Bob Iger

Bob Iger: Leadership, Disney And Acquisitions

An interview with media mogul and CEO of Disney, Bob Iger. In this interview, Bob discusses how he leads at Disney and why he chose to make certain acquisitions. Bob also talks about the power of branding and how he became CEO of Disney.

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Bob Iger: Leadership, Disney And Acquisitions

Video Segments:

0:00 Introduction

0:21 Getting started in media?

6:22 Takeaways from your journey?

8:13 How did you balance preserving the history of Disney with making it your own?

10:35 Where do you think the brand is now?

12:47 What did you learn from Steve Jobs?

15:59 How did you think about acquisitions?

18:54 Black Panther?

22:20 What’s next for Bob Iger?

Transcript

Well I’ll talk I’ll talk about the beginning but one thing that it’s interesting to me because I often are asked to reflect on what is now a career that’s 45 years long 44 years at ABC and Disney and to many people it seems like a straight line started here and you want to hear it isn’t that way at all. Yes it was straight in the sense that I stayed pretty much at one company but there were many many twists and turns and most of them somewhat unpredictable in nature so I’m where I am today. Not really because of a plan but because of a lot of things. Changes in the business change in the company that I worked for my own personal growth my commitment to working hard my passion for the business which are fueled in many respects my success. But I started out. I went to college specifically to learn about television. I was interested in high school. I wanted to be a news anchorman and I wanted to prepare myself in college to him to do that which meant majoring in. Then it was called television and radio I was as ready as a fan so old and I did well in school. I got introduced to some people that turned out to be very valuable to me longer term but I didn’t know it then.

So Rod Serling who created a program called Twilight Zone right who is from upstate New York was an adjunct professor of television writing and directing. I would learn television writing and directing from him back then and the lessons that he taught me. Little did I know of serving me well today particularly when it comes to working with movie directors and creators of television shows and giving them feedback and knowing what to look for. But I started out wanting to be a newscaster. I became a weatherman which was the first job I could grab at a college. I quickly discovered that I was not that good. I don’t know whether it was a complete lack of predicting the weather or kind of looking to tell others. Well the good news about them being a weather man in upstate New York isn’t no such thing as predicting right. Yes. So I certainly usually bad that I taught you taught me how to give people bad news. I just wasn’t. My presentation was lacking. I looked at this guy on TV and it didn’t seem like he was going to end up with a career that I would be able to do that I feel proud or fulfilled with. And so I quickly made a change and I got a job in production at ABC in 1974 and working on soap operas and game shows and a Frank Sinatra concert in Madison Square Garden and I had a boss who told me that I was an promotable at one point. Not very I was not very fun. What did you mean by that. Because that’s a legendary a legendary story that is possible. You were an promotable yes.

You told me I wasn’t promotable and I had two weeks to find the job of the company or I was going to fire me. And I found another job with a company that ABC Sports which saved me. And I worked my way up at ABC Sports and 13 jobs in 13 years which was great. Basically just kept getting promoted during a very heady time at ABC with coverage of multiple Olympic Games and learned a tremendous amount about the business of sports television then and we have been bought by a company called Capital Cities ABC and the gentleman who ran that company saw me a lot of potential and they ultimately took me out of sports and sent me to California and ABC Primetime efforts so dramas and comedies and the like. Even though I had never read a script in my life and I did fairly well there. Actually I got very lucky with some very high quality programs are ahead of their time like Twin Peaks and some lowbrow but popular shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos on television. So I’m to blame. Was that a tough decision. It was very tough. I just hope that it doesn’t end up in my obituary. You know I’d much rather something a little bit higher brow Bob Iger who put America’s funniest on yes passed away today at 120. Exactly. George Lucas will get Star Wars America’s funniest. So anyway I did that for four years and they promoted me to president of ABC. I came back to New York when I became president of the company as president and CEO.

And then we were bought by Disney in 1995 and that then brought me into Disney as head of Disney TV and head of International and named CEO and president of Disney in 2000 and CEO in 2005. So it’s kind of that that’s the that’s it. It’s a robot. All these jobs are what you are going along and you were doing these different things you know all of that prepares you for the big job what is some of the big takeaways you’re going down the road you’re having these different jobs some good experiences some bad experiences you know what. What do you as you look back now. What were the seminal things that have really helped you. Well you nailed something every single job I had along the way prepared me for the job I have today. Even though I didn’t really know that and nor did I ever hated. Yes. Yeah. Little bit yes sir. Some of the tasks I didn’t like but I never knew that I would have this job I was not one that created a long term plan for myself. There were people who believed that I would get somewhere but I never quite saw that far into the into the future. I’d say a few things that I’ve learned and what’s served me well. First of all nothing beats good hard hard work. I know that sounds really trite but I came to my adult life where my career with a modest intellect but a tremendous work ethic and that served me extremely well. With that came a real desire to do well. But I knew in order to do that I had to be well prepared. So I’m a I’m a student. I learned a lot.

