March 19, 2005 in Business

A new world at Disney

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Robert Iger will become only the sixth chief executive in the storied history of The Walt Disney Co. when he takes over on October 1.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES — Robert A. Iger will become just the sixth chief executive in the storied, 81-year history of The Walt Disney Co. when he succeeds longtime CEO Michael Eisner on Oct. 1. Disney’s board unanimously gave Iger the promotion last Sunday.

As Disney’s No. 2, Iger kept a low profile while Eisner was the company’s very public face, hosting the “Wonderful World of Disney” television series and generally playing the role of celebrity executive.

Iger shies away from comparisons to Eisner, who has led the company for 21 years. But it appears Disney’s top-down corporate culture will change under Iger, who says he’ll rely on a team approach.

Iger, 54, has spent his past five years as president and chief operating officer getting to know the movie, theme park, consumer products and television divisions of the sprawling media conglomerate.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Iger described his style, goals, personal affection for the Disney brand, and his e-mail exchange with Pixar CEO Steve Jobs.

AP: It has been said that Disney, because of its emotional connection to the public, is not just another media company. What does Disney mean to you?

Iger: I grew up on Disney. I raised my two older daughters on Disney, and I’m in a way raising my two young sons on Disney. Disney experiences are very significant in their lives.

What an unbelievable feeling it is to have grown up in the ‘50s in the United States with all of that and then to be where I am today.

I think having a real sensitivity and an appreciation for what Disney means to people around the world is very important. It’s not just any company.

AP: How will you be different than Michael Eisner?

Iger: I’m loathe to compare myself with Michael. I can talk about who I am and you can draw your own conclusions as to how I might be different.

I bring a different personality to the job and some different skills and different experiences. Interestingly enough, when it comes to how we feel about this company and how optimistic we are about its future, we’re in lock step.

AP: What then is your vision for Disney?

Iger: I believe that in order to attract and retain great executives, it’s very important that we show a trust for them and empower them. But that has to be done in an environment where we are being called upon as chief executives to have shareholder value in mind.

I also am a person that is accessible and enthusiastic, and I think I’m a very good listener.

AP: Michael Eisner was famous for being involved in small details, such as picking out the color of drapes in hotel rooms. Will you be that involved?

Iger: I have always believed in observing him that he has been unfairly criticized at times for making suggestions that actually created value, even if those suggestions appeared to be somewhat small in nature.

I’m sure there will be times when I have suggestions large or small. But my goal is to create a team, to rely on the team, to operate this company as a team.

AP: What do you see as Disney’s biggest challenge?

Iger: Our biggest challenge is to be nimble and to be capable of adapting to a changing environment.

Our mission is to create more high-quality entertainment for more people to consume in more places more often. As challenging as that might be to achieve, we begin with a great asset base, a strong set of executives, a great set of characters, brands and creativity and that should go a long way.

AP: Disney’s lucrative deal with Pixar Animation Studios is set to expire soon, and they have said they are talking to other studios about a new distribution deal. Will you seek to restart stalled talks with Pixar CEO Steve Jobs?

Iger: We did exchange e-mails. I fully expect to talk to him at some point in the future, I can’t say when. I certainly feel it’s my responsibility to fully explore whether there’s a way to continue a relationship with them.

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