Monthly Archives: August 2010

Dead Folks: Business/World Affairs

Dead Folks: Business/World Affairs

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010Roy Disney
At the time of his death, some of the short obituary entries read: Roy Disney, businessman.

They got that right. The last Disney family member to be involved with company clearly possessed the business acumen—and sheer willpower—to twice rescue the mammoth enterprise from spiraling into financial and creative irrelevance. In the movie industry, Roy is known as “the man who saved Disney.”

Roy Disney (click for larger version)

Roy was prepared for that destiny almost from childhood. His uncle Walt obviously instilled in him an abiding fondness for storytelling through animation. His father, Roy O. Disney, ran the business end of the Walt Disney Company in those early years; fierce and long-lasting disputes between Roy O. and Walt about money revealed to Roy, Jr., that there was much more to the Wonderful World of Disney than just cartoons. He worked for the company during the 1950s and ’60s producing True Life Adventures, an Oscar-winning series of wildlife documentaries that eventually became a staple of Walt Disney’s Sunday night TV program.

After years of producing shorts about injured owls, lonesome cougars, and mischievous raccoons, Roy joined the board of directors when Walt died in 1967. The lackluster production of the 1970s-model Disney company left him with not much to do, so Roy departed, established the Shamrock Holdings investment company, and made several hundred million dollars in real estate deals and corporate raids over the next two decades. Still technically a member of the board, but suddenly no longer dependent on Disney stock holdings for his livelihood, by the early 1980s Roy was a formidable force—aka a billionaire with an opinion. It was his opinion in 1984 that a big change was in order for the Walt Disney Company.

Through some bold corporate maneuvers and a very showy “departure” that rattled shareholders, Roy pushed aside management and installed Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg at the top. This period, known as “the reanimation of Disney,” brought a tide of animated hits, box office bonanzas, retail stores, toys, clothing lines, cable shows, and something called Pixar. Two decades later, when company profits were declining again, Roy noticed that Eisner was cutting corners with new theme park construction, shutting him out of new creative development meetings, and alienating the management at Pixar. Shoving everyone out was more difficult during Roy’s second “Save Disney” campaign, but long story short: Eisner no longer has a Golden Pass, and Pixar/Apple Computer head Steve Jobs is Disney’s largest shareholder. At Roy Disney’s passing, Shamrock Holdings was a $2 billion enterprise. (79, stomach cancer) —David Pelfrey

Oscar G. Mayer, Jr.
The biggest name in wieners died this year, but he wasn’t the first Oscar Mayer to make it big in hot dogs. Oscar F. Mayer started the meatpacking empire that bears the name. He died in 1955 and the company was taken over by Oscar G. Mayer—who passed away in 1965. It was left to Oscar G. Mayer, Jr., to see his name become a memorable commercial jingle. There was a time in the early 1970s when everyone’s baloney had a first name and a last name spelled out by cute kids on national TV. Mayer’s death marked the end of a long retirement, as he left the company after celebrating its first billion-dollar year in 1977. Sadly, no one thought to build an Oscar Mayer Wienerhearse. (95, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Jack Kemp
A self-described “bleeding-heart conservative,” former New York Republican congressman and vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp was a staunch believer in tax cuts and supply-side economic policy who often embraced elements of social liberalism. He was a bit of a pariah in conservative circles for his support of affirmative action and welfare. Kemp’s sensitivity to urban problems prompted the first President Bush to appoint him as chief of Housing and Urban Development.


Jack Kemp (click for larger version)

A former pro quarterback who led the Buffalo Bills to a pair of AFL championships in the 1960s, his camaraderie with black athletes during his playing days was one reason he strongly encouraged the GOP to actively seek support from minorities. As president of the AFL Players Association, he convinced the league to move its 1965 all-star game to Houston after black players threatened to boycott the game in New Orleans following ugly incidents of discrimination. He later claimed that sports steeled him for the harshness of political life. “Pro football gave me a good sense of perspective to enter politics: I’d already been booed, cheered, cut, sold, traded, and hung in effigy.” Among his favorite memories is going to Red Square in Moscow, where he was amused that the line at a McDonald’s restaurant was longer than the one to see Lenin’s tomb. (73, cancer) —Ed Reynolds


Slideshow Appeal

Slideshow Appeal

PowerPoint made fun.

August 05, 2010
Everybody has something they’re dying to share with the world. Anyone with computer access can announce anything online: what they had for breakfast, what their dogs are thinking, what book they read before bed last night, etc. If any in this online community of philosophers, voyeurs, and carnival barkers awakens in the middle of the night and wants to share a recent dream, they can do that, too. And they will, let there be no doubt. Everyday opinions, stories, and even nightmares can be appealing, but many are no more interesting than listening to water boil. Regardless, on August 19 at Matthews Bar & Grill, Ignite Birmingham ( will allow individuals five minutes to create enough bubbles to mesmerize an audience with a rapid-fire barrage of information on any topic imaginable. Officially billed as “Ignite Birmingham 2,” the event organizers promise it will be both enlightening and entertaining. Presenters will each show 20 slides, displayed for 15 seconds each, narrating for the audience.

“[Ignite Birmingham 2] is to give people in the city a venue to talk about their passions, ideas, and things that make them excited about Birmingham, in general, or technology,” says Henry McBride, the event’s organizer. Speakers representing a broader range of topics than those included at the first Ignite Birmingham showcase, held this past April, have requested to speak at the upcoming affair. “My favorite was one we had on cancer research at UAB,” McBride says of the first talkfest, adding, “most of them were pretty good.” Anyone who has an idea that they’re passionate about is allowed to propose presentations. “My goal is not to have only one subset of people. I don’t want all tech people or all media people,” says McBride. The speakers are selected both a committee and a public poll prior to the event. (The deadline for requests to speak at the August forum has passed.)

Wade Kwon, a local writer and currently a popular blogger whose résumé includes a decade at the Birmingham Post-Herald and a couple of years at Southern Living magazine, as well as being founder of the present Birmingham Blogging Academy, spoke at the first Ignite Birmingham event. Kwon says of Ignite Birmingham: “[It's] a great breeding ground for ideas for the community, and for the world, at large. Last time we had an age researcher, someone talking on economics, someone on government, someone talking on the Slow Food movement, someone talked about Ben Franklin, and other topics . . . The goal is to get the best, most diverse mix list of speakers possible. Each slot is only five minutes long, so you can get 15 speakers in and still have it be a reasonably short evening.”

Ignite Birmingham started in January 2010, though the “Ignite” idea has been around for several years with events around the country. According to the Ignite Birmingham “mission” statement, the notion of “Ignite” was inspired by Pecha Kucha, a Japanese concept “where speakers are given 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds, giving each speaker 6 minutes and 40 seconds of fame.” The first Ignite took place in Seattle in 2006, “and since then the event has become an international phenomenon, with gatherings in Helsinki, Finland; Paris, France; New York, New York; and many other locations.” Wikipedia says that Pecha Kucha is “the onomatopoeic Japanese word for the sound of conversation. The equivalent English term is ‘chit-chat’.” The best element of Ignite Birmingham, as based upon the philosophy of the founders of the “Ignite” notion, is simple: “Enlighten us, but make it quick!” &

Ignite Birmingham 2, Thursday, August 19, 6 p.m. Matthews Bar & Grill, 2208 Morris Avenue. Details: