How Bob Iger Remade the House That Walt Built

Instead of the easy fixes, Bob Iger played the long game by addressing Disney’s cultural issues head-on, by making it stronger and more profitable with greater depth.

Some industry observers expect Iger to appoint a second-in-command before he departs. Iger declines to comment apart from saying that his successor, “needs to be someone who can adapt and not necessarily take the old playbook, the old rules, the old habits or the old culture. He may need to shift focus, culture or whatever to continue to maintain success and that great brand position that we’ve got in the world.”

“[We needed] to invest much more aggressively in global growth because we had become too U.S.-centric.”

When you became CEO in 2005, you seemed to face a triple challenge of trying to put the brand right and build revenue—but also to fix the culture—all in the face of having to follow a well-established leader. What did you set as your priority?
While I had very specific and ultimately well-articulated strategic priorities for the company, my rallying cry to the troops was that I wanted Walt Disney to be among the most admired and respected [companies] in the world. First, I wanted Disney to be admired and respected by the employees, “cast members,” as we call them fondly; because if we ultimately were going to be admired and respected by our shareholders and by our customers, it had to start at home. This also tied in with what I wanted to do around cultural change, which I’ll come back to.

After our employees, our investors and our consumers were also important. I created three primary strategic priorities for the company. One: Invest most of our capital in creating high-quality, branded content and experiences. Two: Embrace technology and use it aggressively to enhance the quality of our product and thus the consumer experience. To enhance what I’ll call “distribution” and thus access to our product. And lastly, to get closer to our customer by becoming more efficient as a company. Technology had to become a significant middle name for the company.

In addition, the third strategic priority was to invest much more aggressively in global growth because we had become too U.S.-centric. Interestingly enough, I came from a meeting with a group of folks at our company who are working on the agenda and presentations for an upcoming Disney board of directors retreat, which we do every June. The aim is to analyze and present to the board a strategic growth initiative through 2025. We’re beginning with the strategic priorities of the company, which are the same as what I created in 2005.

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