Business Lessons From Marvel Studios

Business Lessons From Marvel Studios

Business Lessons From Marvel Studios

By Mark Wager

Today Marvel studios is one of the most if not the most successful movie studio in the world. With superhero franchises such as the Avengers, Iron-Man, Captain America, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel makes billions of dollars a year with their movies, in fact a trip to the cinema wouldn't be the same without seeing a poster or a trailer for the next Marvel superhero movie but this success story wasn't always a success. In 1999 Marvel was facing bankruptcy with barely enough money to pay their employees, yet a mere ten years later they were purchased by Disney for $4.3 billion. This journey from failure to success offers many lessons that can help any business no matter what industry they are in.

Business lesson: If no one else will do it, do it yourself

During the dark financial times at Marvel in order to survive they sold the rights to their most popular characters at the time, Spider-man, X-men and the Fantastic Four and then well established movie studios such as Universal and Fox then released moves based on these properties making millions in profits with only a small proportion going to Marvel. In 2005 everything changed, Marvel raised $525million to fund their own movie studio. The CEO at the time Peter Cuneo said "We had the talent, and we’d been apprenticing under the big studios long enough to have the knowhow. We felt we could produce quality motion pictures and keep all the profits, rather than receive a small revenue participation from a typical studio license deal."

In business you need to ask yourself consistently if you are making more money for your business partners than you are making for yourself, if so do what Marvel did and learn from those business partners so that eventually you can go on your own. Kevin Feige , the current President of Marvel Studios was a producer on fourteen movies before Marvel released their own movie Iron Man in 2008.

Business lesson: Get your recruitment right

Robert Downey Jnr who plays Tony Stark/ Iron man is one of the world's biggest movie stars but back in 2008 things were very different. After battling addiction to cocaine and time in jail no one doubted Robert Downey Jnr's acting ability yet his history put off many film studios from hiring him. Yet Marvel studios had faith in him to be the lead in their first self-made movie, a move that became a massive success for both parties. Iron man made over $585 million dollars for Marvel and Robert Downey Jnr became a movie superstar and the backbone of their movie franchise, starring in two Iron Man sequels, the Avengers movies and having smaller roles in the Hulk and Captain America and well as being signed on to star in two more Avengers movies.

One of the common mistakes I see in businesses I work with is that they underestimate the importance of recruitment. Too often Managers focusing on hiring someone who can do the job instead of doing what successful companies do which is focusing on hiring someone who can make a difference to the organisation. If you can't find this person then don't recruit, Marvel have delayed movies because they couldn't get the right director or star. Whatever your business, it's the people that make it successful. Get the right people and you will get the right results.

Business lesson: Have long-term strategy with short-term freedom

At the end of Iron Man there was a post credits scene in which Samuel L Jackson playing Nick Fury talks about the Avengers initiative, setting the scene for all Marvel movies to be part of the same shared movie universe leading up to the first Avengers movie, in which all the main characters of each movie would come together in the same movie, the record breaking $1.5 billion grossing movie The Avengers. Nothing on this scale of story telling had ever been attempted before, Marvel studios releases their movies in what they call "phases" each phase consists of a series of movies which are able to stand on their own merits but fit within a larger narrative cumulating in an Avengers movie. This approach increases the value of all the movies involved.

If you don't have a long term strategy in business then your business won't exist long term. As a business gets larger they start to consist of smaller teams each with their own set of targets and goals but despite how unique and important each team is you can never forget that they exist in order to be part of a wider story, your strategy. This strategy shouldn't restrain the actions of the team but instead make the actions of those teams far more significant when people step back and see the long-term strategy.

Business lesson: Chose what you believe in rather than what's safe

In 2014 after a series of successful movies Marvel released a movie that was very different to the ones that preceded it. Guardians of the Galaxy was a little known comic book about a group of characters in outer space, including a talking raccoon and a walking tree. It was written and directed by James Gunn a filmmaker without a major commercial success. At first glance this seemed a recipe for disaster and many people felt it was a bad idea but Marvel strongly believed in the idea and in the Director. The result was a box office success with the movie grossing over $700 million, more than Iron Man and currently a sequel is in production to be released next year. This philosophy of taking chances with products & people they believe in has continued to reap rewards.

If you want your business to be more successful than your competitors then you need to be prepared to do something that they are not doing. If you just copy others then you will always be following and never leading. We get very few chances to succeed in business so if you get an opportunity go with what you believe in because that way no matter what happens whether you fail or succeed at least people will see the real you and that you worked for Marvel.

Millions of people go to the cinema to watch the Marvel superhero movies but very few people realise that the most interesting and remarkable story isn't the one on the screen but is in the boardroom. A company that in ten years went from bankruptcy to becoming a $4.3 billion company, a story that seems unbelievable but it happened and the lessons from this tale can help each and every one of us who is trying to succeed in our own business story.

Image courtesy of Graphics Mouse at

Posted: Monday 12 December 2016

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