CFO Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth

CFO Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth
Jay Rasulo, CFO of Disney

Running the financial operations for the Happiest Place on Earth isn’t a walk in the (amusement) park. Chief Financial Operator Jay Rasulo masterminds Disney’s international finance organization and corporate strategy. Recognized as an anomaly among CFOs, Rasulo implements unorthodox and controversial strategies. While Rasulo’s financial strategies work for Disney, it is unclear whether or not his approaches would be welcome at other companies. Regardless, Rasulo’s money management at Disney is a magical example that all CFOs should pay attention to.

CFOs and the Company Mission

The most interesting aspect of Jay Rasulo’s position at Disney is that he is his own worst villain. As the CFO, Rasulo is consistently looking for strategies to benefit the bottom line, yet as he also spearheads the company’s sustainability efforts, he has to increase spending on clean technology. Rasulo must give and take from both positions to accomplish a satisfied equilibrium.

When Disney launched Disney Dream in 2011, the 4,000-passenger cruise ship accounted for approximately 3 percent of Disney’s Parks and Resorts revenue. Because of Disney’s efforts for sustainability, money was invested to ensure that Disney Dream reached zero net greenhouse gas emissions. In that sense, Dream set Disney back as it increased direct emissions and improved sustainability. The catch was that Disney’s “numbers guy” was also the “green guy.”

As CFO, Rasulo’s goal was to cut costs and increase efficiency, yet focusing on increasing sustainability incurs additional costs! So how did Jay Rasulo find the professional balance between the conflicting demands of his two positions? Simple: He combined the two positions by becoming the center of the corporate sustainability movement at Disney.

Instead of simply focusing on numbers, Rasulo became more involved as a sustainability advocate. Since he oversaw both efforts, Rasulo was able to see where green goals aligned with cost-cutting initiates. For instance, rerouting shipping routes results in less fuel burned, saving money while reducing greenhouse emissions.

With over 3,000 global companies publishing sustainability reports, it’s important for CFOs to be involved in the discussion. While not all CFOs will be as involved as Jay Rasulo, he provides the perfect example of how CFOs can drive the discussion and focus on the best of both goals. By involving the CFO in sustainability efforts, companies are making the CFO more visible to the rest of the company. When this happens, CFOs are better-equipped and positioned to make tough decisions.