Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company
Born Robert A. Iger, February 10, 1951, in Ocean-side, NY; son of Arthur (a professor and business executive) and Mimi (a teaching assistant) Iger; married first wife (divorced); married Willow Bay (a television journalist and model), October 7, 1995; children: Katie, Amanda (from first marriage), Robert Maxwell, Will (from second marriage). Education: Ithaca College, undergraduate degree (magna cum laude).
Addresses: Office —c/o The Walt Disney Company, 500 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91521-0001.
Television news weatherman, Ithaca, NY; ABC, studio supervisor, New York, NY, 1974-76; ABC Sports, management positions, 1976-84, then vice president in charge of program planning and development, 1985-87, vice president of programming, 1987-88; executive vice president, ABC, 1988-89; president and chief operating officer, ABC Entertainment, 1989-93; president, ABC Television Network Group, 1993-94; president and chief operating officer, ABC, 1994-99; chair, ABC Group, 1999; president, Walt Disney International, 1999-2005; Walt Disney Company, president and chief operating officer, 2000-04, chief executive officer, 2005—.
Member: American Film Institute Board, trustee; Museum of Television and Radio, trustee; Ithaca College, trustee; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, member of board.
After spending nearly the whole of his career with ABC and the company that later bought the network, the Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger was named the chief executive officer (CEO) of Walt Disney Company in 2005. Known for his even keeled demeanor and nose-to-the-grindstone work mentality, Iger was not always the first choice to replace longtime Disney head Michael Eisner. Nonetheless, when he was selected, George J. Mitchell, chair of Disney's board, was quoted by Business Wire as saying, "Bob is an experienced, talented and visionary leader who has made crucial and substantial contributions toward Disney's strong performance."
Born on February 10, 1951, Iger grew up in New York. By the time he was ten years old, Iger knew he wanted to work in television. His original goal was to be a television news correspondent. As a student at Ithaca College, he continued to pursue this goal. Iger hoped to work for CBS News one day. After graduating from Ithaca College, Iger began his professional career in Ithaca, New York. There, he did get to work in front of the camera for a local news station, but not in the way he originally planned: He was a television weatherman.
In 1974, Iger switched gears. He moved to New York City where he was hired by ABC as a studio supervisor. In this position, he was able to work on a number of programs, including game shows. He was also part of the production of a special starring legendary singer/actor Frank Sinatra. Two years later, in 1976, Iger joined ABC Sports, where he held management and executive positions for 12 years. By the 1980s, Iger was involved in programming for ABC Sports. In 1985, he was named vice president in charge of program planning and development. Iger worked on scheduling for ABC Sports as well as the acquisition of rights. Promoted in 1987, he became the vice president of programming. In this executive position, he was in charge of scheduling all of ABC Sports' programming. Iger was in charge of acquiring programming as well. In addition, he acted as the manager and director for ABC's key sports show, Wide World of Sports.
Iger's success at ABC Sports drew the attention of the heads of the network. In 1988, Iger left ABC Sports to work for the parent network, ABC. That year, he was named an executive vice president at the network. Iger was soon promoted again; in 1989, he named president and chief operating officer of ABC Entertainment. Four years later, he was named president of the ABC Television Network Group. In 1994, he received yet another promotion, when he was selected to be the president and chief operating officer of ABC.
In these positions, one of Iger's primary concerns was programming, especially in the early 1990s. He was heavily involved in the obtaining of programming and rights acquisition. He helped put programs on the air that made ABC the number-two network in the 1993-94 television season; ABC went on to become number one in 1994-95. Iger helped get hit situation comedies like Home Improvement, Doogie Howser, M.D., and Family Matters on the air. He also had a hand in airing long-running dramas such as NYPD Blue and hits such America's Funniest Home Videos. However, Iger was quick to cancel shows with low ratings, like dramas Twin Peaks, thirtysomething, and China Beach, even though they had a loyal fan base.
