Brunswick founder Sir Alan Parker speaks with Executive Chairman and former CEO of Disney.
After news broke in late February 2020 that Bob Iger was stepping down as CEO of Disney, Walter Isaacson, the former Time editor and author of a mega-bestselling biography of Steve Jobs, appeared on CNBC to talk about Iger’s legacy. “It’s huge,” Isaacson said, “he’s one of the great CEOs of our day and generation. He has been able to do the essence of value creating in the digital revolution, which is to connect imagination to technology.”
Like many content creators, Disney could have been left in the dust of new players like Netflix. But during Iger’s 15 years at the helm, the company’s share price quintupled and its annual income quadrupled as it became one of the world’s largest and most forward-thinking media companies. Iger emerged also as perhaps the greatest dealmaker of his generation. He orchestrated a string of acquisitions—Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, 21st Century Fox—whose audacity was seemingly matched only by their rate of success. He also opened a Disneyland in Shanghai in 2016—an achievement that, given its geopolitical and logistical complexity, Iger described in his memoir, Ride of a Lifetime, as “the biggest accomplishment of my career.”
Iger, who now serves as Disney’s Executive Chairman, spoke with Brunswick Chairman and founder Sir Alan Parker at the firm’s virtual Annual Partners Meeting. As the pair discussed Iger’s book, it emerged he was in the process of thinking through a new one. “It’s about leadership in a crisis, and I’m constructing it right now with somewhat casual notes,” Iger said. “But I think I’m going to ultimately write it.”
We sent your book, Bob, to everyone in the firm, and many, many folks had already read it. This book’s been an amazing success—a No. 1 New York Times best seller. You must be pleased.
I am. Thank you very much. I’m donating all the proceeds to create scholarships for journalism students aimed at fostering more diversity. So it’s for a good cause.
I’m pleasantly surprised that it has resonated so well with people in business and people who want to be in business. It’s a pleasant late-in-life surprise. Given all the angst I had about writing it, it’s a relief.
More than anything, what people have reacted to is the fact that it sounds like it’s in my voice, which is very true. It was my computer, or my typewriter, or my pen, however you want to put it. That’s one of the reasons it resonated. Also I think it’s pretty digestible. Since I’m professionally a storyteller, my aim was to tell stories. I haven’t read that many business books. Not that they’re not of value, but often they can be really dry. And I didn’t want to write just another dry business book. So my aim was to tell stories, and teach some lessons along the way.
It’s quite fun in that you write not only about leadership, but also how to get to a position of leadership.
I must say I was self-conscious talking about leadership. I feel that’s not something a person’s allowed to do until they’ve actually demonstrated they have some leadership abilities. And I was very, very careful about that. Even the leadership tenets that I listed, I wanted to see whether I could check boxes in terms of my own leadership performance.
The book was written mostly not because I felt that I had a great story to tell, but because I thought in telling my story I could teach some lessons to people. I’m asked interesting questions and somewhat absurd questions—“Who’s your favorite Disney character?” But one I’m always asked is, “What’s the secret to your success?”