The 4 Lessons We Learned in Disney CEO Bob Iger's MasterClass
Disney CEO Bob Iger has his own style of leadership, one that’s defined by taking calculated risks that end up reaping significant financial reward as well as strengthening the brand of his corporation. Bob Iger also practices what he teaches when cultivating his own personal brand, particularly his credo on the importance of maximizing your presence across multiple channels to tell a cohesive, compelling story.
And Iger’s story is a compelling one; a tale that rests on how his leadership and business acumen made Disney into the IP-laden behemoth it is today. This story is directly told in his recently released memoir, and indirectly earlier this week with the rollout of Disney+.
This week, Iger has launched another personal brand-building endeavor: MasterClass, a platform that provides online courses from well-known experts from a variety of fields (Penn & Teller, Spike Lee, Shonda Rhimes and Christina Aguilera are just a few other famous MasterClass teachers) will now have Bob Iger on their roster. Iger’s MasterClass is aimed to teach aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs how to be as badass of a leader as he’s been during his tenure as head of Disney. The class offers some sound business advice, but also spends time on the four major deals Iger oversaw at Disney: the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and certain assets from 21st Century Fox.
Iger’s retelling of how he closed these deals are the most interesting parts of his MasterClass, especially for those who care about any of the properties Disney now owns (which, let’s be honest, is pretty much everyone). Read on for details on a few IP-specific anecdotes shared in Iger’s MasterClass course.
Pixar Case Study – Disney Is Only As Good As Its Animation
Iger’s first deal as head of Disney was the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar. His decision to undergo the deal stemmed from his understanding that Disney as a company rose and fell with the quality of its animation. When Iger took over in 2005, Disney animation was in a slump. That led him to reach out to Steve Jobs (who acrimoniously broke Pixar’s ties with Disney when Eisner was CEO) and convinced him to go forward with the acquisition.
There were concerns on Jobs’s end, of course, not least of which was the worry that Pixar would lose its creative culture. Iger met with John Lasseter, then-head of Pixar, to assure him that the culture would remain intact for better or worse. (The better: the company’s continued emphasis on creative freedom. The worse: the alleged sexual misconduct of Lasseter, which, unsurprisingly, was not brought up in the course.)
Marvel Case Study – Capitalizing on a Strong Fanbase
The class then moves on to Marvel, the 2009 $4.2 billion acquisition that brought us the MCU we know and love, in part because Disney brought the production and distribution of Marvel films in house. Iger also emphasizes how much of Marvel’s value came from its strong fanbase, and in a section devoted to anticipating what consumers want, Iger goes on to talk about how having access to thousands of Marvel characters provided opportunities to create a more diverse set of films. He’s referencing, of course, Black Panther and Captain Marvel—two films that have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
What’s left out, at least in the material shared with press, is that large fanbases have a small but vocal dark side—sad angry men, for example, who hate Captain Marvel simply because the hero is a woman. Iger’s glosses over this dark underbelly of fandom (both here and in reference to Star Wars), and emphasizes the financial and critical success of Marvel’s more diverse films as an indirect rebuttal. It would have been interesting, however, to hear explicitly how he, as a business leader, handles such a hateful, disproportionately vocal minority.
Lucasfilm Case Study – It’s Almost Impossible to Oversaturate the Market (Though Disney Is Sure Trying)
Iger also talks about the 2012 $4.1 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm by emphasizing the value of a property that has a great story. Fans of the franchise would agree that Star Wars is a timeless tale, and they’d also most likely also agree that Disney has aggressively inundated the market with Star Wars, from the new films, to Galaxy’s Edge, to the slew of new canon comics, books and merchandise.
It could be argued that oversaturation is possible, at least if things are rushed out at a pace that impacts quality and/or the cohesiveness of the overall story (something that could be argued about the recent set of Star Wars films). The MasterClass glosses over this (again, at least in what was shared with press), though the recently announced halt on new Star Wars films suggests that this was a lesson Iger and Disney have recently learned as well.
21st Century Fox Case Study – Expanding Disney’s Content Creation Capabilities
The most recent of Iger’s acquisitions was a slate of assets previously owned by 21st Century Fox. In the course, Iger says a major impetus for the deal was to expand Disney’s content creation capabilities, something he deemed necessary to support the company’s strategic move to become more of a direct-to-consumer player. This deal, along with the ones before it, have succeeded in making Disney just that. Maintaining the status quo, according to Iger, is a losing strategy. And the Disney CEO has followed his own advice—the corporation has changed significantly over the last 15 years, with the recent launch of Disney+ being the latest example of the wisdom of Iger’s acquisitions.
Iger’s MasterClass if For Aspiring Business Leaders and Disney Fans Alike
Iger’s MasterClass also provides a glimpse of his relaxed, unassuming avuncular style. As someone who has worked with several CEOs in a previous career, I found his advice and his leadership style blissfully refreshing; the corporate world would be a better place if there were more leaders like him.
Maybe this MasterClass will help make that happen. At the very least, it will provide Disney devotees additional insight into the workings of the company. And that, as Iger’s course teaches, will create value for both the consumer and the Disney/Iger brand.
Bob Iger’s online course—Bob Iger Teaches Business Strategy & Leadership— is now available on www.masterclass.com for $90 (or buy an all-access annual pass for $180).
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