October 18, 2007
New Chairman of the Jewish Federation: I’m ‘gonna make it relevant’
(Page 4 - Previous Page)"It is going to be very difficult for The Federation to effectively re-engage community relations. The JCRC doesn't have any staff. It is basically one person," said Michael Hirschfeld, who spent 24 years with the department before Fishel fired him as executive director in 2003. He's now president of Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California. "First thing they have to do is hire more employees. Then they have to figure out how they can be more effective in a community relations arena and not alienate major donors, and that is a tough job."
Fishel has held that times have changed, and public advocacy is no longer necessary for The Federation. Gold, too, said he is not interested in The Federation taking positions on public policy, but he wants to strengthen ties with immigrant communities, particularly Latinos.
"As Jews, we are going to live in this community as a minority. We have been very blessed -- this goes back to my good luck -- and I think that part of having a Jewish soul is repaying the contributions people have made to us to others who are lower on the socioeconomic scale," Gold said.
Just what that means for The Federation is unclear. If it is relationships that Gold seeks with other minority groups, former U.S. Rep. Mel Levine said, The Federation will not be able to remain silent on political issues, whether the topic is immigration legislation or public education.
"The big stumbling block has been that we only want to be involved with these communities when we need their support, and not when they need ours," said Levine, who spent a frustrating two years as JCRC chair. "Stanley is a sophisticated, smart, thoughtful, talented person who understands that these alliances only work when they go both ways."
Cynical or realistic, a few veterans of The Federation's inner workings were skeptical about the likelihood of Gold -- or anyone -- reshaping the organization.
"Stanley Gold is not a pushover, but how much hands-on will he have at The Federation?" asked one board member. "John Fishel tends to put people in places where they are yes-men. Is John going to be telling Stanley what they're going to do, and he is just going to be a rubber stamp?"
Fishel said that is not his plan.
"Change is never easy, but sometimes change is absolutely necessary to change your future viability," The Federation's president said. "There, Stanley is going to play a vital role because he is going to force us to ask some hard questions."
Regardless of what obstructions or challenges arise, Gold seems unwilling to be stifled. A visit to 1984 helps demonstrate why.
The Magic Kingdom was under attack. Corporate raiders were attempting a hostile takeover of the Walt Disney Co., lusting for control of the company so they could strip mine its studio and real estate holdings and hang onto the profitable theme parks. Stock prices plummeting, it was the end of innocence for Disney -- some would say an allegory for the United States -- and somehow the man who had long been known around the office as "Walt's idiot nephew" got a chance to be the hero.
At Roy Disney's behest, Gold began buying hundreds of thousands of Disney shares to add to the 1.1 million his boss already owned. Then he and the brain trust, a roundtable of Roy Disney and his advisers, began working to ward off the raiders and quell Wall Street's anxiety.
It was obvious the current CEO had to go; Disney had just made it's first profitable live-action film, "Splash," since "The Love Bug" was released in 1968 -- 16 long years before. But Disney's board of directors, which included Gold and Roy Disney, couldn't agree on who should replace him.
Gold's selection to run the company -- a combination of Paramount No. 2 Michael Eisner and former Warner Bros. chief Frank Wells -- was opposed by 10 of the board's 13 members. As autumn approached, Gold had a week to convince four directors to support his candidates. He was told it couldn't be done; even members of the brain trust were beginning to worry.
"We're going to run it my way," Gold told Mark Siegel, a partner at Gang, Tyre and member of the brain trust, according to John Taylor's book, "Storming the Magic Kingdom," the definitive account of the affair. "We're going to run it right down the middle of the street, where they're uncomfortable and where I'm comfortable. We're going to put on a political campaign right out there where everybody can see us. I'm tired of being told to be quiet because somebody's feelings are going to be hurt."
By Saturday morning, Gold's men were voted the new heads of Walt Disney Productions. He celebrated by ordering vanity license plates that said "10-3." Two decades later, Gold and Roy Disney proved just as formidable when, fed up with Eisner's management, they resigned as directors of the company and single-handedly led a shareholder revolt that resulted in Eisner's resignation.
"The most important thing to know about me," Gold said when I asked if he was worried about spinning his wheels at The Federation, "is I don't get ulcers. I give ulcers."