Demma’s Notes: Bob Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime

I stan few companies as much as I stan Disney. I’m not ashamed of this even a little. When I saw that the greatest Disney CEO since old Walt himself had a new autobiography out, I couldn’t wait to read it. The Fanboy Awakens.

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Bob Iger is best known as Disney’s 6th CEO, reigning from 2005 till just a few weeks ago. When you look at his accomplishments it’s hard to imagine anyone else getting the title “CEO of the Century,” save maybe Steve Jobs (maybe not). Iger spearheaded the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. He opened theme-parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Most recently he led the development and launch of the Disney+ streaming service. All of this work reinvented Disney as we know it today, and increased Disney’s market cap from $50b to $250b!

The Ride of a Lifetime was amazing. It had the feel of Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog, but Iger’s story was so much more relatable to me. Nike’s Knight like Jobs and Musk, etc., was the story a founder. Iger’s book is the story of a corporate ladder climber, like me. So without further adieu here are…

My Key Take Aways from Bob Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime

  • The ABC Years: Iger started in small management jobs at ABC (there’s a great story about how he met Sinatra early on), and climbed his way all the way up the ranks. His early career was filled with ups and downs, promotions and missed opportunities, acquiring businesses and being acquired, and adapting to changing media world. Iger wrestled with decisions to stay or leave the company, take promotions or pass, move across the country or not, listen to his bosses or trust his gut. Iger’s first marriage ended in divorce around the time he was making his way into the C-suite, a stark reminder of the potential costs of ambition.
  • Pixar: Iger’s first big project as CEO at Disney was the Pixar acquisition. I didn’t know how close Iger was to Steve Jobs or how much Jobs influenced Disney as a board member and as Disney’s largest shareholder. Pixar saved the struggling Disney Animation business, which was Iger believes saved the overall success of Disney as a whole (imagine Disney parks without the characters developed by animation). Lastly, it’s amazing to think about the films Pixar created under Jobs during the same time he was creating the iPod, iPhone and iPad: Toy Story, Nemo, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc., Cars, Brave, and WALL-E to name some of the big ones.
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Bob Iger and Steve Jobs were boys!
  • Marvel: At the time that Iger started courting Marvel nobody could have imagined what a cultural phenomenon the MCU would become. Before Disney consolidated Marvel, just thinking about the distribution rights spread out among competitors like Sony and Fox was enough to scare most suitors away. Iger saw the value in the richness of Marvel source material and storytelling (over 7,000 unique characters were created in the comics), and he believed he could find ways around the complexity. Fast forward a decade or so, and nearly every Marvel movie release has grossed over $1b, the Avengers movies are 3 of the top 10 highest grossing films of all time, and Endgame is the most successful movie ever. (not included in the book is how Iger recently saved Spiderman for the MCU)
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Iger and Marvel’s creative genius Kevin Feigi
  • Lucasfilm and Fox: Two different negotiation strategies, with the same underlying theme: understanding and adapting to the situation. The Lucasfilm negotiation was all about understanding the emotional context of honoring and protecting George Lucas’s baby, Star Wars. The Fox negotiation was all about out-smarting the other bidder, Comcast, by knowing the regulatory landscape and delivering a decisive knockout bid at the 11th hour. And both negotiations were rooted in Iger’s relationships with the selling-founders, and in his willingness to pursue long-shots.
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Iger with George Lucas aboard the Millennial Falcon
  • Summary: I was inspired by Iger’s story. His boldness, his vision, and his pursuit of quality are informative for anyone in a corporate leadership role. The big acquisitions were all reminders to spend time pursuing long-shots. I thought a lot about Nassim Taleb’s works on looking for optionality or asymmetrical returns. In other words, look for lots of opportunities with little downside risk and huge upside returns. It didn’t cost Iger anything but some courage to approach Jobs, Lucas, Merdoch, etc., and the returns were massive. Of course, there was a cost to the acquisitions themselves, but the point is to have the courage as a leader to test the waters of limited-downside-risk/low-probability/high-return strategies for the org.

I highly recommend Iger’s Ride for any leaders, business people, or Disney fans. Let me know if pick it up!

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