Ride of a lifetime - Story of Bob Iger

Note: Whenever I read any book, I take notes to make sure I don't miss or forget its key learnings. These notes are a way for me to come back and read them to refresh them in my mind. I hope you find it useful as well

Link to book - Ride of a Lifetime

Who’s Bob Iger?

Bog Iger was the 6th CEO of Disney Company for 15 years from 2005 to 2020. He was responsible for ushering Disney into the era of technology, and acquisitions of companies like Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars franchise.

Ten principles

The ten principles that strike Bob Iger as necessary to true leadership.

  • Optimism One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.

  • Courage. The foundation of risk-taking is courage, and in ever-changing, disrupted businesses, risk-taking is essential, innovation is vital, and true innovation occurs only when people have courage. This is true of acquisitions, investments, and capital allocations, and it particularly applies to creative decisions. Fear of failure destroys creativity.

  • Focus. Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important, and it’s imperative to communicate your priorities clearly and often.

  • Decisiveness. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinion balanced with the need to make and implement decisions. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale.

  • Curiosity. A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.

  • Fairness. Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy is essential, as is accessibility. People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances, and judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourage communication and innovation.

  • Thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. It is the process of gaining knowledge, so an opinion rendered or decision made is more credible and more likely to be correct. It’s simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions.

  • Authenticity. Be genuine. Be honest. Don’t fake anything. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust.

  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.” If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it.

  • Integrity. Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product. A company’s success depends on setting this is: The way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Bob, on his first boss, Roone

Roone was his one of the first boss and he looked at the sports section in ABC Channel.

Roone was looking, always, for new ways to connect to viewers and grab their attention. Roone taught me the dictum that has guided me in every job I’ve held since:

Innovate or die

In 1979, the World Table Tennis Championships were being held in Pyongyang, North Korea. Roone called me into his office one day and said, “This is going to be interesting. Let’s cover it on Wide World of Sports.” I thought he was joking. He surely knew it would be impossible to secure the rights to an event in North Korea. He wasn’t joking.

I then embarked on a worldwide pursuit to secure the rights. The first stop was Cardiff, Wales, to meet with the head of the World Table Tennis Federation, and then from there, since I wasn’t allowed to travel to North Korea, to Beijing to meet with the North Korean contingent. After a few months of intense negotiations, we were on the eve of closing the deal when I received a call from someone on the Asian desk in the U.S. State Department. “Everything you’re doing with them is illegal,” he said. “You’re in violation of strict U.S. sanctions against doing any business with North Korea.”

That certainly seemed like the end of the road, but I also had Roone in my mind, telling me to find another way. It turned out that the State Department wasn’t opposed to our entering North Korea; they actually liked the idea of our going in with cameras and capturing what images we could there. They just wouldn’t allow us to pay the North Koreans for the rights or enter into any contract with them. When I explained this to the North Korean contingent, they were livid, and it appeared that the whole thing would collapse. I eventually arrived at a workaround that involved securing the rights not through the host country but through the World Table Tennis Federation.

The North Korean government, though we were no longer paying them, still agreed to let us in, and we became the first U.S. media team to enter North Korea in decades—a historic moment in sports broadcasting. Roone never knew the lengths I’d gone to to get it done, but I know I wouldn’t have done it had I not been driven in part by his expectations and my desire to please him. It’s a delicate thing, finding the balance between demanding that your people perform and not instilling a fear of failure in them.

On Nurturing ambitions in your teams

I’ve been asked a lot over the years about the best way to nurture ambition—both one’s own and that of the people you manage. As a leader, you should want those around you to be eager to rise up and take on more responsibility, as long as dreaming about the job they want doesn’t distract them from the job they have. You can’t let ambition get too far ahead of opportunity.

They didn’t tend enough to the responsibilities they did have, because they were longing so much for something else, and so their ambition became counterproductive.

On Building Consensus on a decision

It’s a tricky thing, moving people over to your side and enlisting their enthusiastic engagement. Sometimes it’s worth talking through their reservations and patiently responding to their concerns. Other times you simply need to communicate that you’re the boss and you want this done. It’s not that one approach is “nice”and the other isn’t. It’s just that one is more direct and nonnegotiable. It really comes down to what you believe is right for the moment—when a more democratic approach is useful both in getting to the best outcome and in building morale, and when you have enough certainty in your opinion that you’re willing to be an autocrat even in the face of disagreement.

On Culture

A company’s culture is shaped by a lot of things, but this is one of the most important—you have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. In my experience, it’s what separates great managers from the rest. If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be.

On Pixar & Steve Jobs

Background - So before Bob became CEO, Pixar and Disney had severed their relationship because of a spat between Steve Jobs and Disney’s then CEO, Michael. So after becoming CEO, Bob was contemplating how to mend their relationship with Pixar

My asking Steve to just change his mind, after he’d so publicly ended the partnership and excoriated Disney, would be far too simple for him. There was no way it was going to be that easy. I had an idea unrelated to Pixar, though, that I thought might interest him. I told him I was a huge music lover and that I had all of my music stored on my iPod, which I used constantly. I’d been thinking about the future of television, and it occurred to me that it was only a matter of time before we would be accessing TV shows and movies on our computers. So I said, “Why not create a video iPod?”

Steve then flew down to showcase to Bob what they’ve already built and asked if Disney would partner with Apple on iPOD. Bob immediately said Yes to the idea.

Steve responded to boldness, and I wanted to signal to him that there could be a different way of doing business with Disney going forward. Among his many frustrations was a feeling that it was often too difficult to get anything done with

This was about a week and a half before our announcement about the video iPod, so we spent a couple of minutes talking about that before I said, “Hey, I have another crazy idea. Can I come see you in a day or two to discuss it?” I didn’t yet fully appreciate just how much Steve liked radical ideas. “Tell me now,”he said.

While still on the phone, I pulled into my driveway. It was a warm October evening, and I turned the engine off, and the combination of heat and nerves caused me to break out in a sweat. I reminded myself of Willow’s advice—be bold. Steve would likely say no immediately. He might also be offended at what he perceived as the arrogance of the idea. How dare I think Pixar was something Disney could just come along and buy? Even if he told me where I could shove it, though, the call would end, and I’d be left exactly where I already was. I had nothing to lose. “I’ve been thinking about our respective futures,”I said. “What do you think about the idea of Disney buying Pixar?”I waited for him to hang up or to erupt in laughter. The quiet before his response seemed endless. Instead, he said, “You know, that’s not the craziest idea in the world.”

I’d so braced myself for rejection that now, even though I knew rationally that there were a million more hurdles between this moment and ever bringing this idea to fruition, I felt a rush of adrenaline that it was even a possibility. “Okay,”I said. “Great. When can we talk more?”

PEOPLE SOMETIMES SHY AWAY from taking big swings because they assess the odds and build a case against trying something before they even take the first step. One of the things I’ve always instinctively felt—and something that was greatly reinforced working for people like Roone and Michael—is that long shots aren’t usually as long as they seem.

After meeting, they discussed the pros and cons of the merger. There were few pros but lots of cons. “A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons,” Steve said. “So what should we do next?” Another lesson: Steve was great at weighing all sides of an issue and not allowing negatives to drown out positives, particularly for things he wanted to accomplish. It was a powerful quality of his.

Written on August 14, 2020

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