IS IT POSSIBLE TO REPEAT SUCCESS IN A CHANGING WORLD?
Last week, I discussed that the process that brought Robert Iger back to the helm of Disney. Will Iger be able to make it this time, too? Can Disney, which is rolling downhill, manage to rise again?
Robert A. Iger, born in 1951, is the chairman and former CEO of The Walt Disney Company (2005-2020). He previously served as the president of ABC between 1994 and 1995 and the president and chief operating officer (COO) of Capital Cities/ABC, from 1995 until its acquisition by Disney in 1996. Iger took over as the CEO of Disney in 2005, succeeding Michael Eisner. During his 15-year tenure as CEO, Iger expanded Disney’s list of intellectual property assets and its share in international markets.
In 2006, he facilitated the acquisition of Pixar for $7.4 billion, Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in 2009, Lucasfilm for $4.06 billion in 2012, and 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets for $71.3(!) billion in 2019. He also expanded the company’s theme park resorts in East Asia by introducing the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and Shanghai Disney Resort in 2005 and 2016.
The revitalization of Walt Disney Animation Studios is recognized as the driving force behind the film studio’s product-branded release strategy and increased investment in the company’s direct-to-consumer ventures, including Disney+ and Hulu. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney’s market value surged from $48 billion to an astounding $257(!) billion. For a while, I had in mind to introduce you to Iger’s book, ‘How Dreams Come True’, which has also been translated into Turkish, and comment on his achievements and thoughts on leadership.
Meanwhile, in 2021, Disney faced reality for the first time; cinemas could not recover after COVID-19 and cable TV channels were losing viewers. Disney’s market value began to decline rapidly. However, Apple and Amazon were gaining in value in the same business. Disney then fired CEO Bob Chapek and appointed Robert Iger again as CEO 11 months later. So, Disney called its former CEO back to the job. (https://www.bbc.com/news/business-63711818.) What makes Iger indispensable? Let’s see if we can find the answer to this question in Iger’s book, “How Dreams Come True.”
If you’d like to read the article, “What’s Happening at Disney?”, here is the link: https://en.muratulker.com/y/what-is-happening-at-disney/
How Dreams Come True
In the article I published last week, I talked about the call-out from the retirement process that put Robert Iger back to the helm of Disney. Will Iger be able to create another success story this time, too? Will Disney, which has been turned upside down, be righted again?
Many Own Success, Failure Is Orphan
In the preface of his book, Robert Iger talks about some of the tragic events that occurred just before the opening of Disneyland in China in 2016. Iger describes the load- how, on the day before the opening, the terrorist attack occurred at the Pulse nightclub in the USA, which was very close to Disney World, and the effort given to ensure that the opening in China was smooth, as a result of a child being eaten by a crocodile at Disney World on the morning of the same day as the opening, and the psychological burden of that day. He mentions the great effort they put into minimizing the impact on the grand opening, which included the speeches of US President Obama and Chinese Presiden Xi Jinping. Before the opening, he spoke with the deceased child’s father on the phone and promised that such an accident would never happen to another child.
At the end of the foreword, Bob (*) shares ten principles that he believes are essential for true leadership:
9- The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection,
The author begins the introductory part of the book titled “Starting at the Bottom” by talking about his childhood, his father’s shelves full of books, and how he fell in love with books because of him. He states he is proud of his father’s liberality, strong character, and sense of justice. He talks about fixing things that broke down when he was little, and he thinks that’s why he’s interested in technology.
