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.

Shanghai Disney is one of the biggest investments that you’ve made on your watch, perhaps one of the biggest in the company’s history. How does it fit into your priority of expanding global growth?

Setting aside the investment Walt made in central Florida to create Disney World, the biggest investment we made in our history was buying Capital Cities/ABC—a $19.5 billion gutsy investment by Michael [Eisner]. Pixar was the second-largest at $7.3 billion. Shanghai Disneyland is the third. In terms of non-acquisition, organic investment, it is the biggest. No question. In terms of the company’s future, it is the most exciting. You’re looking at the most populous city in the most populous country in the world. [It’s] a market that Disney is known in but one in which we haven’t really penetrated deeply [until now] for a variety of reasons.

It has the potential to ground our brand or build a foundation for our brand in China that could pay off for generations to come. In terms of global growth, it’s just huge.

We’re already bringing our movies to China, and China is now the No. 2 movie market in the world, but [it’s] growing, and will become the No. 1 movie market by the end of this decade or the very beginning of the next decade.

The movies that we make—Marvel, Pixar, Disney, Star Wars—are not only valuable brands in China, but these franchises will all have a presence eventually in this park. It certainly sets up our movie business better in what will be the No. 1 movie market in the world. Clearly, there will be consumer products opportunities that grow from this. But more than anything, it’s people having a connection to Disney, an affinity for Disney, and an experience with Disney that will serve the brand and its businesses well for a long time.

Acquiring ESPN along with ABC didn’t seem very important, but it became a Cinderella, contributing around 45 percent of Disney revenues. Where do you take them from here?
Technology has the potential to be ESPN’s biggest friend in terms of growth. Because ESPN’s mantra or guiding principle is to serve the sports fan anywhere, anytime, technology can give the fan even more access to what the fans are most passionate about. A primary example is smart mobile devices. Such devices enable you to watch your favorite sport, your favorite athlete, your favorite team, wherever and whenever you want. And that gives ESPN a tremendous opportunity to serve their fans in even more impactful ways.

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