for ILM's work on Van Helsing and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the experience enhanced by the top-notch screen and sound.)
At dailies each morning, artists and supervisors watch work that has been digitally rendered overnight by ILM's powerful server farm. At nightlies, they review the work that has been done during the course of the day. It struck me that very few businesses bring colleagues together once a day—forget twice—to review what they've achieved. And what a great motivator (and sometimes scary prospect) it must be to know that your work will be projected in front of your peers, every day, on a 19-foot-high screen. -Scott Kirsner
A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - May 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.