The Ride of a Lifetime

Sarah F. Roach

In these unprecedented times, many of us are spending more time at home than we did in the past. Why not use this as an opportunity to read some good books? One I highly recommend is Disney Executive Chairman Robert Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime. It has been widely praised, including this comment from Steven Spielberg: “Nurturing creativity is less a skill than an art—especially at a company where the brand alone is synonymous with creativity. … Bob Iger has not only lived up to 96 years of groundbreaking history but has moved the Disney brand far beyond anyone’s expecta­tions, and he has done it with grace and audacity.”

While many CEOs haven written autobiographies, Iger’s kindness and humanity made this one partic­ularly memorable—what Spielberg referred to as “grace.” The prologue is a perfect example: It was 2016, and Iger was in China awaiting the opening ceremonies for Shanghai Disneyland. This was one of the largest projects in the history of Disney—a $6 billion price tag, 11 times the size of Disneyland and years in the making. At that exultant moment, word came through about a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Because of Disney World, the company employs hundreds in Orlando, so Iger and his team worried about whether any Disney employees had been killed. (Two had.) On top of that, authorities had determined that the shooter’s likely original target had been Disney World itself, which was later verified via closed circuit TV footage and cell phone data. Apparently the only reason the shooter went elsewhere was the extra security in place for a rock concert at Disney World that night. As Iger described these events, I was on the edge of my seat— not my typical reaction to a CEO memoir.

Needless to say, the entire book is not that intense, although he does write with heartfelt emotion about the toddler who was killed by an alligator at Disney World that same year. Primarily he documents his life and career, starting with childhood memories of his inspirational father, through his humble beginnings as a production assistant at ABC television (subsequently acquired by Disney), to his eventual rise to Disney CEO. Along the way, his relationships with powerful and creative people were particularly interesting. He shares insights regarding such luminaries as Roone Arledge, legendary head of ABC Sports, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, and Steve Jobs, in his capacity as CEO of Disney’s creative partner, Pixar Animation Studios. The stories about Jobs, with whom Iger became close friends, were enlightening.

Iger resigned as Disney CEO earlier this year but remains Executive Chairman. He was involved with the company’s response after September 11, 2001, and is no doubt involved with its response to the current crisis—theme parks are shuttered worldwide. No matter what the future holds, Bob Iger has left Disney stronger than ever as a creative force. The popular new Disney+ video streaming service is a testament to his visionary leadership and “audacity,” to quote Spielberg again. I think you’ll enjoy this well-written book, and the fact that Disney stock is in many of our managed portfolios certainly adds to its relevance for our clients