In September 1984, Frank Wells joined The Walt Disney Company as its president and chief operating officer. During his 10-year tenure, Disney enjoyed unprecedented growth and revitalization, with annual revenues rising from $1.5 billion to $8.5 billion. Disney stock prices increased a whopping 1,500 percent, while its theme park and resort revenues tripled. Disney Consumer Products revenues rose 13-fold, while Disney filmed entertainment revenues jumped 15-fold. Frank helped make Disney one of the most successful film studios in the world.
In 1994, former company chairman Michael Eisner said:
“Fortunately for all of us at Disney, Frank was a buccaneer in the office. He was smart, prudent, a dealmaker, and a great closer. He was always supportive of a great idea, whether it was swans on the outside of a building or ‘ducks’ for the name of a hockey team.”
Appropriately, Frank was born on a date that is stated like a command: March 4th (March forth!), 1932. A native of Coronado, California, and son of a naval officer, he earned his bachelor of arts at Pomona College and attended Oxford University from 1953 until 1955 as a Rhodes scholar in jurisprudence. He completed his education with an LLB degree from Stanford University. Frank also spent two years in the United States Army, attaining the rank of first lieutenant.
He began his career as a partner in the Hollywood law firm Gang, Tyre and Brown, which specialized in entertainment industry law. Then, in 1969, he joined Warner Bros. as its vice president, West Coast, and was named president in 1973. Just prior to joining Disney, Frank was vice chairman of Warner Brothers, Inc., the motion picture subsidiary of Warner Communications, Inc.
Excellent with detail-oriented business and finance, Frank also readily delved into both creative and administrative endeavors. At Disney, he focused on all aspects of the company, including theme parks, real estate, finance, administration, and corporate sponsorships. As a key supporter of Disneyland Paris, Frank expanded the Company’s international presence and also promoted development of The Disney Store. He was known throughout the company as a friendly, kind soul who was always approachable and open to ideas.
A born adventurer, Frank set out in 1983 to climb the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents within a single year—a feat never before accomplished at that time. He scaled six, but weather forced him to turn back near the top of Mount Everest. His mountaineering exploits were chronicled in his book, Seven Summits, published in 1986. He and his beloved hobby are also paid tribute in Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction, where mountain climbing equipment bearing the name “Wells Expedition” can be seen.
On April 3, 1994, Frank Wells died in a helicopter accident in Nevada; a building at The Walt Disney Studios was later dedicated in his memory. The Frank G. Wells building opened in 1998, with a ceremonial ribbon cutting by his wife, Luanne, and his friend and business partner Michael Eisner. Beside the building’s entrance, a plaque contains a quote that Frank carried on a slip of paper inside his pocket for 30 years: “Humility is the final achievement.”