Bob Iger Spills the Beans about Running Disney
You know that dream where you’re standing in front of a large group of people? Then, you realize, to your horror, that you’re not wearing any clothes?
That’s pretty much how Disney CEO Bob Chapek always looks during public appearances.
I say this because it’s a jarring contrast to Disney’s previous leader.
To wit, this past week, former CEO Bob Iger sat down to speak with Chris Wallace on the fledgling CNN+ streaming service.
Here’s a recap of what Iger had to say about his Disney tenure and life as a retired conqueror.
The Small Talk
One of the elder statesmen of old school journalism, Wallace took a job with CNN+ because it allowed him to perform comprehensive interviews with people of his choice.
Thus far, Iger is one of only three guests on the show. Their familiarity suggests a relationship of some sort.
As such, some of this may fall somewhere between idle chatter and unintentional revelations.
To wit, the conversation begins with how Iger is enjoying retirement. He lists a series of activities, taking issue with the notion that he might just be playing golf all the time.
The former Disney head describes his enjoyment of mentoring and explains that he has “collected about five” companies.
That’s his way of describing new relationships wherein he’s both an advisor and an investor. So it’s a kind of Silicon Valley incubator for new companies.
Right on cue, Iger pivots from this topic to discuss Web 3.0, aka the Metaverse, the buzzword that currently drives Wall Street and Silicon Valley strategies.
At this point, I’ll mention that Iger is working with a Metaverse company, which intrigues me.
Back in the day, Steve Jobs famously started a new business with an eye on leveraging it to return to Apple. I don’t think Iger has that in mind, but…
After a brief exchange, Iger discusses how much technology has impacted business. He believes it will continue transforming society, which isn’t a shocker.
The interesting part comes immediately afterward. Iger describes the significance of content, products people want to watch.
At this point, Wallace asks about the Scarlett Johansson debacle. Iger acknowledges the new challenges in monetization and paying people the correct amount.
Iger is commenting on the bane of Chapek’s existence, and his answer hints that his successor should have handled it better.
The Theatrical Experience Debate
Wallace is 74 years old, which makes the subsequent conversation somewhat surprising. He relays that he hasn’t returned to the movie theater since the pandemic.
Iger, genuinely curious, asks whether Wallace wants to go back. After a moment’s contemplation, the elderly gentleman replies, “Not especially.”
Even people who lived half a century without the internet are now addicted to media consumption via streaming.
Iger, who is 71, acknowledges that it’s a better viewing experience than “when we were growing up.” But he believes that people still want to go to the movies, just “certain movies.”
The former head of the most powerful movie studio on the planet doesn’t believe the theatrical movie-going experience will ever return to its pre-pandemic state. Yikes!
Later, Wallace praises Iger for his purchase of Pixar and asks about how he persuaded the aforementioned Jobs to sell.
Iger relays the same story from his book, wherein he identified Pixar as a necessary acquisition.
The hilarious part is when Disney’s old boss reveals he listed about 50 cons vs. only two pros for the idea. Jobs stated that excellent pros outweigh marginal cons.
Perhaps to tweak some people 15 years later, Iger adds that Disney’s Board of Directors did NOT vote unanimously in favor of the transaction. Oops.
The Next Humblebrag
Wallace definitely feeds his friend some softballs. One of them is how Iger accomplished the feat of Black Panther becoming a mega-blockbuster.
Iger makes sure to get in that he “*ahem* ordered it into being.” And that’s him doing that *ahem*, not me. Dude’s pretty proud of his resume. Then again, he should be.
The former CEO does add something noteworthy here, though. He points out that he sometimes had to say, “This is what we’re doing.”
Then, co-workers respected him when he went with a minority opinion that proved correct.
I believe this is a problem Chapek has had thus far. He’s been right on much of the unheralded stuff, but he’s missed badly on some VERY PUBLIC issues.
At this point, Wallace asks about George Lucas. I’m wryly amused that the main takeaway here is that the Star Wars creator’s ego required him to get more than Disney paid for Marvel.
No Avoiding Politics
Wallace cannot help but wonder about one theoretical. After all, the reporter worked at Fox News for 18 years.
So, he asked about Disney’s Fox acquisition. Iger politely answers a question about whether Fox News would have been a dealbreaker.
Obviously, the answer to that is yes, as Iger’s and Disney’s politics are well-known. More than anything, Iger indicates he wouldn’t have wanted all the controversies, though.
This statement naturally bleeds into the follow-up about the current brouhaha over Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill.
Iger notes that he faced this sort of political issue on many occasions. He states that his process involved deciding whether the issue would impact employees.
He politely suggests that environmental issues and ones impacting immigrants required his intercession. So, Disney weighed in on the topics.
Then, Iger adds that many of these issues “are not necessarily political. It’s about right and wrong.
That’s also why Iger tweeted his denouncement of the Don’t Say Gay bill. At this moment, I reeeeeally notice the stark contrast between Iger and Chapek.
Also, Iger confirms that Disney faced repeated boycotts over the years. However, at no point did the data support that any of these boycotts impacted attendance.
Here’s the moment when Wallace’s personal fondness for Iger shines through. He states that the former CEO is the “poster boy for the successful and ethical CEO.”
Wallace introduces a new story I’ve never heard before. The Vatican (!) asked Iger to speak with the Pope’s team “about the Disney Way.”
Iger’s wife, Willow Bay, and her family are Catholic. So, that was a pretty big deal for them.
Yes, The Vatican wanted to learn how to present a better public persona from Bob Iger. Contrast that to the current Disney leadership.
Some Nice Moments
I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t put two and two together before this interview. Wallace’s time at ABC overlaps with Iger’s leadership there.
So, that’s why they’re so friendly. In fact, Wallace learned early on that his boss was a morning person.
When the reporter needed a response, he’d email early enough that Iger’s assistant wasn’t in the office yet. That way, he knew his boss would reply personally. And it worked!
Iger acknowledges that what has helped him be so successful is what he describes as a “prodigious work ethic.”
My wife tells me there’s a 4 a.m., but I’m coming from the other side of midnight if I ever see it. Meanwhile, Iger has gotten up at 4:15 a.m. for most of his life.
And Some Necessary but Uncomfortable Ones
The final segment includes the awkward conversation about Disney cast member pay.
Iger missteps a bit here by saying he has no misgivings about watching employees acknowledge they have slept in cars or used food stamps.
Then, the former Disney leader states several programs he instituted to help people advance their educations. Then, he discusses the concerns about hourly pay increases.
Frankly, this is the worst discussion topic of an otherwise ideal PR op, and even it wasn’t too bad.
Iger does acknowledge that he wanted to run for President. He’s realistic about the fact that there’s no path to a nomination for him, though.
So, Iger dismisses the idea as “not top of mind” and indicates that his wife isn’t on board, either.
Yes, that means Iger is theoretically free for any unexpected job opportunity that might arise…
Folks, this was a great interview. I’m not saying you should sign up for CNN+ to watch it. However, here’s a clip from YouTube:
Iger’s PR savvy is legitimately S-tier.
Feature Image: Getty Images