Jennifer Begakis

I am a Ph.D. Candidate at Cornell University. I am a historian specializing in the history of capitalism, finance, and the Walt Disney Company. I research and write about the Disney Company and Disney’s Parks and Resorts investment strategies from the 1930s to the present.

My Dissertation“The Best Laid Plans of Mouse and Man; Testing the Limits of Disney’s Strategic Planning” highlights the risks, setbacks, and failures of Disney’s Parks and Resorts Business. Additionally, my work focuses on the tension between design innovation and business objectives. The main themes include corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, municipal financing and law, intellectual property law, business operations, management, public relations, and marketing.

Why Disney and capitalism? I often feel redundant when I say I am a historian of both. Disney is synonymous with American culture and, critically, the idea of the American family. The Walt Disney Company has set several gold standards in technology and management. The firm has, throughout its history, shaped copyright and trademark law, intellectual property law, contract law, municipal financing, real estate, and zoning laws. Concerning the history of global Wall Street, Disney was a pioneer in capitalizing on macro trends in financialization after WWII. The period when Main Street became progressively oriented towards Wall Street and shareholder value linked more closely to share price. Disney leveraged its reputation in Hollywood to grow its business outside of film entertainment and attract investors who financed the creation of its burgeoning theme park business. 

The financialization of Main Street was not unique to the Disney Company. Still, Disney was and is remarkably good at capitalizing on the increasing size and impact of the financial sector. Disney emerged from WWII, an already well-established storytelling business; thus, the Hollywood animation and film company was well-positioned to leverage past success in new entertainment mediums such as television. On top of that, Disney used its firm’s knack for storytelling to tell and sell stories to investors to finance its new entertainment endeavors. Disney shows us the power of telling and selling stories within financial capitalism. The firm’s past and current business also illustrate its name’s enduring strength and Disney’s ability to leverage its reputation and association with American culture. Disney offers us an essential lens into the history of the American economy, geopolitics, and the culture of the American capitalism we have and continue to export to the world.

With all of Disney’s success, however, my Doctoral work focuses on the critical limitations of Disney’s business strategy, which, according to Walt Disney, “all started with a mouse.” In doing so, I also argue that Disney’s failures and the downside risks of its Parks and Resorts business offer a fresh look at the famous entertainment company that the histories of its successes do not.

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Jennifer Begakis, Ph.D. Candidate at Cornell University