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A Tale of Two Teammates

While Michael Eisner and Fanklin Thomas were by no means contemporaries at Disney, this weekend’s news about recent developments in the lives and careers of both indicate drastically different leadership trajectories.

On the one hand, Michael Eisner, who recently announced that he would step down as Disney’s chief in 2006. That’s two years from now, and the move has sparked calls for new leadership now — and speculation that Eisner could retain his seat on the company’s board of directors, despite his stature as a CEO who’s got to go.

And on the other hand, Franklin Thomas, who died last week Wednesday. Known as one of Disney’s original “Nine Old Men,” Thomas was an animation innovator who helped set the standard for modern character animation. Having worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp, as well as many, many other feature-length cartoons, Thomas has been called one of the greatest animators of all time. He did his first animation for the short “Mickey’s Elephant” in 1936.

Largely unsung — just like the early artists who worked on the 1960s Marvel comic books that helped set the stage for moden comics — Thomas seems a more interesting, instructive, and inspiring role model for leaders and innovators than Eisner, no? While Thomas may not have achieved the high visibility Eisner has attained, if asked whose footsteps I’d rather follow, the choice — for me, at least — is pretty clear: that of the industry innovator and lifelong craftsman.

Who would you rather work with?

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