Bob Iger Just Spoke…But Did He Really Say Anything?
Bob Iger just disproved the old adage that you can’t go home again.
The current (but also former) CEO of The Walt Disney Company just made his triumphant return.
Disney executives happily rolled out the red carpet for a person they don’t hate, a refreshing change from the company’s leadership status at the start of November.
Ever the politician, Iger immediately rallied the troops by holding a town hall for cast members.
During this Q&A session, Iger explained his philosophy about Disney’s short-term future. He spoke a lot, but…what did he actually say?
The Definitive Responses
Perhaps the most significant takeaway from Iger’s conversation is what he didn’t stop.
Disney will continue its hiring freeze for a while. Iger simply isn’t familiar enough with the company’s finances to alter course yet.
So, Disney’s current set of 190,000 employees must make do with what they have for a while, which should be fine.
However, some overworked areas like theme parks and Disney+ customer service will remain problematic for a while longer.
Still, Iger provided no hints about impending layoffs. That’s the aspect of the conversation that matters more. It’s one thing not to hire anyone new.
Laying off established employees sends a different message to the staff. Iger specifically chose not to say anything about this subject.
As a reminder, Bob Chapek had previously announced a three-person task force for layoffs, with him as one of the three.
I’m hopeful that idea died with his employment status. We know from recent reveals that Iger cares more about cast member employment than Chapek did.
If you missed the story, Iger pressed Chapek to hold off on pandemic layoffs until the federal government enacted employee protections.
Chapek had no reason to act quickly, as it would have hurt his staff without tangibly helping Disney.
Despite this fact, Chapek pushed forward before the Board sided with Iger.
Folks, we know who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in this struggle.
Dismissing the Nonsense
Iger was kinda cheeky during his return engagement. He quoted Hamilton lyrics from the song, What’d I Miss, which is honestly perfect.
“But the sun comes up, and the world still spins.” That’s what just happened at Disney this week. Despite all the turmoil, nearly 200,000 people did their jobs.
Now, Iger is one of them again. And he’s not having any tomfoolery. Specifically, Iger ridiculed a clickbait rumor about Disney selling to Apple.
As previously discussed, this can’t and won’t happen for any number of reasons, not the least of them being that Apple has never spent more than $3 billion on an acquisition.
Meanwhile, Iger isn’t about to stamp his Disney legacy by selling the company during its centennial celebration.
Notably, Iger also indicated that the company won’t be acquiring any other companies for a while.
Remember that Iger has earned his reputation thanks to acquisitions like Pixar and Marvel.
The fact that he’s saying right now that he won’t do one soon tells me that Disney’s financials have him at least somewhat concerned.
Of course, these situations can change in the blink of an eye…or the news of a fiscal quarter.
Speaking of which, Iger refused to commit to anything related to theatrical or streaming. That’s a landmine he sidestepped.
Currently, Disney faces the odd situation of having the number one film in the world, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and a box office bomb, Strange World.
Iger wasn’t around for the decision on whether to release Strange World in theaters, but that terrible call could cost Disney nearly $150 million.
Thankfully, Iger has reset the decision-making process so that the people greenlighting the films choose their release format.
This news alone likely caused everyone in the Pixar building to breathe a sigh of relief.
Other Topics of Note
Iger could have scored an easy win by canceling the Lake Nona move. As a reminder, Chapek agreed to terms with the Florida government on a new deal.
Disney intended to move many of its core Anaheim creatives to Florida, most notably the Imagineering team.
Chapek didn’t ask anyone’s permission here. He told people that their jobs were moving to Florida, with or without them.
Then, the Florida government turned on Chapek, leaving the deal in flux.
While Florida’s governor legislated for the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, he didn’t take away the Lake Nona tax incentives.
Iger could yet cancel this deal, which strikes me as the likeliest outcome. However, he refused to commit to anything during the town hall.
Still, his comments throughout the discussion seemed measured in nature. He wanted to reassure everyone without making any new headlines.
Killing the Lake Nona deal today would have signaled that Iger disagreed with Chapek but also could have triggered another feud with the governor. It wasn’t worth the potential negative PR.
Iger proved single-minded on one subject, though. He reinforced Disney’s mission statement regarding acceptance, tolerance, and representation.
Perhaps the most lasting aspect of Chapek’s tenure is the creation of Disney’s Fifth Key, Inclusion.
Iger recommitted to that notion, which is perfectly in keeping with his previous ideology as leader.
Disney’s CEO argued the following:
“…one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion, and acceptance and tolerance.
And we can’t lose that. We just can’t lose that.
How we actually change the world through the good must continue. We’re not going to make everyone happy all the time, and we’re not (going to) try to.
We’re certainly not going to lessen our core values in order to make everyone happy all the time.”
So, that’s that.
Reading the Tea Leaves
One of the most finite answers occurred during a response about something else.
A cast member asked Iger about Park Passes, which have turned into the bane of park workers’ existence.
The people at the parks didn’t even invent these passes, but they’re the ones who bear the brunt of disgruntled guests’ frustration.
For this reason, the cast wondered whether Disney would eliminate Park Passes…and by “wondered whether,” I mean “hoped that.”
Cast members would love nothing better than for Park Passes to vanish overnight and never come back again.
However, Iger instantly deferred on this subject, and it’s the how that fascinated me.
Without hesitation, Iger indicated that he’d speak with Josh D’Amaro about the system.
In fact, Disney’s new CEO hasn’t even used Park Passes, which means Iger probably couldn’t bear to visit the parks after he retired.
I guess it’s equally possible that the living legend can go wherever he wants at the parks no matter what.
Anyway, the significant part of this comment is that Iger will lean on D’Amaro for information.
So, the current Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products obviously isn’t going anywhere.
Some folks had wondered about that, myself included. That’s because D’Amaro holds a rare Disney status. He was friends with both Iger and Bob Chapek.
We’ve already watched Disney deliver two loyal Chapek confidantes their walking papers. It was fair to wonder what would happen with D’Amaro.
Apparently, Iger still trusts D’Amaro enough to rely on the Parks leader for information. I hadn’t necessarily expected that.
We should all keep an eye on Ken Potrock and Jeff Vahle as well. They’re the current heads of Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. But they’re Chapek’s people.
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Photo: PRNewsFoto/The Walt Disney Co.