Disney Executive Chairman, Bob Iger joined SiriusXM Business Radio host Alan Fleischmann of ‘Leadership Matters’ to talk about the historic closing of Disneyland due to the pandemic, the recent announcement that it will reopen, more than a year later on April 30, the role that Disney Plus played in The Disney Company’s perseverance through the pandemic, and the recent news of his plans to leave The Disney Company. He says “timing is everything.”
Iger also told Fleischmann “I’m not retiring. I can’t possibly do that” and shared what he’d like to achieve in his final months, his decision to serve Disney as it’s Executive Chairman prior to his departure from the company, and announces he may have already started writing a book.
“At Disney, really the entire value proposition of the company, no matter what business we’re in, starts with creativity and emanates from creativity. So I thought the best thing I could possibly do for the company would be one, make sure that we succeed at succession, and that my successor is successful. And then second, leave the company and my successor with the greatest possible hand created creatively.
I feel re-energized because I can spend so much time on the creative side, and I also feel incredibly confident that when I step away, the company will be in good shape and in good hands, and it feels great. And going all the way back to what you said about the best is yet to come. I think one of the most exciting things for me, is having a completely blank canvas. I’m going to continue painting by the way. I’m not retiring. I can’t possibly do that.. And so I will figure it out, but I am not going to figure it out while I’m still at Disney and I’m not going to over-commit so that by the time I get out, I won’t have any freedom either. So I’m looking forward to a little bit more leisure. I haven’t had as much as I would like these last 16 years now, because the time consumption required to run a company like this. So I’d like a little bit more leisure time in my life. And I’d like more adventure, whatever that is.”
In regards to a new book: “I started it with just some loose outlines and writing down some thoughts, but I think there’s definitely another chapter or two, or 10 maybe. And I’ll see where life takes me. It’s pretty exciting. There’s certainly, you know, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this great company that I’ve worked for, and I’m sure I’ll be able to apply that in other directions.”
Click any of the links below to hear the audio.
Bob Iger: The CEO announced yesterday that we’re opening Disneyland April 30th, which he went to Disneyland to make the announcement and the excitement on his face was palpable. He was like a kid, and it was that kind of moment for the company too. There was something very exhilarating about it.
Host, Alan Fleischmann: There’s a ripple effect in that because people all heard about it because it was a great sign that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Bob Iger: Oh I turned on the evening news last night and there was a story on the evening news about Disneyland and I think it says a lot about Disneyland, but it also says a lot about what we’ve been through these last 12 months and the fact, you’re right, that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. And by the way, I think there’s something so symbolic about Disneyland reopening. So, I mean the statement that, that makes is gigantic, but I remember we were on a plane, Bob and I were on a plane in March of 2020, returning from Orlando to LA and Governor Newsom, the governor of California, had done a press conference about COVID and he was essentially laying out what became the closure of the state. Not that he was the only governor doing it, and I think, he might’ve said in that conference call, we’re going to let Disneyland continue to operate or something along those lines. I think, because it was unheard of to think about closing Disneyland and I got him on the phone, I called him from the plane and I said, governor, we’re going to close Disneyland. We just don’t think it’s the responsible thing to operate it, not just to our guests, but to our own employees or cast members, as I said. And I think he was actually relieved. It would have been a tough announcement for him to make. Now, little did we know we’re going to be closed for over a year? And I’ve had a number of conversations with him about that because we’ve wanted to open under some limited circumstances for some time, cause we reopened in Florida, but that’s neither here nor there, but I think closing it was a big deal and announcing that it’s reopening is just as big a deal.
Bob Iger: Well, timing is everything. We were, as you know, intent on launching a direct to consumer television movie service, which became Disney Plus, and we bought control of Hulu as part of the Fox acquisition and infusing on the Disney Plus side with all of our great content, which was a tremendous pivot strategically from licensing to third parties and putting the content on traditional platforms to taking it completely off third parties and traditional platforms and putting on this new shiny direct to consumer platform. And thank goodness we did that when we did it. We launched it in November of 19. And so in March of 20, when we shut everything down, we at least had that. And I think the struggle for the year, aside from closing all the traditional businesses, including our theme park business and ESPN losing its live sports, et cetera. But the struggle was how do we get production going again so that we can fuel the platform? Which we just had so much in the can, so much shot. And I must say at the company, if anyone deserves credit for getting us through this, it’s everybody that worked on the creative side to keep some television and movie production going, or finishing some and their entire movies were finished. “Soul” was one, that Pete Docter who runs Pixar and directed it, finished completely during COVID. I mean, that’s incredible to think about that. All the animators are working from home. No one was going to work but, we’re very, very fortunate that we won, had the foresight and had the guts and had the support at the board level to go into this new business. And so that when COVID hit, we at least had something to turn to, and I think it kept the company. It kept the company vibrant because there was a beacon of hope.
Host, Alan Fleischmann: That’s so relevant.
Bob Iger: Yeah, and obviously it had set a profound impact on the perception of the company at Wall Street because the stock has risen dramatically in the process. We plummeted when COVID hit because of the shutdown, and rebounded quickly because we continued to grow Disney plus.