To this day I try not to go into anything cold. I try to learn it also by the way one of the most helpful things in terms of making decisions is accumulating knowledge is making a decision not a shooting by shooting from the hip not by winging it but by learning enough about something to either form a knowledgeable opinion or to make a decision based on shart knowledge accumulated and I think along the way more than anything else that has probably contributed to where I am today. Took the reins from Michael Eisner to become the CEO in 2005 as he said there’s so much history at Disney and the world obviously you know even in 2005 are stepping into a business changing very very quickly. You might say that even now you know that there’s still acceleration and the change and disruption that’s going on in the world for all of our businesses certainly true for years our lives our lives are everything we do. But as you as you took that job how did you think about kind of the history preserving the history but also the responsibility to make it your own. Disney having been founded in 1923 by Walt Disney still had an abnormal adherence to its legacy to its heritage to its past. It was it was a religion. And what was clear to me is that if that adherents were the reverence that people had within the company for that heritage continued it would get in the way of innovation. We would not be able to adapt quick enough.

We would not be able to look at change with an open mind and an ability to seize the opportunity as opposed to just looking at this threat. And so I started articulating in the succession process the need to balance heritage with innovation and what I ultimately concluded was that we need to respect our past because there are a lot of qualities about the past. The brand attributes what Disney stood for a number of other things attention to quality and that were had that had value and that should be basically carried forward into the future. But let’s not revere it because if we revere something then we might as well just put it in a glass case in a museum and let people look at it as a wow look at look at that and there’s a big difference. But there were a lot of folks in the company that were more on the reverential side than the respect side and I had a break. I had to really attack that in some cases it meant changing our personnel in some cases it made. It meant taking some big bold decisions that felt anti brand to some people that in my opinion weren’t at all. It was more about being pro present and future than it was about anything that would be against the past or know the brand. Talk a little bit about where you kind of think the brand is and how you deal with that on the Disney family because what does the represent. I’m proud of something you don’t also just touched upon and you take a brand that was created in 1923. And keep it relevant in a world that does not look at all like the world. Look forget the 20s and 30 years ago 10 years ago even.

And yet there’s just some brand studies that came out this week and we were were a top 5 brand in the world in almost every market that there is brand research which is an incredible thing where the only one that has been around this long and if you look at the world’s great brands over time you’ll quickly conclude there are not many that are older brands and I actually have. Ask why is it what was it about those brands that did not enable them to maintain relevance and how have we maintained relevance. And the answer to it is that we looked at what the core values were of the brand in Disney’s case. It’s things like It’s storytelling values but it’s inclusion and universal appeal. It’s the it’s good over evil. The value of good work is that you’re treating people well it’s optimism all those things. There was no need to really in any way move away from those core brand values. But we had to present them to the world and far more relevant ways and a lot of brands missed that. So what they tend to do is they stray from their core values and they forget it because they believe in order to be relevant. That’s what you need to do. It’s typically not about that. It’s about how you present those values to the world. So in our case the first thing that happened after I became head of the company that was significant was we bought Pixar why.

There were many reasons but they were presenting brand value storytelling values and far more modern more relevant ways using computer generated animation and a look and feel to movies it was far different than what Disney had been known for. We did not change the values at all of Disney or Pixar for that matter. When we brought them in we embraced them. What do you remember most about Steve Jobs. What do you what did you learn from Steve Jobs. What do you like about Steve Jobs what was difficult about Steve Jobs. I didn’t the difficult side. I did not encounter that much. I was fortunate that he and I had a rapport and struck up both a business and a friendship business relationship and a friendship that became very special. And I learned a lot from him in a very brief period of time. First of all there’s a Japanese word which he didn’t teach me and I discovered in a documentary about a sushi chef in Tokyo called Shokin which is the relentless pursuit of perfection. I’ve never worked with anyone or seen anyone up close that embodied that Steve Jobs. He believed that perfection mostly in the product that they created had incredible value and that was a core value to Apple as if for instance he had to talk about guts and the ability to take chances. Phenomenal. Yeah for Namma and the perseverance often required particularly in the face of tremendous pessimism. He was quite something. There he you know he also had an incredible designer’s eye and I’ve worked with people before who have taste but he could hone in on the most my new detail and understand that even the smallest detail. If well done contributes a tremendous amount of value to the whole the whole thing.

So at one point he brought me and he used to bring me into their design lab which was a big deal for an outsider to be brought in. First of all I asked him once how often you come down here figuring it’s a two or three times a week and every four or five times a day. But he were designing a new laptop a new mothers a MacBook and they had just redesigned the power cord and he said put your ear to this for me here to it. Put a flag pole plugged in and pulled it out plugged in and pulled it out he said. You hear that and I said I do. And he said you know how important that is and was that perfect sound when you put that magnet cord power cord in and click what he was saying was and it’s so obvious today that click is confirmation that it’s made a connection that it’s in right as a consumer you don’t even have to think about a pop. It goes. The other thing is if you knock it out it doesn’t break anything it’s just you know it’s just the magnet just you know that that is holding it in. It’s not like you’ve stripped away anything or broken anything that little detail even the shape of just where you put your fingers to open up the top. He was into it and it’s angle or have a light hit it.