In the eighth grade, he started working; he shovelled snow, did babysitting, and worked in the warehouse of a hardware store. When he went to university, he dedicated himself to learning. He began his career at ABC Network TV as a studio assistant on July 1, 1974. Prior to that, he worked as a weatherman for a local television station in Ithaca. He says that after spending that year with uncertainties, he gave up on his dream of becoming a newscaster, a dream he had nurtured since the age of 15. His entry into ABC is thanks to a manager working at ABC, who coincidentally stays in the same room after his uncle’s eye surgery. Upon learning that his nephew was seeking a job in television, his uncle mentioned this, resulting in an interview being arranged. A short time later, he started working as a studio assistant. He was making $150 a week, the lowest wage on ABC at the time. He explains that he works almost every role, runs errands, and has to be at the studio by 4:30 a.m. for responsibilities like lighting. He says working in challenging conditions gave him a work ethic.
Hementions that even today, he gets up at 4:15 every day. This allows him to thoroughly contemplate everything before beginning work, enabling him to tap into his creative side. In his golden age of the 70s and 80s, he worked on ABC Sports’ hugely popular and revenue-generating programs. His life changed, especially with his travels abroad for the Wide World of Sports program. He states, “ABC Sports showed me the world and made me more sophisticated.” As he was in contact with the communist bloc during this period, he observed what was happening behind the Iron Curtain. He says he witnessed how similar dreams were to each other. Robert Iger, describes how Roone Arledge and his team became head of ABC Sports and how he was an unstoppable innovator. In 1979, they went to the table tennis tournament in North Korea at Roone’s request, making them the first American media team to shoot in North Korea in decades. Despite encountering numerous challenges, they attempted Roone’s constant advice of “then find another solution”. He says he learned perfectionism from Roone, but that perfectionism and fairness should not be mutually exclusive.
In March 1985, at the age 34, ABC’s Chief Executive Officer decided to sell the company to a much smaller company, Capital Cities Communications, for $3.5 billion. Around this time, the author became vice president of ABC Sports. Tom Murphy and Dan Burke from Capital Cities were able to acquire ABC, a much larger company, with the backing of Warren Buffet. The agreement was signed in January 1986. It is interesting, isn’t it? W. Buffet enters the scene, and in what way?!
Tom and Dan used to go to the Catholic church. Iger refers to them as shrewd businesspeople. Roone is then forced to choose between News or Sports, and he chose News. Dennis Swanson, who has never had a single minute of experience in a television network, is appointed as the head of Sports. After this incident, many people resigned from the company and moved on to other companies. In fact, just as our writer was preparing to leave, Dennis offered him the position of director for all sports programs. After a 24-hour period of consideration and contemplating his family, Iger accepted Dennis’s offer, considering it one of the best career decisions he ever made.
Tom and Dan’s business strategies were based on keeping costs under constant control and a decentralized corporate structure. They hired smart, honest, and hardworking people, placed them in positions of great responsibility, and gave them autonomy to do their jobs. Together, Tom and Dan seemed to operate like a private equity firm from the very beginning. It appears that W. Buffet supported them in this endeavour.
Later, Iger recounts the challenges faced during ABC’s broadcast of the last Winter Olympics, which became difficult due to a sudden change in weather. He explains how he managed to overcome this by constantly creating new programs and a bit of luck. Following this show, Tom and Dan express their admiration for his work and promote him to the position of Vice President at ABC, making him the second in command. Tom and Dan emphasize that they value skill more than experience.”
At the age of 37, Iger took on the role of the head of ABC Entertainment.. Despite not having sufficient experience, he received support from those around him and the employees. He swiftly relocated to Los Angeles. In his new position, he promptly organized numerous meetings to understand who he would be working with. Then, somewhat serendipitously, an informal agreement made on a napkin in a restaurant led to the introduction of David Lynch’s legendary series, Twin Peaks This was considered a groundbreaking and distinctive innovation for television during that period. Although Tom initially opposed the idea, Bob managed to convince him, and they took a significant risk by airing Twin Peaks. The Show claimed the top spot in Primetime, and for the first time, Bob received resounding applause from a large crowd during an awards ceremony.
Iger took over ABC in January 1993. Since Dan will retire shortly after this, Tom wants Iger to be president of Capital Cities/ABC. In September 1994, he took over the entire company.
