The Walt Disney Company announced this week that it is now offering to pay full tuition for its hourly workers to earn a college degree, complete a high school diploma, or learn a new skill. In a blog post on the company’s website, Jayne Parker, senior executive vice president & chief HR officer, called the “Disney Aspire” initiative “the most comprehensive program of its kind,” adding that it would cover 100 percent of tuition upfront and reimburse employees for application fees and required books and materials. The program covers a wide range of educational endeavors, she noted:
The program is designed for working adults and offers our Cast Members and employees maximum choice and flexibility with their studies, regardless of whether the program and classes they choose are tied to their current role at Disney. Disney Aspire includes a network of schools that offer a wide array of disciplines and diplomas—including college and master’s degrees, high school equivalency, English-language learning, vocational training and more.
More than 80,000 Disney employees are eligible to participate in the program, which the company is implementing in partnership with Guild Education, an online adult education platform that helps companies provide tuition assistance and other education benefits. Other US employers with large numbers of hourly workers have partnered with Guild to provide tuition benefits, including the fast food chains Chipotle and Taco Bell, the retail giant Walmart, and the home improvement retailer Lowe’s. McDonald’s expanded its education benefit, a partnership with Cengage Learning, earlier this year, while Chick-fil-A increased the number of scholarships it was awarding though its longstanding annual program.
What would you do with a $3,000 bonus? Take a trip to Walt Disney World? Well, if you’re working as a chef at the Florida resort this summer, that might be where you got the bonus in the first place. In its effort to fill 3,500 seasonal roles at its sprawling entertainment complex, Disney is offering outsized signing bonuses for some of these hires, including unskilled and part-time employees, Orlando Sentinel business writer Paul Brinkmann reported last week:
A housekeeper hired this year at Disney World’s resorts can get a hiring bonus of $1,250 for a job that pays $10.50 per hour. That’s up from last year’s $500 hiring bonus. And it’s for full-time or part-time hires. Full-time or part-time lifeguards this year can get a $1000 hiring bonus, double what the entertainment giant offered last year, and that is for full-time or part-time jobs, according to job postings. Seasonal lifeguards get a $500 bonus.
Bus drivers can get a $500 hiring bonus – the same as last year. Culinary chefs can get a $3,000 bonus. The bonuses are given after training periods and 30 days on the job.
Universal Orlando, the other major theme park in central Florida, is also hiring 3,000 seasonal workers this year, to whom it is offering “competitive salaries and comprehensive benefits packages.” Both parks are in the midst of holding job fairs to fill these thousands of positions. Disney World’s double bonuses are just the latest anecdotal indicator of the historically tight labor market in the US today. They also illustrate how the state of the labor market, combined with other trends, is affecting seasonal hiring specifically.
Bob Iger, the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, received a total compensation of $36.3 million in fiscal year 2017, if all goes well, could earn more than twice that figure this year. The company’s investors, however, have balked at the board’s plan to reward Iger so generously, voting 52–44 percent against a non-binding advisory resolution approving Disney’s executive compensation pan at its annual shareholder meeting, Bloomberg reports.
Three proxy advisors had urged investors to reject the plan, which they said was misaligned with performance, but the board insists that Iger’s compensation package is worth making sure he remains on board through the completion of Disney’s ongoing $52.4 billion deal to purchase 21st Century Fox:
“The board decided it was imperative that Bob Iger remain as chairman and CEO through 2021 to provide the vision and proven leadership required to successfully complete and integrate the largest, most complex acquisition in the company’s history,” Aylwin Lewis, head of the Disney board’s compensation committee, said Thursday.
Bloomberg notes that this is the first time Disney shareholders have pushed back on an executive compensation package since federal regulators began encouraging these “say on pay” votes in the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act. Indeed, such rejections are still a rare occurrence in corporate America generally. Just 1.2 percent of S&P 500 companies had their advisory pay resolutions opposed by a majority of investors in 2017, Reuters reports, citing data from ISS Analytics.
After the sudden announcement that Thomas Staggs, Disney’s chief operating officer and the putative heir to CEO Bob Iger, would be leaving the company this year, Disney’s board now has to scramble to find a new successor. Jena McGregor at the Washington Post explains just what a tricky situation they’re facing:
While Disney may have plenty of talented people on its management team, some say an obvious next-in-line for the CEO job is missing from the lineup now that Staggs is leaving. Jay Rasulo, Disney’s former chief financial officer, departed the company after Staggs was given the COO job last year, which followed a five-year bake-off that included the two executives switching roles. “If anything unexpected happens to Bob Iger, there’s a leadership vacuum at the top of this company,” said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham Securities who has a “hold” on the company. “There is no plan B.”
A lack of obvious internal candidates, says Noel Tichy, a professor at the University of Michigan’s business school who authored a recent book about succession, makes things particularly challenging for any board. Two years isn’t long enough to groom an internal CEO, he says, while outside candidates typically face long odds. While there are exceptions, such as Alan Mulally’s recent success at Ford or Lou Gerstner at IBM in the early 1990s, “it’s very hard to go outside and get it right.”
This dilemma has raised the possibility that Iger will not retire when his current contract expires in 2018, as he had been expected to do, but stay on until Disney can find and train a new CEO. According to the Wall Street Journal, the board is looking for someone to continue Iger’s strategy rather than take the company in a new direction. Nonetheless, with its top two internal candidates out, Disney’s next CEO may come from outside the organization. Christopher Palmeri at Bloomberg looks at some of the names being mentioned:
Thomas Staggs, a longtime executive at Disney who was appointed its chief operating officer last year, was considered the heir apparent to CEO Bob Iger, who is expected to depart when his contract is up in 2018. That all changed on Monday, when Disney announced that Staggs would step down next month, Daniel Miller reports for the Los Angeles Times:
Disney never guaranteed Staggs, 55, the top job and made clear a year ago that his work would be evaluated by the board. … Nonetheless, the move stunned investors as well as executives inside and outside the Disney empire. “I’m shocked,” said Jim Cora, a former chairman of Disneyland International who left in 2001 and has since consulted for the company. “Whatever happened sure happened quietly.”
Staggs’ impending departure prolongs an already drawn-out succession process. After former Chief Financial Officer Jay Rasulo was passed over for the No. 2 job last year, he left the company. … Now Disney will search for new candidates to succeed Iger. With the notable exception of former Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Eisner, Disney usually selects its chief executive from within. But the departures of Staggs and Rasulo make it more likely that Disney would have to turn to an outside executive to find a person capable of handling such a complicated job, analysts said.
Also in the LA Times, David Pierson and Natalie Kitroeff discuss what it means for an organization to lose its designated or presumptive successor CEO: