Retired Disney CEO gives advice on leadership in “The Ride of a Lifetime”

Retired Disney CEO gives advice on leadership in The Ride of a Lifetime

15-year Disney CEO shares struggles and accomplishments during time spent at company

We are often told from a young age that anything is possible if we dream big and work hard. As we grow older and become more accustomed to real-world challenges, these young ideals water down and often seem impossible. While passion and diligence are key components of success, they alone cannot grant us the opportunity to achieve our dreams.

[/media-credit] Retired Disney CEO shares the leadership lessons learned through the journey of his career. Published in 2019, “The Ride of a Lifetime” inspires readers to implement some of Iger’s advice in their own lives.

 Robert Igers’ new novel “The Ride of a Lifetime” highlights the required elements to lead one of the largest corporations in the world, the Walt Disney Company. The 14-chapter book reaches viewers by applying advice on success to Igers’ real-life experiences. Starting from humble beginnings to creating a legacy of phenomenal success as Disney’s CEO for 15 years, Iger stresses the importance of empathy, courage, optimism and more throughout the journey of his career. 

After the resignation of two-decade chairman Michael Eisner in 2005, the Disney company needed a new leader. Someone who was not only qualified but willing to take innovative risks. Previous American Broadcasting Company (ABC) head of entertainment Robert Iger was just the person for that job. His vision gave the company opportunities it may have never seen otherwise. 

Iger’s first alteration of the Disney Company as chairman began with its animation industry. Iger understood that animation was the most significant aspect of the company. It inspired everything from attractions to merchandise.  Without it, the company’s revenue would plummet.

While Disney animation produced a few fan-favorite movies like Aladdin and Lion King, there was an internal struggle to catch up with technological advancements, keeping Disney at bay from the future of animation. Iger saw the Pixar company as Disney’s silver lining. He believed it would bring them up to speed on animation and, in a collaborative effort, show off creativity like never before. Iger soon sought to acquire the corporation – a decision that, at the time, was seen as a major mistake. 

The board thought that Iger’s aspirations pushed the limits of instability, especially in his first year at the company. Besides the fact that Pixar was Disney’s greatest rival, many believed that Iger could never come to an agreement with Pixar’s co-founder Steve Jobs, who owned over half of the Pixar brand. 

In following chapters, Iger explains the many challenges he faced dealing with Jobs and how they eventually came to the consensus that made the Apple creator Disney’s greatest shareholder. In the end they formed a friendship that lasted until Jobs’ passing. Iger’s choice to acquire the business that began in 1986 was nothing short of risky, but evidently a decision that shaped the company as a whole for generations to come. 

While the Pixar acquisition helped drive Disney forward, there were greater opportunities on Igers’ horizons. The Disney company ended up gaining both Marvel and Star Wars during his time at the helm. Iger describes the events that led up to George Lucas selling his creation of a galaxy far far away and his meetings with a secretive Marvel owner Ike Perlmutter

As a Disney fan, I became instantly intrigued upon hearing about this book.  Anytime a new documentary about the Disney parks or movies airs, I jump on a device to watch it. Inevitably, a book about some of Disney’s most successful years and what got them there caught my attention. While I would have been satisfied with only how the Disney company is run and its successes after Iger stepped in as CEO, it delivered more than that. It delivered important advice to live by.

Iger ends the book by recapping the lessons he learned in quick bullet points. This was especially beneficial to me because after reading any book, I often forget what I’ve learned. The last chapter encourages me to go back and refresh on the most critical points. 

[/media-credit] “Ride of a Lifetime” not only follows Iger’s story along with the Disney company’s success after he stepped in as CEO. The book emphasizes the element of innovation which helped the corporation soar to greater heights.

One point that stuck out to me was “Ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you don’t understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can.” When people are put in the position of leadership, it can be easy to get comfortable and pretend like they know everything about that job. Iger’s ability to ask simple questions with humility led a to career full of major accomplishments.  

Another aspect of Iger’s writing was the fact that he never criticized any of his peers or executives. In the areas where he could have talked negatively of his counterparts, he reflected them in a positive light and respected their position. This made the book even more convincing because it revealed the humility required to lead. “You have to be self-aware that you don’t cling to the notion that you are the only person who can do this job.” 

Some reviews have claimed that this novel is only beneficial to business bureaucrats,  I disagree. While Iger’s business tactics are evident throughout the book, advice on treating everyone with fairness, being comfortable with failure and approaching life with humility are not strictly reserved for the hierarchy. Anyone who reads this novel to learn or simply to pass time can gain something from it.

The youth of today can especially gather important life lessons discussed in the book. Here are a few points Iger writes that I believe will lead any high school student to greater accomplishments:

  • “A little respect goes a long way, and the absence of it is often very costly.”
  • “Take responsibility when you screw up. In work, in life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you own up to your mistakes.”
  • “If you believe that something can be made better, put in effort to do it.”

At some point in life we will find ourselves in a position to lead. Whether it’s managing a crew of talented individuals or being put in charge of a group project, leadership is an eminent part of life. With that there comes a sense of responsibility.  Once we step into that responsibility, we are ready for our own ride of a lifetime. 

“The Ride of a Lifetime” is available on Amazon for about $20.

For more articles, check out COLUMN: Running the SAT/ACT gauntlet or Despite controversy, TikTok remains popular with youth.

Jewel Chandler can be reached via email and Twitter.

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