Little FishEats Big Fish
In the spring of 1995, Michael Eisner, chairman of The Walt Disney, and Warren Buffet, the largest shareholder of Cap/ABC, met in a parking lot in Sun Valley, Idaho. Just a few weeks later, the acquisition process began. The fourth episode marks the point where Iger shifts his focus to Disney. Negotiations and discussions about the company’s sale take place for a while After Disney’s acquisition, there have been major problems for a while. Disney’s excessively centralized structure did not align with ABC, and Eisner’s decision to bring in Ovitz, who had a background in agency work and whom he previously knew as a president, caused issues within the company. At the end of this troubled period, in April 1996, Eisner fired Ovitz, with whom he did not get along very well.
Michael ran the company for the next three years without a second-in-command. Later, in late 1998, Michael offered Iger to start and run a new company… At that time, Iger was heading ABC Group and overseeing Disney’s television division Our writer, Iger, thinks there are still major communication problems and disconnections in Disney’s world operation during this period. He says everything is very passive.
At that time, Iger was heading ABC Group and overseeing Disney’s television division. During this period, our writer, Iger, believed that there were significant communication issues and disconnects within Disney’s global operations. He described everything as being very passive.”
Michael was also aware of this problem. He knew the importance of growing internationally and had desired to open a theme park in China for years Iger was the only person who had knowledge about China, as he had previously aired ABC children’s programs in China. So Michael put him in charge of Walt Disney International and tasked him with finding a place to build a theme park in China. In October 1998, while Willow was pregnant with their first child, she went to Shanghai in the ninth month of her pregnancy. Bob describes the land they found as a place far from modernity. However, it is located in an area between the newly opened airport and the city centre. This is how the 18-year journey that will take him to China more than 40 times begins. After experiencing some failures in the television industry, ABC was generally on the decline. However, they managed to make a partial recovery with the program ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ and the Millennium New Year’s program. Even though Michael had trust issues with Bob, he found himself unable to run the company on his own. After a few ups and downs, Bob was appointed to the positions of president, general manager, and Disney board member. After several ebbs and flows, Bob was appointed to the positions of president, general manager, and Disney board member. Then, the September 11 attacks happened, and things got messy. In addition, there are disagreements between Disney and Pixar, that is, between Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs. It is not clear who will direct the sequels and who will be in what position. On the board, Walt Disney’s nephew Roy Disney and Stanley Gold have clearly begun to think that Michael can no longer run the company. In addition, Comcast (the largest cable broadcasting company in the US) is taking aggressive steps to acquire Disney. The acquisition offer does not receive the expected return, and the company begins to look for a new chairman of the board.
Bob’s nomination for the Disney board of directors is actually not highly favoured by the board, as he is Michael’s right-hand man and an external candidate is sought. On a Saturday in March 2005, the board met to make its decision.
Bob takes over Disney. During this period, he has an anxiety attack for the first time in his life but generally remains calm. From the beginning of the process, he focuses on Disney’s future rather than its past and how it will increase its brand value all over the world. Here’s Behavior Befitting a Board Chair. The night he learned of his appointment as chairman of the board of directors, Bob called Steve Jobs, attempting to explore the possibility of future collaboration.
