Robert Iger: The Ride of a Lifetime

Bob Iger, Chair of The Academy Museum, during the inaugural celebration for the future home of The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at the historic Wilshire May Company Building in Los Angeles. Photo by Matt Petit/©A.M.P.A.S.

Walt Disney Company CEO/Chairman Robert Iger recently published his memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime, a few months ago with memories and leadership lessons.

Bob Iger is the 6th CEO of The Walt Disney Company.  Iger took over the reigns following the Save Disney campaign that led to Michael Eisner’s ouster.  He’s currently set to step down from the post when his contract ends in 2021.

People will be interested in reading the book because of the Disney acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.  It’s hard to believe that they took place a few years a part.  And yet, what I found the most surprising are the tears falling when Iger shared stories of his friendship with Steve Jobs.  Steve Jobs wasn’t a fan of comic books or superheroes.  However, Jobs–for a time–was the largest Disney shareholder.  As such, his feelings were very important to Iger not only as a shareholder but also as a friend.  If I’m being honest, I could see a film being made about the friendship between Bob Iger and Steve Jobs.  Tears will be falling by the end!

All in all, there is a lot to take in.  For one, there’s Bob Iger’s start with ABC Sports.  Eventually, Iger would climb up the Capital Cities/ABC and later the Disney ladder.  Still, there are incredible leadership lessons shared throughout the book.  There’s the shooting at the Pulse nightclub and how Iger and Disney responded.  Then you have the time when there was an alligator attack.  How do you display sympathy for the parents while also realizing that you could be faced with a lawsuit?  If Iger’s response wasn’t a display in leadership in crisis, I don’t know what is.  Then there’s Roy Disney.  All Roy Disney wanted was respect and he didn’t feel it coming from the company under Michael Eisner.  Things changed when Iger took over.

The Marvel acquisition is rather interesting.  Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter is described as a “reclusive character.”  If not for former Disney executive David Maisel, there would be no go-between the two companies.  Funny enough, Marvel was Michael Eisner’s mind in the 1990s as a brand to acquire.  However, Marvel was seen as “too edgy” by Disney executives.  If only they could see the future!

Iger is among those sitting in on quarterly meetings to plot the future of the MCU.  Joining him are Kevin Feige, Alan Horn, and others.  To prep for these meetings, Iger always reads the Marvel encyclopedia of characters.  Yet he knew there was the issue of diversity that needed to be represented in these films.  This was back during a time when Feige reported to the Marvel team in New York rather than the Disney team in California.  The Marvel team in New York was of the belief that “female superheroes don’t drive the box office” nor could they see international audiences watching Black superheroes.  This thinking from the New York team is racist and sexist if you ask me!

Most of what Robert Iger wrote about the Lucasfilm acquisition has already made its way around the internet.  Though if there were any company Star Wars creator George Lucas would sell too, Disney was at the top of his list.  There is one thing that struck me while reading about the new Star Wars films.  It’s something in which other studios could honestly learn a lesson.

“One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve seen film studios make is getting locked into a release date and then letting that influence creative decisions, often rushing movies into production before they’re ready.  I’ve tried hard not to give into the calendar pressures.  It’s better to give up a release date and keep working to make a better movie, and we’ve always tried to put quality before everything else, even if it means taking a short-term hit to the bottom line.”

Anyway, none of these acquisitions happen without trust.  Disney is all the better for them.  Furthermore, in the earliest conversation with Jobs after taking the reigns as CEO, the two of them both had an idea of where entertainment was headed.  Think about this for a moment.  This was in the mid-2000s and they knew the future was digital.

None of this even takes the Fox acquisition into account.  This all started because Rupert Murdoch wanted to know if Iger was going to run for president.  The idea isn’t so far-fetched and Iger certainly has experience running a business.  The chapter about the Fox acquisition is the same in which Disney truly aims for media disruption with the eventual launch of Disney+.  Which brings me back to something Iger wrote early in the chapter about possibly combining forces with Apple if Steve Jobs were alive.

While the acquisition chapters are of the most interest, Robert Iger shares leadership lessons and memories throughout the book.

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger is currently available wherever books are sold.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.