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Jeffrey Katzenberg Says Honoring Employees is Good Business Strategy

As a counterbalance to Digital Domain and its dunderheaded business strategy of making one-third of its staff pay them to work on its films, the video above features DreamWorks Animation chief Jeffrey Katzenberg speaking about he importance of honoring his studio’s employees. Katzenberg says in the interview:

The thing that I have learned, and I only wish that I knew it twenty-five or thirty years ago, which is to honor and celebrate, recognize and reward your employees and their work–is a fantastic business strategy. If they love their work, they love coming to work, they will strive to do great work and you’ll succeed.

(via @supersternio)

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  • Well, duh!

  • wever

    And he lived happily ever after!

    …until his life becomes a sequel to the “happily ever after”!

  • hellohue

    “We create laughter” is a VERY different statement to “We create stories”; he mentions stories secondly, AFTER laughter. I always find Katzenberg fascinating to watch and listen to, especially his choice of words and what he seems to think of audiences. Personally, I think he has been out of touch with audiences for too long, claiming they crave ‘premium experiences’ such as 3D when the evidence to the contrary is damning.

    The thing this interview interestingly brings about is a very ‘us’ and ‘them’ gap that seems to exist between the executive management and the artists at Dreamworks, the way the company hierarchy is publicised in the media is different, for example, to Pixar’s, who rarely have executives be the spokesperson for the media, the most senior visible presence at Pixar usually being Ed Catmull. Interesting, also, to note that a lot of the points made by Katzenberg are present in Catmull’s speech here http://youtu.be/k2h2lvhzMDc, from a few years ago.

    Finally, it equally pays to be mindful of how the ‘praising’ situation can also go the other way, as shown to some effect in the documentary Dream on Silly Dreamer, when animators start behaving like movie stars and start getting as greedy as money-guzzling execs. An extreme example, though of course. The search for the balance continues.

  • Skip

    It’s one way for him to earn cool points within the animation community.

  • lol, Richard keeps asking for the formula and keeps asking the same thing over and over.

  • Isn’t DWA consistently noted as one of the “best”/”favorite” places to work among area artists? That might be why.

    • Dude, have you been there?

      • A Painter

        have you?

      • You didn’t answer my question. And yes I have…many many many times.

  • PixarFanBoy

    Ugh. This is so typical of Katzenberg and why nobody wants to work at DreamWorks! Jeffrey should come and work at Pixar if he wants to find out about honoring the employees. Wasn’t it last year that Jeffrey fired a woman director from her passion project? Wow! There’s a reason that Pixar is number 14 on Fortune magazines 100 best companies to work for and DreamWorks is nowhere!

    • David Nethery

      Pixar Fan Boy , you are badly misinformed.

      • Jorge Garrido

        David, you missed his joke. He’s playing a character.

    • Jody Morgan

      Obvious satire is obvious.

    • Film

      Fanboy. You don’t know what your talking about. Dreamworks is #14 on fortunes best companies to work for.


      Also it is Pixar that fired a woman from Directing “Brave”. Having worked many different places I can tell you that Dreamworks treats their employees better than ANY other studio.

      I hear DD is looking for suckers. You should apply.

    • The number of people who completely miss the joke astound me.

  • PixarFanBoy

    Regarding my last post, I may have got some of my facts mixed up. But Pixar RUUUUUUUULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • People keep saying they’d all want to work at Pixar, but I wouldn’t mind working on Dreamworks. They got a lot of cool projects going on.
    Plus, I heard they pay more.

    • Jon H

      But-but-but free cereal!

      • At DWA all the meals are free! Not bad!

  • Loic

    Because it’s the only way for great artists to keep working on shitty projects.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Kah-mawn, cynics. The man must be doing something right no matter how one feels about the films creatively. They make money, that’s his job, and he’s certainly proven he knows something about animation business and process.
    Animators and fans have to get over this knee-jerk hate for suits, especially when they have a respectable track record.
    Was just thinking about this a couple nights ago as I watched The Sweatbox. To me, the executives in that did not come off all that bad and the artists were capabale of making stupid decisions. All I am saying is in a collaborative effort such as animation there is enough blame or praise to be shared between execs and creatives.
    There is more to Katzenberg than animation the urban legends, based largely on when he was new to the business, have labelled him.

  • I say there are way too many skeptics and cynical comments here. I do believe Jeffery is sincere here and you can see it reflected in his studio (the one here in the states anyway).

    That being said, if Jeffery values his employees, then why go to China and try to set up shop there? Why keep sending work to India? Answer, cheaper labor.

