Tragedy to Triumph, a look at Walt Disney

One of the most painful things for a sales person is losing a deal they thought they had. Trust me, I know! Awhile ago, I lost a big deal that I thought was going to close, but at the last minute the client went with another vendor. The deal was big and strategic; I knew our solution was the best thing for the client, but it wasn’t to be.

It reminded me of an experience of one of my heros, Walt Disney. In 1927 Disney was a budding cartoonist and introduced a new character called “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” for Universal Studios. He had just finished a successful series called the “Alice Comedies” and “Oswald” was just starting to become popular. In the spring of 1928, Disney and his wife Lilly went to New York City to ask his employer Charles Mintz to have Universal increase his budget for “Oswald.”

But Mintz had gone behind Disney’s back and signed most of Disney’s employees to a new contract with Universal. Mintz then demanded that Disney take a 20 percent budget cut. As leverage, Mintz reminded Disney that Universal owned “Oswald.” Mintz was unrelenting, and further demanded that Disney give up his own business and work exclusively for him. Disney refused and said, “you can keep the staff.” Disney left New York without most of his staff and without “Oswald.”

Before Disney and his wife Lilly boarded the train home, he sent his brother Roy a telegram: “LEAVING TONIGHT STOPPING OVER KC ARRIVE HOME SUNDAY MORNING SEVEN THIRTY DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING OK WILL GIVE DETAILS WHEN ARRIVE — WALT.” Disney’s unflappable faith and optimism would soon pay off. He was already working on a way to make the telegram come true by the time he arrived home. He knew that he had to come up with a new character. And so he dreamed up the idea of a mouse on long train ride back to California. At first Disney thought he’d call his new creation Mortimer. But Lilly didn’t like that name. “How about Mickey?” she asked.

Soon after Disney got home, he finished his commitment to Universal for the first season of “Oswald” and began creating three cartoons starring his new character, Mickey Mouse (a slightly altered Oswald the Rabbit to avoid litigation). And the rest is what you might say is history.

Perhaps the most important benefit to Disney was his conclusion to never again use a “middle man” and to own his own characters. Mickey Mouse would become The Walt Disney Company’s most lasting symbol: Mickey Mouse, the most famous of Walt Disney’s characters.

Shortly after I lost that deal, I made some small but fundamental changes to my business that became the core of my current business. Without the loss, that improvement would never have been made. So when you think you’ve lost a big deal, pull up your bootstraps, get on the train and go make Mickey!

Happy Selling,
Kevan Kjar

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