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2 Apr

The Common Ground (and Chairman) Between Nike and Disney

The Magic Kingdom is getting somewhat extra dose of that Just Do It spirit — and it just might need it now greater than ever.

Walt Disney Co. shareholders are expected to raise Mark Parker to chairman at the corporate’s annual meeting Monday — giving Nike Inc.’s executive chairman one other spot at the highest of America’s corporate hierarchy.  

Parker, who led Nike as chief executive officer for 14 years before taking over his current role in 2020, has been on Disney’s board since 2016. He’ll succeed Susan Arnold, the Procter & Gamble beauty veteran who has been chairman for just over a yr and whose tenure on Disney’s board has hit the 15-year limit.  

That’s two chairmen in a row from the world of fashion and sweetness for Disney. 

The 2 firms — Nike and Disney — are very different, but face lots of the same issues. And Parker brings a load of consumer expertise to the highest of Disney, in addition to loads of experience managing the chaos that’s big-time business today.

“The predominant responsibility for a board is to navigate risk and to be sure that the leadership or a CEO deliver the outcomes they’re committed to,” said Garrett Sheridan, CEO of Lotis Blue Consulting. “The board and CEOs have to navigate effectively through difficult events.”

Disney has had its share of difficult events — contained in the C-suite and out. 

“They haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory with regards to CEO succession,” Sheridan said. 

Bob Iger handed the CEO reins over to Bob Chapek in 2020, only to take them back again in December 2022 after a really rocky run for his successor when:

  • Disney failed to seek out its voice fast enough on Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay laws under Chapek — riling employees and activists and ultimately sparking a feud with the state’s firebrand Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.  
  • The corporate logged operating losses of $1.5 billion in its streaming operations, which include Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+, within the fourth quarter alone.
  • And Chapek ultimately fell out of sync with nearly everybody, losing the religion of investors and the board. That contributed to a proxy battle with Nelson Peltz’s Trian Partners, which was ultimately avoided after Iger moved back into the CEO’s seat to reorganize the corporate and cut costs. 

The small print are all different, but Parker too knows what it’s wish to be at the highest of a consumer juggernaut buffeted by controversy. 

While he was CEO at Nike, the corporate’s culture, including its treatment of ladies, was broadly challenged and Trevor Edwards, Nike brand president and a contender to turn out to be CEO, resigned under a cloud after complaints about his behavior. 

Sheridan noted Nike also faced delicate marketing decisions under Parker, standing by Colin Kaepernick after the then-NFL quarterback’s protests against racism and social inequality sparked a national debate and sticking with Tiger Woods through the golf legend’s personal scandals. 

The view of all of this from the highest offers a singular perspective of how these mega brands move with the times.

And boards are usually not just tackling the present crisis, but are looking around corners trying to grasp where the following crisis could come from and learn how to adjust.

“Being a board member and doing board work, that’s a set of skills these leaders develop over time,” Sheridan said.

That offers Parker a certain insight into the Mouse House’s problems and opportunities.  

“Every company is trying to reinforce and elevate their consumer experience,” Sheridan said. “And Nike is absolutely good at omnichannel stores, online, really developing relationships with the patron. I don’t take into consideration Disney after I’m watching ESPN, so does Disney own me as a consumer? Do they know I actually have young children and know that I need to go to the park as much as I need to go to the sport this weekend?

“The patron power dynamic is shifting and it’s changing these firms, how they view the patron and the way they deliver their product and experience,” he said. “That’s the convergence that’s happening.” 

That’s not the one convergence happening as business leaders find themselves on the front lines of the culture wars, the political food fight and more. 

And Parker is getting one other close-up view of all of it.

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