    Pixar is no better setting up shop in Canada to cash in on government subsidies. This is my only complaint. Pixar by the way, pays poorly and is NON-union. DW is union. How Pixar manages to dodge the union and pay less in an area where the cost of living is more is beyond me.

  • dbenson

    This sounds too much like any number of Dilbert strips, where the pointy-haired boss passes out dubious awards, delivers backhanded compliments and otherwise strives to motivate employees without financial rewards or enhanced freedom/authority.

    Like any other corporate employees, I’m sure DWA people have great stories about suddenly chummy managers and executives in motivation mode — especially if a recent memo came down with a quote like the one above.

    • Money doesn’t argue, and the fact that I’m (almost) certain that dreamworks pays their interns, as opposed to digital domain speaks volumes

  • Disney Animation Fan

    So just like when Michael Eisner gave you that promotion at Disney….Oh wait, he didn’t and you abandoned Disney.

    Sucks. Wish Michael would’ve gave you that promotion and kept you at Disney.

    • Mac

      He deserved it, but I bet he doesn’t regret it and niether do I. Eisner and Katzenberg come in at the same time, Jeffery leaves and Disney films goes into the toilet, immediately. Animation is better off without the form at its highest levels caught up in the “Disney legacy”. It has low marketing value for new content, and negative artistic value.

      No wonder Disney bought Marvel, another company that can’t foster new brands or characters. It’s just like their animation studio. It’s like a corporate record label that just repackages old content from a more creative time in its constituent elements’ history.

      Meanwhile Jeffery can make Kung Fu Panda 5, followed by something we’ve never seen before(KFP was that once), followed by something those Chinese came up with if it suits the western market. Seems like a slightly richer world of corporate product, for him being in it. He may never make The Godfather of animation, but niether was Disney. That’s a different discussion. Jeffery is great at what he does.

  • EvenMoreofanAliasThanUsual

    I’ve heard stories of this billionaire calling people on the phone to make sure they’re okay. Jeffery isn’t an artist, he’s a businessman. Being a stand up guy, being a good guy to his artists as he directs their energy towards making marketable product, is a clearly a good way to make a lot money if you’re also smart and dynamic. You can fault Dreamworks for plenty of things but it runs on fundamentally positive principles. JK is always learning how to be a better producer, consistently bringing in outside auteurs to refresh his studio of “golden” creative employees.

  • Dack

    It has long been said that there is no free lunch. There is at DreamWorks.

    • nothing is ever free

      That’s so employees never leave the studio/campus. happy well-fed slaves.

      • Whatever, free lunch is free lunch!

      • Jorge Garrido

        You’re calling Dreamworks employees slaves in a post that compares Dreamworks favourably to an animation studio that ACTUALLY wants to pay its employees nothing?

  • A Painter

    god damn looking at these comments there are a lot of rejected animation students in here lol

  • Toonio

    If you are not allowed to fail: Monsters vs Aliens.

    I don’t know you can suceed: How to train your dragon.

  • Bud

    Good on Jeffery. Looks like the animation community has won him over. This is a good thing.

  • Rajesh

    “We’re in an industry where if we’re not allowed to fail, you can’t really succeed”. That statement alone says he understands and respects the artistic process and artists more than anything else coming out of his mouth. Respeck.

  • Oliver

    JK certainly ‘honored’ all the animators of ‘The Lion King’ when he told them the movie would be lucky to make $50m, eh?

  • Jody Morgan

    He wishes he knew that 25 or 30 years ago? One would hope that knowing enough to recognize and reward your best employees would be a prerequisite to becoming a manager. Better late than never, though, and this may be why Dreamworks’ more recent movies have generally been better than their earlier ones.

  • Jim

    Say what you will about some of our stories, but DW is a terrific place to work. What Jeffrey says above is practiced on a daily basis there.

  • Floyd Norman

    I like the place and I’ve never even worked there. The free lunch is great, however.


  • Lamar

    We had a lady from Dreamworks talk to us at College a few months back, she seemed as though she absolutely loved being a part of DW.

  • Bob

    Jeffery is about as much of a mensch that you are going to find running a major studio. I appreciate the fact that he actually works the phones to give positive reinforcement. It seems so simple, but it’s actually quite rare in my 25 years in this business.

  • What Honor?

    Did Katzenburg say anything about how he’s Honoring his employees by creating OUTSOURCE studios in INDIA and now CHINA?

  • Frank Ziegler

    Treat employees good and they do better work. Who knew?! It only took him a quarter of a century to figure it out. Better late than never I suppose.

  • Mike D.

    I worked at Dreamworks for 6 years and found Jeffrey very nice to work with. I wish I still worked there. He made a very nice environment for us.