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Eisner and Ovitz: The Worst Mistakes of their Careers.

by David Brownstein

Wow. I’ve been reading “Disneywar,” the fascinating account of Michael Eisner’s rise, reign and fall at The Walt Disney Company. Right now I’m at the part where Frank Wells has died in a helicopter crash, Jeffrey Katzenberg has left Disney and has started Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen, and Mike Ovitz has signed on as something like President of Walt Disney.

However. On the night before Ovitz is to actually start his job, author James B. Stewart reports that both Eisner and Ovitz report to their respective wives that this will the “biggest mistake of their careers.”

It sounds so great on paper, but both men knew, at this point that it was a big mistake for all concerned, but neither was willing to stop the train wreck in progress.

How does this stuff happen?

They seemed to be friends and professional allies and confidants. Yet if the book is accurate, Eisner continually says one thing to the person he does not like and another to those around him. Ovitz, having ascended to the perceived title of the most powerful man in Hollywood, was vulnerable at the time, having had an offer rescinded to run Universal. Eisner claimed that he was afraid Ovitz might become suicidal if the Disney job did not come through.

The book goes on to tell stories of Ovitz’ first few days, weeks and months on the job. Even I felt sorry for poor Mike Ovitz as I heard how badly he was treated.

I’m still reading the book and do not have it all figured out, but I’m struck with degree to which even these powerful masters of the universe could get themselves into such a mess, know they were in the mess, and not get themselves out early enough to stop the mess that would follow.

Where are the places in your work or life where your intuition is telling you one thing, and your head is telling you another?

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