Disney CFO Plays Scrooge McDuck When Allocating CapitalChristopher Palmeri
Jay Rasulo, seen as one of two possible successors to Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger, invokes his company’s well-known characters when discussing his role as chief financial officer.
“I gotta have a big heart, I gotta love everybody, I’ve gotta reach out to the world as Woody does in our stories,” Rasulo said today at the Bloomberg CFO Conference when asked why he sometimes compares himself to the “Toy Story” hero. “But on the other hand I’m still counting the money like Scrooge McDuck.”
Rasulo said Disney often faces decisions that cost in the short run and yet build stronger ties with consumers, such as policing foreign makers of licensed goods. He became finance chief in 2009, after leading Disney’s parks for about seven years, when Iger asked him and then-CFO Tom Staggs to switch jobs. Both men are seen as possible successors when Iger steps down in 2016. Rasulo didn’t address that issue today.
“It has been an incredible learning and broadening experience, certainly for me, I’m sure on both sides of it,” said Rasulo, 58. “In this role you get to experience the breadth of the Walt Disney Co.”
Rasulo, a Columbia University economics graduate who started out with the company in strategic planning in 1986, said part of Disney’s success lies in how it deploys capital.
About 65 percent is reinvested in the businesses, such as theme-park rides, movies or sports rights for the ESPN network, among the largest contributors to Disney profit, he said. The company also pays dividends, buys back stock, and seeks acquisitions that add to its character library or provide new distribution outlets.
Last year, Rasulo, who also has master’s degrees from the University of Chicago, supervised a company-wide cost-cutting initiative, designed to make sure the company was adapting to technological changes in its businesses. That led to hundreds firings across several divisions.
In March, Rasulo’s boss appointed him to oversee Disney’s $500 million acquisition of Maker Studios, the money-losing provider of online short-form videos.
Rasulo often speaks to Disney employees about career planning, including his own.
“I advise people, just do what’s right in front of you and good things happen rather than trying to be Machiavellian in planning the next five steps of your career,” Rasulo said. “It will never turn out the way you think.”
Rasulo sits about 40 feet from Iger and the two chat all the time, along with communicating by e-mail, and when traveling together, he said.
“There’s not a lot of formality to Bob,” Rasulo said. “He’s a very free and easy, casual interactor.”
When Rasulo joined Disney 28 years ago, the company had about $2 billion in annual sales and earned most of its profit from theme parks. The studio, established by Walt Disney in 1923, was struggling, the Disney Channel had fewer than 3 million subscribers, and Rasulo described the consumer products business as “fledgling.”
“We used to get this check from Europe, we never knew what it was for,” Rasulo recalled. “Presumably it was from people selling consumer products. We never audited anybody.”
Today, Disney is the world’s largest entertainment company, with more than $45 billion in sales. More than half its profit comes from television, including ESPN, the Disney channels and the ABC television network.
In his free time, Rasulo said he likes to fly fish, a hobby that provides lessons for life.
“The reason I love fly fishing is because you focus right on the here and now, and put away all other distractions,” Rasulo said. “Otherwise you basically just get cold and wet and come home with no fish.”