“It is largely irrelevant,” Stanley P. Gold said last week. “I’m gonna make it relevant. Gonna make it relevant to the donor community. Gonna make it relevant to the Los Angeles community. And gonna make it relevant to most of the Jewish community. The alternative is a slow dissipation. I’m not going to let that happen.”
I was amazed when Gold, the chairman of the board of trustees at USC and a former director of Disney who saved the company from corporate raiders and canned Michael Eisner, made this statement. Not because many LA Jews disagree with it, but because it came from inside The Federation walls.
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.”