The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Robert Iger was the CEO of the Walt Disney Company from 2005 to 2020. In The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, Iger recounts his time coming through the ranks at ABC, Capital Cities, and eventually, as the title suggests, CEO of Disney after Michael Eisner.
This book is mainly a business biography. There is little in the way of personal detail about Iger himself, which is fair enough. This was disappointing to me because I personally find the value in these kinds of books to not only derive from the business lessons learned, but the thought process leading up to decisions.
It's easy in retrospect to see how, for example, Disney absolutely had to develop their own streaming platform, even if it meant cannibalizing their business in the short-term. Iger talks about seeing the need for Disney to "disrupt themselves".
But how did he realize this? What books was he reading? Who was he talking to? He often refers to an early business lesson: innovate or die. But how did he jump from "innovate or die" to Disney+? To make that kind of move inside a huge, historic company like Disney is truly visionary, and had to require a kind of courage. I was left wanting more insight into the man himself, and didn't get it.
That said, as a fan of Disney, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The business stories are good. My favorite parts are Iger's interactions with Steve Jobs. Anyone familiar with Jobs will instantly recognize him: not interested in playing it safe, not giving an inch when he has all the leverage, always looking to innovate.
I was emotional as Iger told how Jobs pulled him aside on Pixar's campus in 2006, moments before the event to announce Disney's acquisition of Pixar, to tell Iger that his cancer had returned. It was a moment of great humanity and vulnerability in the middle of a huge business deal, expertly told.
Business is personal. Many of Disney’s biggest deals under Iger were successful because Iger built a personal relationship with the main players (Jobs at Pixar, Lucas at Lucasfilm, Perlmutter at Marvel, Murdoch at Fox). I tend to think of Serious Business being mostly a matter of numbers and shared interests, but it struck me how personal it is, at the highest levels.
“Innovate or die”. Iger learned this lesson early in his career. He was never scared of what the future meant to his business. Rather than trying to protect Disney out of fear, he tried to anticipate the future and position Disney to take advantage of it, even if that meant short-term financial pain. The more I think about it, the more I appreciate how bold this approach was for Iger. He must be a great storyteller.