BSR Conference 2012: Fast Forward / October 23-26 / New York

In Conversation with Jay Rasulo, Senior Executive VP and CFO, The Walt Disney Company

Leadership in Action Session / October 24, 2012

Speakers

  • Jay Rasulo, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, The Walt Disney Company
  • Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR (Moderator)

Highlights

  • Acting responsibly is key to the Disney brand. Consumer expectations and perceptions of the company are linked to profitability, and any CSR shortcomings can hurt that profitability.
  • As a CFO in charge of sustainability, Jay Rasulo must integrate the desire to do the right thing while also making financially sound decisions. A CFO is in the position of making trade-offs and has to decide how to implement projects and when to negotiate.
  • Disney faces a number of sustainability challenges; three discussed in this conversation were obesity, the environment, and the supply chain.

Memorable Quotes

“Citizenship is core to the Disney brand, and brand drives the profit of our company.” —Jay Rasulo, Walt Disney Company

“We know and believe that children can be easily inspired by Disney stories and characters … We see this as the most fertile ground for change for tomorrow.” —Jay Rasulo, Walt Disney Company

“Approach citizenship like any other business problem or opportunity. Don’t just bring the moral high ground or some philosophy, but bring what you would bring in terms of the approach you would take with any other business situation or problem.” —Jay Rasulo, Walt Disney Company

Overview

Cramer opened the session by welcoming Rasulo and mentioning the high level of interest generated by hearing a CFO speak about sustainability and corporate citizenship.

Rasulo began by saying that as a CFO responsible for corporate citizenship his job requires two personalities: one that is like Woody, the straight-arrow cowboy from the Toy Story films who is committed to doing the right thing; and the other like the classic Disney character Scrooge McDuck, who strives to make every dollar count. As much as these two roles may seem contradictory, Rasulo assured the audience that they are not—and that he is able to create more value by integrating the two perspectives.

Acting responsibly is key to the Disney brand, Rasulo said, which is not always easy, as the business is faced by citizenship dilemmas. He spoke about three of these challenges. The first issue he addressed was the national epidemic of obesity. Disney decided to leverage children’s attraction to Disney products to make healthy food fun by launching a landmark nutrition project. Rasulo said that Disney had to rebalance and end some relationships with fast food and soft drink companies that use the Disney brand in their marketing in order to offer 85 percent more nutritious options. In addition healthier options are now available at Disney theme parks.

The second challenge Rasulo spoke about was Disney’s commitment to environmental goals. He indicated the balancing act necessary in expanding Disney’s business while minimizing its impacts, for example: At the same time Disney announced its goals for zero net greenhouse gas emissions, the company was expanding its cruise ship business. In 2008 the company instituted an internal carbon tax to incentivize innovation; under this plan each business unit pays for its carbon use.

The third dilemma Rasulo addressed in the conversation was Disney’s supply chain. Despite its broad product lines, Disney does not make a single product, but instead has 6,000 vendors and licensees with 25,000 factories in 100 countries around the world. Despite having limited control over these vendors’ operations, Disney carries 100 percent of the risk. Rasulo noted that one area Disney does control is their business practices, and Disney has set a goal of 100 percent visibility into its supply chain by 2018. Rasulo recognized that no single company can tackle this alone, but he closed by saying, “It seems implausible for a company to make the world a happier place, but I am committed to making families happy—as well as Wall Street.”

Cramer began the question-and-answer period by asking Rasulo if the investment community cares about and asks questions about sustainability. Rasulo responded by saying that he gets very few direct questions about sustainability—but that the relationship between Disney and its consumers is understood to be important and directly linked to profitability, and any damage to the Disney brand from CSR shortcomings could harm profitability. Cramer followed up by asking if it is Disney’s role to make the case for better nutrition. Rasulo answered that the Disney characters have the ability to change behavior, but that the company does not focus on selling that message.

Cramer then shifted the discussion to integrated financial and sustainability reporting. Rasulo commented that he is a little cautious about integrated reporting: He said that financial reporting conforms to set standards with clear measurements, something lacking in sustainability today. When Cramer asked Rasulo to give advice on how to approach CFOs about sustainability, Rasulo responded by saying that there is almost nothing a CFO can do with a giant problem that has no context or options. The best option is to present the facts along with potential solutions as you would for any other business issue.

Rasulo responded to a question about whether Disney consciously puts sustainability into its content by saying that Disney tries to be a positive force, with celebrity support and building positive messages into its story lines.

During the audience question period, one participant asked about updating Tomorrowland to incorporate peace as a sustainability issue. Rasulo responded by saying that this is a timely question, given that Shanghai Disneyland is under development. While Rasulo was not at liberty to say what that park will look like, he said that the future holds new ideas that are not just about technology, but that will share an optimistic vision of the future.

Participants asked two related questions: whether the title of chief performance officer would be more appropriate and for further detail about the internal carbon tax. Rasulo commented that these issues are central to his role; a CFO is in the position of making trade-offs and has to decide how to implement projects and when to negotiate. The carbon tax was implemented from the top down with the goal to spur innovation and change.

Cramer closed by saying that Rasulo provided good insight into a CFO’s role in sustainability and noting that, while there are financial benefits to sustainability, they are not always straightforward.



Thank You, Sponsors

Executive Sponsors

Cisco Hitachi PwC Target UL Responsible Sourcing

Associate Sponsors

Anheuser-Busch InBev

Supporting Sponsors

Adobe AT&T ExxonMobil Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc.

Participating Sponsors

American Express Baker & McKenzie LLP Best Buy BNY Mellon Ford Hyatt Hotels Corporation The Walt Disney Company UPS Vale

Contributing Sponsors

Chevron icix Levi Strauss & Co.

Convening Media

Bloomberg Business Week Weber Shandwick

Marketing and Media

3BL Media BEF Caixin Media Corporate Knights Globescan GreenBiz Group Inc. Hemlock Responsible-Investor Sina Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) Tomorrow Partners