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The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

“True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.”― Robert Iger, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

The Ride of a Lifetime is a biography/nonfiction work by Robert Iger. Iger has been the CEO of The Walt Disney Company for the past 14 years. This book was published in 2019.

I have long been a fan of Disney. Of course I have. Like we all, I grew up with Disney animations and shows. And then roughly 10 years ago, Marvel gave me Iron Man. Can you ask for a better idol in your teens. And then Marvel was bought by Disney. Very interesting, I thought and started looking into what else Disney had acquired in this and the past decade. They got Pixar, Marvel. And later they acquired Fox and LucasFilm. Moreover, they opened new theme parks and cruise lines. And all this was during Iger’s era. I became very interested and thought, if anyone, Bob Iger should definitely write a book and when he does, I will buy it right away. And this year he did. In the first part of the book, we get a backstory on Iger and his time before the CEO role. We get a glimpse of how he started his career at ABC in 1974 as a studio supervisor and climbed up through many positions since. After some years, Disney’s acquisition of ABC happened. He worked closely with the Disney executives and became second in line for the chief executive officer before starting in the role in 2005.

It is important to understand that this is not purely a memoir or biography although it covers some of that too. This book is about leadership. It is about how Iger got to this position, the many incredibly hard decisions he has made since and how he has been incredibly successful in those decisions. Iger served as president of the ABC Network Television Group from January 1993 to 1994. His take from this was summarized with the following: Know what you don’t know (and trust in what you do). He describes how you have to be humble but how that cannot prevent you from leading. True leadership comes from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else. In 1994, Iger was named as president and chief operating officer of ABC’s corporate parent, Capital Cities/ABC.

“If you don’t innovate, you die.”― Robert Iger, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

We enter Disney years and Iger’s time as a CEO. What inspired me was how he had a powerful hunch about Pixar. He knew it could transform Disney Animation and so he entered into preliminary negotiations with Steve Jobs. Bringing Pixar into Disney was a mammoth transfusion of talent and leadership and it had to be done right. Like Iger stated to Jobs: “If we don’t protect the culture you’ve created, we’ll be destroying the thing that makes you valuable”. Jobs agreed and Iger went to huge effort to communicate this message and the value of acquiring Pixar to the board. But on the day of announcing the seven billion-dollar deal, Jobs pulled Iger aside and offered him to back out of the deal. Jobs said he had cancer and the odds of beating it were not good. Iger did not pull out of the deal but I can imagine the difficulty of bearing the news.

The acquisition of Pixar was the first part of a massive growth-strategy. The leadership team at Disney made list of companies they would like to acquire in upcoming years. Who possessed great IP that could have applications across the full range of our businesses. Two companies stood out: Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm and they moved forward with the first one. There are several parts that I found incredibly fascinating in the whole process but especially about Iger’s thinking with Marvel’s movies. Marvel team in New York told Iger about tey were concerned that female superheroes would never drive big box office and how international audiences wouldn’t want to see a black superhero. Iger said that he has been in business long enough to have heard of every old argument in the book and that in the end, they are just that: old, and out of step with where the world is and where it should be. And those arguments did prove old indeed with movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel being in top 10 highest-grossing superhero films.

We enter the Lucasfilm period. Another extremely interesting acquisition and the tact of Iger had in these negotiations because it was not anywhere close the worth of Pixar and Lucas did want the Pixar deal. And of course Fox, there were parts Disney could not legally acquire or that were not moral to acquire. The last few chapters highlight the core values for Disney and for Iger and summarize the leadership lessons. Here are a few of those lessons:

  • To tell great stories, you need great talent
  • Now more than ever: innovate or die. There can beno innovation if you operate out of fear of new
  • Take responsibility when you screw up
  • Be decent to people
  • Don’t start negatively and don’t start small
  • Technological advancements will eventually make older business models obsolete
  • In any negotiation, be clear about where you stand from the beginning

Ride of a Lifetime is simply put a breath-taking piece on leadership. It is certainly a ride of a lifetime for the reader as well because it is just so intense. At times, felt like I was reading a thriller and not nonfiction. The intensity did not only come through very hard business negotiations but also through different twists in events where Iger’s leadership skills were put to test. The only small conflict I have with this book is that how is this real? How do people like this exist? A part of me expected to learn something vicious and cunning about Iger, something similar to 48 laws and this was not the case. And it is where I place my hope that this is true and only kind of leadership there is. I found this incredibly inspiring and would warmly recommend this for everyone.

It’s easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you you’re great. It’s much harder, and much more necessary, when your sense of yourself is on the line.”― Robert Iger, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

How-To Read The Ride of a Lifetime
1. I would really recommend this to any CEO, any manager and any leader out there. This is what we should all strive towards.
2. A lot of lessons on leadership so please do not think this is only a biography.
3. Best business books you could ever read?

Have you read this? Thoughts?

Featured image: Bob Iger- World of Color Premiere – Disney California Adventure Park by Josh Hallet

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