During the six-month period until Michael leaves the company, Iger sets out to solve some of Disney’s problems up to that point. First, he reconciles with Roy Disney and Stanley by meeting with them and then he meets with Steve Jobs, and they make a deal for the upcoming video iPhone. While this improves Disney’s foreign relations and media perception, it also tries to establish a more horizontal hierarchy by reducing the authority of the strategy planning department, which has too much power within the company. In his own words, the company is breathing a sigh of relief. The number of employees in the Strategy Planning department is reduced from 65 to 15. While doing all this, he displays a friendly and respectful attitude as possible and somehow wins the hearts of everyone. On September 30, 2005, Michael spent his last day as chairman of the board, and on Monday, October 3, Iger officially took over as the 6th term chairman of the Walt Disney Company. The first thing he wants to do is fix the situation for Disney Animations. For this, he wants detailed reports from the heads of the departments to share at the first board meeting and says that if we save Disney Animations, we will save Disney, too. He thinks that the way to do this is to buy Pixar, which has done very important things recently. Although he thinks that Steve will not accept this situation, he is courageous and tells him that he wants to make an agreement with him in the most transparent way, without involving his ego. Somewhat surprisingly, Steve leaves room to consider the offer, and after a few interviews, Bob heads to Pixar’s campus. He is very impressed by what he witnesses there. What he observes resembles more of a university than a company. It’s very encouraging to see how diligently and enthusiastically everyone is doing their job. Bob says he admires Pixar’s use of both cutting-edge technology and creativity in an almost perfect harmony. After much effort, he convinced the board of directors to buy Pixar for $7.6 billion. On the day of the deal, Steve shares information with Bob that only his doctors and his wife know and warns him not to tell anyone. Steve Jobs’ pancreatic cancer relapsed at the time, and he knew he would die in the near future. After explaining this, he tells Iger that he can withdraw from the deal if he wants to. But even though Iger is initially shocked and unsure of what to do, he decides to proceed with the purchase. “The Pixar deal was announced at 1:05 p.m. PT. After Steve and I made our press release, we stood side by side in Pixar’s massive atrium with John and Ed on either side of us, facing nearly a thousand Pixar employees. Before I spoke, someone gifted me a Luxo lamp to celebrate the moment. I impromptu thanked the group and said I would use this lamp to illuminate our castle. The lamp has been lighting the castle ever since. ”Then, the Marvel acquisition process begins. It is believed that the characters of the Marvel Universe will provide Disney with numerous options. In general, a respectful and trusting attitude was displayed throughout the negotiations. It is valued at $4 billion. Due to a communication problem between the Marvel headquarters and the film production office, the film production office is directly connected to Disney. As a result of the acquisition, the results exceed even the most optimistic forecasts at the beginning, and the movies are grossing huge. Although Steve Jobs opposed this purchase and somewhat disdains Marvel, Marvel’s commercial success is impressive. Especially with the development of inclusivity through characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel, the superhero universe brings significant commercial and cultural success.” Star Wars producer Lucasfilm is the target after the Pixar and Marvel acquisitions. This process is a little different from the others because, unlike Pixar and Marvel, Star Wars is under the control of a single person: George Lucas. Bob is more wary of Lucas because he sees Star Wars as his legacy and doesn’t force him at all. He allows more time, and eventually, Lucas decides to sell the company. But the deal process is getting longer to prevent Lucas from interfering too much with subsequent films. Even for the next movie, when JJ Abrams agrees to and shoots a new script instead of Lucas’ script, Lucas reacts strongly, but eventually, he attends the premiere of the movie, and somehow things settle down. In fact, the idea that “if you do not innovate, you will perish” prevails throughout the book; this serves as a compass guiding Iger from his years at ABC. Advances in technology now allow the world of TV series and movies to reach the end user directly. The company began to work for ESPN(plus) and Disney(plus) platforms. After meeting with Rupert Murdoch, 21st Century Fox’s chairman of the board, the way for the fourth major acquisition is cleared. But this is a more difficult process than others. There are two reasons for this. First, it’s a much larger company than the previous acquisitions, and Comcast is also looking to buy Fox and is pushing up the offer. Still, this is a huge move for Disney because the Fox acquisition paves the way for global growth, and the rapid growth of new platforms is ensured. In this final chapter, Iger thinks the three goals he presented at his first board meeting years ago have now been achieved. The company, which is growing globally, is no longer just technologically competent but produces high-quality products in terms of creativity and content. With the acquisition of Fox, The Simpsons, and The National Geographic are also added to the Disney(plus) library. After many years of adventure, the retirement date of our hero is announced: December 2021.Robert Iger ends the book with these sentences before the chapter in which he compiles his principles on leadership:
“The moment you start to believe too much in power and importance, when you look in the mirror and see a title shining on your forehead, you’ve lost your way. The hardest but most necessary lesson to keep in mind is to be conscious of being the person you always have been, no matter where you are on your path. ”Robert Iger’s Leadership Lessons (**):
· Be creative or you will perish. Those who fear of innovation cannot innovate. Embrace mistakes when seeking innovation.
