12 Apr 2016

How Disney’s Alan Horn Manages the Movies

A Variety cover story explores the leadership style of one of Hollywood’s most successful executives


Photo by Robert Maxwell for Variety

The most recent issue of Variety features a cover story on Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn (MBA 1971). The piece paints Horn as a rare character in Hollywood, being “both successful and beloved,” and tracks his departure from Warner Bros. and subsequent appointment to Disney.

His impact at Disney, the article notes, has been palpable.

Those who have been in the trenches with Horn say the studio chairman’s imprint can be found on most, if not all, Disney films — including those under the Pixar, Marvel or Lucasfilm labels, renowned for their proud and sometimes insular cultures.

“I think what is unique [about him] as an executive is that he is a storyteller and considers himself a filmmaker,” says Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy. “You don’t find that very often. That’s what creative people are always looking for — recognizing that someone is a partner and not an adversary. And I think that’s genuinely who Alan is.”

The piece also offers insight into Horn’s day-to-day management style, with fellow employees recalling the usefulness of his notes on casting (Robert Redford as a villain in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), dialogue (thoughtful edits to “Zootopia”), and franchises (foregoing the combining of the Harry Potter books to limit the number of films). And while Horn had the good fortune of running already-successful companies under the Disney umbrella, colleagues note that his management has been a key factor to sustaining that success.

It would be easy to say that the semi-autonomous businesses, with Pixar and Lucasfilm based in Northern California, run themselves. But director Rob Reiner, Horn’s old friend and former partner at Castle Rock Entertainment, suggests that even the best talent needs guidance. “It’s like when Phil Jackson had great success with [the NBA’s] Bulls and Lakers,” Reiner says. “He had Michael Jordan, he had Shaq, he had Kobe. But you can still not do as well if you don’t know how to manage them.”


Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1971, Section G

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