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.

I liked being challenged by him in that regard because even if I disagreed with him, there was always a kernel of truth to what he had to say. There was always something; it wasn’t completely wrong. It drove me to want to demand even more perfection and excellence. He had that impact on me. In fact, I talked about this at our management retreat last fall—the relentless pursuit of perfection. While it can easily be a turnoff, something that you’d want to run from because who needs that kind of criticism, I always took it as being constructive.

Steve Jobs may have been Disney’s largest shareholder, but if I ever said to Steve on a call, “You are a member of the board,” or “You are our largest shareholder,” he’d say, “Stop. I do not want to be called either. I want to be thought of by you as a trusted advisor and a friend.” Anytime I mentioned board member or shareholder, he reminded me of that. Finally, I decided to accept him as a trusted advisor and a friend, and he proved to me over time that that’s exactly what he was to me.

If Walt were alive today, what do you reckon he might say about you?
Funny you would ask. I spoke with Diane Disney, one of his daughters, about that before she died. I actually wrote her a note: “If Walt were to see those gorgeous cruise ships plying the oceans, or even Walt Disney World, or imagine Shanghai, what would he think?” Interestingly enough, for a guy from the Midwest, he had a real curiosity about the world. He would be blown away to know that China would be the home to a product that was so much a part of who he was and what he stood for—Disneyland.

But if he also saw Pixar, or Star Wars or Marvel—think of the storytelling and the characters and the places that these stories exist. [Take] ESPN, for that matter. I think he would be unbelievably proud. This is a bit presumptuous of me, but what the heck, maybe I’ve earned the right to be and also to see, on any list about brand respect and admiration that exists in the world today. [This is] a company that he founded; the brand that he created is still at or near the top of those lists. I mean, what could be a better affirmation for the principles that he embedded in the company that he created?

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