How To Prepare Like The CEO Of Disney

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek traces his remarkable journey, from humble roots running cross country in America’s industrial heartland to running one of the world’s most iconic companies.

The odds of becoming the CEO of one of the world’s most iconic companies, The Walt Disney Company, are rather small. Only seven people have held that esteemed title since the company’s founding in 1923. When Bob Chapek took the reins to the Magic Kingdom in February of 2020, he did so using a toolkit that prominently featured three qualities: willpower, preparation and curiosity.

In a recent episode of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Chapek spoke in depth about these qualities. One of many gems offered during Chapek’s conversation included the idea that success favors a prepared mind.

“As a cross country runner, you learn that for every mile you log at a meet, you’re logging 50 miles in training,” noted Chapek, who ran high school track and cross country in Hammond, Indiana. “So preparation is everything.” Overpreparation builds confidence, says Chapek, and confidence is an attractive quality in any leader. But it’s not just the amount of preparation that has set Chapek apart in his career, it is also the quality of that preparation. Here’s how he ensures high-impact prep:

1. Involve lots of people early on. Up until a week before an important meeting or presentation, Chapek likes to involve as many members of his team as is wieldy for maximizing constructive input on a topic.

2. Put pencils down. Approximately one week before the scheduled event, Chapek ceases to reach out to others and switches to a process of internalization and convergence. “I call this my ‘pencils down’ period,” explained Chapek. “I may ask somebody for the answer to a specific question, but from here on in I’m focusing on the key points and developing a list of likely derivative questions.” At this stage, as Chapek develops his topics, he also plays “devil’s advocate” and tries to anticipate the questions those on the other side of the lectern will likely want answered.

3. Prepare for follow-up questions. Chapek always assumes his audience will not only have questions for him, but will likely have questions about his answers to their questions. You get the picture. Chapek calls them “third derivative” questions and explains, “Say, you’re preparing for a board meeting. The first question is ‘How is XYZ in China?’ Then there is a follow up question, which goes one level deeper. And then the follow up to that one. That’s the only level of preparation that leaves me satisfied prior to going into a meeting.”

4. Keep some backup in your pocket. So, just how prepared is Bob Chapek? Even though he delivers many speeches using a teleprompter and undergoes executive speaking training regularly, Chapek always carries a folded, printed version of his presentation or remarks in his coat pocket “just in case” his high-priced first option fails. He did this for 15 years without once needing the paper backup. Until, a few years ago, when he did. “I was in a very large room doing a presentation. As the speakers changed, my speech popped up, and then disappeared. And I’m standing in front of a thousand people,” Chapek recalled. “So I very calmly dipped into my jacket pocket, unfolded my speech, and just gave it a little differently than I would have had there have been a prompter.”

Following Chapek’s method won’t guarantee you’ll become the eighth CEO of Disney, but it just might bring you good luck. And luck, of a certain sort, is a quality that Chapek thoroughly believes in. “Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity,” said Chapek. “In this way, we do in fact create our own luck by doing the hard advance work that gives us an advantage when there is an advantage to be had.”

YOU WILL LEARN:

16:30 – Bob Chapek’s step-by-step preparation process.

20:00 – The concept of “curiosity-to-vision” which he uses to fuel Disney’s innovation pipeline.

30:00 – How to strike a “strategically consistent but tactically divergent” balance among creative and financial goal setting.

32:15 – The role of storytelling in Disney’s successful effort to scale its brand from Anaheim to Shanghai.

36:00 – The role of recruitment in reinforcing company culture.

Over the last 30 years, longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated and 11-time New York Times Best-Selling Author Don Yaeger has been blessed to interview the greatest winners of our generation. He has made a second career as a keynote speaker and executive coach, discerning habits of high performance to teach teams how to reach their full potential.