But that whole combination of all those things so I mean those are among the things and we had a we had a good time we got a lot done in a brief period of time you’ve done I mean you did well and that was a big deal wooing you know in terms of these film companies going you know Steven Pixar but then you know Marvel Entertainment 2009 Lucas Lucas LUCASFILM in 2012. You know how did you think about it as you were thinking about expanding these platforms. You know you know first of all how did this all fit with Disney. It’s obviously fit well but also you know wooing guys like Steve Jobs. George Lucas to do these things these are not easy deals. I had three priorities when I got the job in terms of strategy first was let’s put most of our capital into high quality intellectual property. And I felt that because the world was being disrupted mostly on the distribution front and I thought no matter what and I did not have a great look into the future in terms of where it would go but I knew it was going to change and I figured that no matter what changes in terms of distribution nothing’s going to be the power of a high quality story it will live in. Interestingly enough even Walt Disney in the 50s said something like that and I believed in brands and branded storytelling because I thought that there was going to be a proliferation of storytelling and the more choice people had the more important brands would be. Because it’s a quick way of knowing what something is. If you if whatever you make with a brand on it embodies the brand attributes that was the first the second was use technology to reach people and new and more compelling ways. And third was grow globally.

So Pixar was designed to create the ability to buy more intellectual property and make more and also use the technology to distribute it or to make it look more relevant was what I talked about earlier. After we did that in 2006 we had my head of strategy who just got a new job in the company Kevin Mayer and I had an acquisition target list and on the list in 2000 maybe 7 was was Marvel and Lucas as it turns out that three years after Pixar I walked into a persons office in New York and they like Perlmutter who was the controlling shareholder of Marvel. I said I have an idea about us buying Marvel and I convinced them that it was not only the right thing to do for the company but the right thing for the shareholders of Marvel. And then three years later I took George Lucas to breakfast at Disney World. He was there to reopen a Star Wars based attraction called Star Tours. I made sure I was there to reopen it with him because I was on a mission which is to talk to him about possibly selling Lucasfilm and he did that. So they all were similar in nature branded content Star Wars Marvel Pixar and they all fit the strategy that I had in mind when I got the job. You know I’m a marvel. I’ve got to ask about Black Panther which has obviously become a national phenomenon global global phenomenon. Pretty amazing. Talk about Are you surprised by what’s happened. Talk a little bit about the thought process behind this and just kind of the timing now.

You know at this moment it’s just so interesting but is that it’s a matter of coincidence or how did this happen. So in the category of my job being a lot of fun about every quarter I sit down with the head of our studio Alan Horn and the head of Marvel Studios man Kevin foggy and we discussed projects that are being shot projects that are being developed and projects that we may want to develop it’s usually not just the projects or stories or characters we sit down and we look at we look at franchises and characters and we all do a fair amount of homework. I’m not familiar with all 7000 but I have a lot of familiarity and we talk about what we want to make and I felt that it was time for Marvel storytelling too much much better reflect the world we were doing business. And I’m a big believer in that whether you call it diversity or inclusion. But the bottom line is that doing so is good for commerce. The world is Harsley multicolored multi nature multifaceted. The more we infuse it into our stories the better off we are. And I wanted Marvel to make the first not create the first black superhero but make the first movie based on a black superhero. And I knew that they had developed this starting in the mid 60s Black Panther comics written by a man named Stanley and I felt that that’s what we should. That’s what we should focus on. And so we had a discussion about a black superhero movie and there was a lot of skepticism. One would travel overseas and to would it can sell consumer products. We sell a lot. We make a lot of money in other platforms as well.

And there was skepticism and a fair amount of it and it became clear that if I let it if I left it to all the other folks they weren’t going to do it and I just said no we’re going to do this remake it. It was a mandate from me just get it done. And to their credit they identified a man named Ryan Coogler who had done two movies Fruitvale Station which is a small film but a really well done film. And I guess he was just developing creed. I’m not even sure it was out yet. When we brought him aboard at the same time they had hired Tallahassee Cote’s to rewrite Marvel Black Panther comics today. Wow. And I felt that there was a pedigree between Ryan Coogler and Culloton HASI had nothing to do with the film. It was a pedigree rebuilding around this character and that gave me the guts to fuel it with a big production budget. The number of people by the way come up to me and say thank you for this and be able to watch a movie with the way the show movie to my kids where the characters actually look like my children. It’s a big deal or women are as equal to men in it as they are. That’s great too. 2021 is a long way away it’s not that far away. What’s what’s next for Bob Iger after 2021. I don’t know. You know by then I will have been at the company 47 years and in this job 16 years which is a long time when I was president CEO for five.

So that’s over 20 years in the so-called C suite. It just feels like it will be time for me to write off or sail off into the sunset. I like to sail I’m really I’m really not sure I don’t have to make that decision now. So I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ll be 70 one 70 70 very young at the time will say getting younger every day. Bob thank you for being here. We really appreciate it thank you very much. Thank you all.

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