· Do not accept mediocrity.
· Take responsibility for the mistake.
· Treat people with respect and fairness. Create an environment where they believe in second chances.
· Value talent over experience.
· Do not hesitate to ask questions.
· Learn in a short time.
· Managing creativity is an art, not a science.
· If you start something small, you will seem insignificant.
· Do not try to secure your job. Create possibilities.
· Do not invest in projects that will consume your resources and will not gain you anything.
· If the head of the company is not functional, the rest are also non-functional.
· When you don’t do your part as a leader, people realize this and lose their respect for you. You have to attend long meetings, listen to and solve people’s problems.
· Good leadership isn’t about being indispensable but preparing people to take your place.
· A company’s reputation is the sum of the actions of its employees and the quality of its products.
Your employees and your products must always be correct.
· Do not underestimate tight control. Knowing the details can show how much you value your business. “Great jobs” are made up of very little things coming together. The downside of tight control is that it diminishes people’s authority and gives them the feeling of “I don’t trust you.” It is necessary to establish a balance.
· If you constantly wander in the company’s corridors saying that “the end of the world is coming,” then the apocalypse will occur. Nobody follows after a pessimist.
· When you don’t always state your priorities: time, energy, and capital are wasted.
· Always remember to say: This is where we want to be, and we will get here by doing the following.
· Deal with the future, not the past. There is no 100% certainty in purchases. Build models ahead of time, show respect, but remember to be prepared.
· When it comes to creativity, it’s all about people.
· As a leader, you are the embodiment of that company. Your values; dignity, integrity, and honesty, how you treat the world, represent the company’s values. Whether your company has seven employees or a quarter of a million, this remains unchanged. People will think about your company the same way they think about you.
· Surround yourself with both good and successful people.
· Produce amazing things.
· Approach your work and life with humility. While your success is partly the result of your efforts, it also depends on many other people, support, and your destiny beyond your control.
What do you think? Can Robert Iger be successful again with these principles? I mean, is it possible to repeat your success?
“I think we have a very intelligent person who knows what he is doing. Even though the trends are pushing the future of Disney’s ‘core business’ intellectual property, I think it will be successful as a major player in the gaming industry, re-engaging with intellectual property with brand collaborations and, of course, taking advantage of the power of digital. I find the 24 months given to Iger to be sufficient. “This is the interpretation you would see in a standard textbook. I don’t think so.
The latest information from Disney is as follows:
“Disney+ has lost 11.7 million members globally, mainly in India, in the last three months as of July 1, with 146.1 million quits since its founding in 2019. Disney+ has lost $512 million in revenue in the past three months. This is less of a loss than experts predicted… Iger seems to have reduced the losses, at least for now. In the previous fall, this loss was $1.5 billion.
The ESPN channel, which Disney is trying to make money by selling or partnering, has created an online betting brand with a casino company. Thus, without damaging(?) Disney’s “family brand” image, a 2 billion-dollar revenue, was achieved. Disney amusement parks revenue also increased 11% in the last quarter. Company revenue rose 4% to $22.3 billion, again slightly less than experts expected. Meanwhile, a net loss of $460 million was announced due to a one-time $2.7 billion restructuring interest. Last year, a profit of 1.4 billion dollars was announced (***).
Let’s see what time will tell…
(*) Americans abbreviate Robert as Bob. Bob is used instead of Robert in most parts of the book.
(**) Iger, R. (2021). How Dreams Come True, Chronic.
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