Bob Iger: So, my goals, what I hope to accomplish in the last few months, in this last, and it’s not even a chapter at this point, it’s like the last few pages in a 47 year career, is kind of more of the same, meaning I’m still, you know, looking at shows and I’ve got a couple of movie rough cuts coming in this weekend that I’ll look at and give some feedback to the team. And a script or two to read and always TV shows, and trying to exhort everybody to always be at the top of their game, to drive really hard to deliver quality, to adhere to the standards that have worked for us so well, in terms of the values we infuse in our storytelling, and to both honor the past, but do so in a way that doesn’t get in the way of innovation. So, you know, I’m trying to, I’m doing a little bit of teaching, a little bit of leading by example, a little bit of cajoling. And I imagine that in these next few months, I’ll end up slowly becoming less and less relevant. It is pretty interesting when you suddenly lose that title, your emails start to slow down and certainly the phone calls don’t come as often and it’s pretty clear someone else is running the company. It’s actually pretty interesting from a human perspective, and I don’t mean that negatively at all. It’s just an interesting dynamic, but, and that hopefully there’s a little bit of a goodbye tour. There are places I want to go, I hope to get to. Hope COVID allows me to say goodbye to people that have been so important in my career and my Disney life. You mentioned Shanghai at the beginning, we celebrate our fifth anniversary there this spring, and I’m intent on getting back there and seeing it one more time, as a non-civilian, and visiting a few other places and maybe a cruise.
Bob Iger: I love to write. And it’s interesting, my father would be so proud of me cause he always wanted me to write. And I’ve grown as a writer and I probably will do more. I’m actually thinking of another book right now. Actually, I started it with just some loose outlines and writing down some thoughts, but I think there’s definitely another chapter or two, or 10 maybe. And I’ll see where life takes me. It’s pretty exciting. There’s certainly, you know, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this great company that I’ve worked for, and I’m sure I’ll be able to apply that in other directions.
Bob Iger: I am excited about life after Disney. After, as I said, 47 years at ABC Disney, I felt very strongly in moving on, and just seeing what was on the other side. It had nothing to do with being tired. It had nothing to do with frustration. I come to work every day and now of course I’m working from home, but with just as much excitement and energy and engagement and commitment that I had throughout. And that makes me feel great, but I did not want to overstay my welcome. I really wanted to leave at a time that felt good, that I had accomplished a lot, that I had not hit too many speed bumps, or suddenly that my luck rent would run out or all of those things. I wanted the timing to be right, and 15 years felt like enough. And so what I proposed to the board, I know it felt abrupt because we kept this very quiet, but some months before the announcement I proposed to the board that I would stay on through the end of my tenure, which is the end of 21, but in a different role. And that would accomplish a few things. One, it would immediately name my successor, meaning put someone new in the job at a time that I was still around so that I could spend time helping the person who succeeded me be successful, which is in my own best interest, but in the best interest of so many people. And also focus in that period of time, since I would no longer be running the company day-to-day, on our creative endeavors, which at Disney really the entire value proposition of the company, no matter what business we’re in, starts with creativity and emanates from creativity. So I thought the best thing I could possibly do for the company would be one, make sure that we succeed at succession, and that my successor is successful. And then second, leave the company and my successor with the greatest possible hand created creatively. A pipeline of movies, and television shows, and theme park attractions, and lands, and you name it that would power the company for many years to come. And I can only do that, spend all of my time on it, if I could spend all my time on it.
Host, Alan Fleischmann: And the integration among these companies has been successful too, under your leadership where you’ve actually, it’s not just the individual verticals that you’ve brought together, but it’s actually what they mean horizontally, I guess, in the integration across the company as well. I think of all these iconic brands that you’ve pulled together, and you’re doing a lot of really creative things like National Geographic with Disney…
Bob Iger: Yes, National Geographic and the Simpsons. If you watch Disney Plus, the Simpsons are all over Disney Plus, and Avatar is coming, and FX is on Hulu. And the people running our television organization, non-sports television organization all came from Fox, Peter Rice and John Landgraf and Dana Walden. So integration of a company and assets that are that big is never easy, but we’re on the right side of it at this point, and humming along.
Bob Iger: I feel re-energized because I can spend so much time on the creative side, and I also feel incredibly confident that when I step away, the company will be in good shape and in good hands. And it feels great. And going all the way back to what you said about the best is yet to come. I think one of the most exciting things for me, is having a complete blank canvas. I’m going to continue painting by the way. I’m not retiring. I can’t possibly do that. First of all, my wife’s still working, my kids are all out of the house, I’m not gonna sit around the house binge watching television shows. And so I will figure it out, but I am not going to figure it out while I’m still at Disney and I’m not going to over-commit so that by the time I get out, I won’t have any freedom either. So I’m looking forward to a little bit more leisure. I haven’t had as much as I would like these last 16 years now, because the time consumption required to run a company like this. So I’d like a little bit more leisure time in my life. And I’d like more adventure, whatever that is.
The full interview can be heard Tuesday April 6 at 6pm ET on SiriusXM Business Radio channel 132.