This book has been a delight to read. The author is Rober Bob Iger, the current CEO of The Walt Disney Company. He tells about his upbringing growing up in Brooklyn and describes all the jobs he had up until becoming the CEO of Disney. Bob started at the lowest level entry job as a studio setup guy at ABC studios, from there, he climbed the corporate ladder by working hard and treating people with respect. He then became the president of ABC Studios. Disney later acquired ABC, and Bob became the COO of Disney working closely with the then CEO Micheal Eisner.
After Michael Eisner had to resign as the CEO of the company, the board went on a long process of searching for a new CEO. Bob was the only person from inside the company in question to become his successor. Bob describes the interviews he went trough with numerous individuals from the board and outside performance interviews. After the long stressful process, he then finally became CEO of Disney.
With his new role as the CEO he made a clear vision for Disney to execute against
- recommit to the concept that quality matters
- embrace technology instead of fighting it
- think bigger, think global
One of his first moves was to get on good terms with the then CEO of Pixar, Steve Jobs. Disney has already been working with Pixar on animation films like Toy Story. The deals for those movies were negotiated heavily in favor of Disney. Steve Jobs had a distrust of doing business with Pixar. Bob reached out to Steve to replenish the relationship with him. He first agreed on a deal to put all ABC shows on the iPod when it came out with video capabilities. This first step made Steve Jobs, who also was the CEO of Apple, feel more confident again in Disney's abilities to do business together.
Bob knew that Disney animation hadn't had any successful movies in the last couple of years. He felt that there needs to be a change in how the animation studio was run. He again reached out to Steve to judge if he might be willing to sell Pixar to Disney. Steve was not turned off by the idea and suggested Bob to visit Pixar and meet with the other co-founder's Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. After his visit, he was convinced that Pixar was a valuable asset and later bought Pixar for 7 billion. Before announcing the deal, Steve told Bob that he had cancer and was ok with Bob dropping out, Bob prevailed and went through with the deal anyway. The deal kept both studios separate, but Ed Catmull and John Lasseter were made head of Disney Animation. Over the next years, Disney animation started to flourish again. Bob and Steve grew very close friends, and Steve also took a seat on Disney's board.
Disney owns an enormous amount of intellectual property. The whole company is built on those properties where each character is appearing in movies and in their theme parks. The IP is also licensed to other companies like toy manufacturers. Bob made another huge move and acquired the company that owned the Marvel IP. To make this deal, he again got to know the owner of Marvel and built up a good relationship until the owner was ready to sell. Disney then bought Marvel for around 4 billion.
They since released several Marvel movies like the Avengers End game, which became the highest-grossing movie of all time with over 2.7 billion of box office sales.
After the success with Marvel Bob had his target set on another creative studio, Lucasfilms, the studio owned by Goerge Lucas. George is the inventor and owner of the Starwars saga. Bob reached out to get to know George and to let him know if he ever intended to sell Lucasfilms that he was interested in buying it from him. He intentionally did not put any pressure on George and build a relationship first. After about six months, George reached out that he is ready to sell to Disney. They went into negotiations, and George first requested the same deal as Pixar got when Disney acquired them. The Pixar deal was worth 7 billion dollars. For every acquisition, the team at Disney always performed an extensive due diligence process and tried to create future revenue forecasts to estimate a reasonable acquisition price. They settled on an acquisition price of 4 billion. Bob requested full creative rights, which gives him the ability to have the final word in creative decisions. At first, this did not sit well with George Lucas, but Bob did not give in and said this is the terms of the deal, or there is no deal at all. George accepted the terms and signed the terms.
In the final chapters of the book, Bob describes how they were seeing a shift in how media was being consumed. The shift towards streaming services and direct to consumer distribution was gaining more traction than ever. They did not have the technical expertise to build a streaming platform from the ground up. Bob went seeking to acquire a tech company capable of building a streaming service. He almost acquired Twitter but canceled the deal last minute because he did not find it a cultural fit for Disney. He then instead acquired a majority stake in a streaming technology business.
The shift in media consumption and the adaption to it meant that Disney would have to encounter short term profit losses for longer-term sustainability and profit. Bob restructured the companies compensation plans not to be tied to profits in order to keep the companies moral and effort high into succeeding with this new strategy. They've launched the streaming service Disney+ at the end of 2019, which went to be very successful.
Innovate or die, and there’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.
The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you. No one wants to follow a pessimist.
“What do you think about the idea of Disney buying Pixar?” I waited for him to hang up or to erupt in laughter. The quiet before his response seemed endless. Instead, he said, “You know, that’s not the craziest idea in the world.”
You can’t make small talk once you bring someone in for that conversation. I normally say something along the lines of: “I’ve asked you to come in here for a difficult reason.” And then I try to be as direct about the issue as possible, explaining clearly and concisely what wasn’t working and why I didn’t think it was going to change.
With every success the company has had since Steve’s death, there’s always a moment in the midst of my excitement when I think, I wish Steve could be here for this. It’s impossible not to have the conversation with him in my head that I wish I could be having in real life.