Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger gave an extensive and revealing interview that ran today in the New York Times, talking about his rise to the top position, his regrets and triumphs, and why he made certain deals and passed on others.
Iger has been talking in advance of his new Random House memoir, with the first excerpt appearing earlier on Vanity Fair’s website. That memoir, The Ride of A Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, comes out later this month.
The top take-aways from the New York Times interview:
On his association with the Michael Eisner/Michael Ovitz regime at Disney: “Part of it was the association with (Eisner). I was just tarred by the same brush,” Mr. Iger says. “And part of it was that, at least to the board — talk about having to subjugate my own ego — it was his company and I was like a second-class citizen.”
On Michael Eisner: “Michael did not care about clothes,” Mr. Iger says with a smile. “He had good taste in other things, but not clothes or food or wine.”
The book’s revelation on Jeffrey Katzenberg’s advice: “You need to leave,” Mr. Katzenberg told him. “You’re not going to get this job. Your reputation has been tarnished.” He was, Mr. Katzenberg said, too tied to Eisner messes, including a titanic battle with Roy Disney, Walt’s nephew. “You should go do some pro bono work to rehabilitate your image.”
On his own humble background: “I never viewed myself as exceptional,” Mr. Iger says. “And so whenever I got a job, I was relying on hard work more than anything and a level of enthusiasm and optimism. When I went to ABC Sports, everybody there went to Stanford or Dartmouth or Columbia. Ithaca College, O.K.? I didn’t have an inferiority complex, but I knew I wasn’t one of them. I didn’t wear Gucci shoes. I didn’t wear Brooks Brothers clothes. I couldn’t afford any of that stuff, but I knew I had a work ethic that was prodigious.”
On executive success in Hollywood: “You have to have an ability to subjugate your own ego,” he says. “It serves you well when you’re rising and then even when you have risen, there are going to be times when you just have to put that away.”
On the Lucasfilms deal: “Rupert was crazed that we bought Lucas,” Mr. Iger says, with shy pride. “They were the distributor of all of George’s movies, and he was very disappointed in his people. ‘Why didn’t you think of this?’”
His relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s sons in the Fox deal: “If you’re asking me whether the relationship with the sons and the relationship the sons have with one another and their potential future in the company was ever on the table in negotiation, the answer is yes. But never to a point where it got in the way of us doing what we wanted to do and Rupert doing what he wanted to do.”
On his take for Wall St. on the Fox Deal: “It wasn’t a slap-down,” Mr. Iger says. “It was an admission that the movies that they had made failed. And I actually gave then a tremendous amount of cover by saying that when companies are bought, processes and decision making can come to a halt.
On Fox’s Operations: “There were problems at that studio well before the deal was announced. But the reason I did not believe that it was something we should be concerned about is because it’s a short-term problem. And with the talent that we have at our studio, that are now supervising with some of their executives all the movies that they decide to make and how they are made, I’m convinced that the turnaround can happen. It’s not a snap your fingers, but it’s not 10 years of lost value. It’s a year and a half.”
On ‘Star Wars’ recent performance: “I just think that we might’ve put a little bit too much in the marketplace too fast.” But, he adds, “I think the storytelling capabilities of the company are endless because of the talent we have at the company, and the talent we have at the company is better than it’s ever been, in part because of the influx of people from Fox.”
On pulling the plug on a Twitter deal: “The troubles were greater than I wanted to take on, greater than I thought it was responsible for us to take on. There were Disney brand issues, the whole impact of technology on society. The nastiness is extraordinary. I like looking at my Twitter newsfeed because I want to follow 15, 20 different subjects. Then you turn and look at your notifications and you’re immediately saying, why am I doing this? Why do I endure this pain? Like a lot of these platforms, they have the ability to do a lot of good in our world. They also have an ability to do a lot of bad. I didn’t want to take that on.”