Iger remained with ABC after the 1996 merger of the network and its parent company, Capital Cities, with Disney. In addition to helping the merger to be competed successfully, he continued to play a key role in programming the network. He and other executives found success with the hit prime time game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 1999 and 2000, pushing it almost daily on the network's audiences. However, when ratings fell after the fad faded, the network did not have many new programs ready to take the game show's place and ratings for the network as a whole fell dramatically for several years. ABC also lost hundreds of millions of dollars per year and fell to the bottom of the ratings barrel for networks by 2002. Iger admitted he did not handle the situation well. He told Patricia Sellers of Fortune, "I think for the first time in my career, I let myself get sucked into the vortex of thinking 'Oh, my God, we're in third place … fourth place … we need action, action, action!"
Despite these problems, Iger was given new posts at both ABC and Disney. In 1999, he became chair of the ABC Group. As head of the ABC Group, Iger was in charge of overall operations. Around the same time, he became president of Walt Disney International. He managed Disney's interests abroad, including the creation and organization of an internal operations structure. He also was in charge of coordinating products and services for international audiences. One area that Iger was especially concerned with was developing more Disney theme parks in other countries. He also wanted to increase international markets significantly.
In 2000, Iger stepped away from direct involvement with ABC when he was named Disney's president and chief operating officer (COO). He also joined Disney's board of directors. In addition, he became a member of Disney's executive management committee. As president and COO, Iger was in charge of the company's day-to-day operations. He still played a role at ABC. He helped ABC revive, though it was number three in 2003, but things got better in 2004 and 2005. At Disney, Iger emphasized technology. He also remained in charge of international operations. Iger was concerned with pirating even as he was looking to open up new theme parks and markets for Disney and its products in Asia.
As president and COO, Iger worked closely with Eisner, the long-time CEO of Disney, on many issues. The pair had a relatively a close relationship, despite Eisner's reputation as being difficult to work with. Eisner was notorious for holding grudges and forcing out creative employees who might have been good for the company had they stayed. Iger's position had been held by a number of people in the recent past, such as Michael Ovitz who later filed suit against the company. Iger did not seek out the limelight when he held the position, which might have contributed to his success in the post.
When Eisner announced in 2004 he planned to retire two years later, Iger was anointed his successor. Eisner ended up stepping down a year earlier than he originally planned and Iger was promoted to CEO in his place in 2005. This promotion was not without controversy. The move up for Iger was generally seen as a positive for Disney by industry analysts and supported by a majority of shareholders. However, Walt Disney's nephew, Roy Disney, did not initially support the promotion of Iger. Roy Disney went as far as to file a lawsuit related to Iger being named Eisner's successor. Roy Disney and Iger eventually made their peace, with Disney taking on a contract to act as a consultant to the company.
Iger was also criticized in a book about the inner workings of Disney called DisneyWar, written by journalist James Stewart. In the book, the author alleges that Iger did not have the best assessment skills for the moves he made at ABC. Stewart also accuses Iger of trying to please Eisner too much. In contrast, Marc Gunther of Fortune wrote, "The ultimate supporting-cast member—loyal, diligent, patient, and handsome to boot—Iger never stole the spotlight from Disney's longtime leading man, Michael Eisner. With Eisner's support, Iger courted directors, charmed investors, and became chief executive officer by default when every one of his rivals dropped out." Iger had no real competition for the job. Only an executive at eBay, Meg Whitman, had interviewed by the board of directors.
When Iger took charge of Disney, he began running an entertainment conglomerate that was worth about $57 billion. Disney had networks on cable and network, theme parks, and several movie studios. The company was not just concerned with entertainment, but also had a whole division devoted to producing and selling consumer products. The company as a whole had been slumping for some time, but had recently seen signs of improvement.
One project that Iger had been closely involved for some time was the creation of a Disney theme park in Hong Kong which was scheduled to open in fall 2005; the park cost about $3.6 billion to build. Iger firmly believed that Disney should continue to expand into Asia, despite expected short-term losses. He especially saw China and India as two markets where Disney must expand. He showed his interest by personally traveling to China four times in 2004 on business. China remained a priority for Iger as he took over as CEO, despite the many problems and restrictions that came with dealing with the Chinese government and media in that country. By 2005, Disney already had some presence in programming in China by providing some cartoon content for television networks, a little international sports programming under the ESPN name, and a magazine of comics aimed at children. Iger hoped foreign markets as a whole to be at least 50 percent of Disney's profits by 2010.
Other Disney units doing well included its sports network, ESPN, as well as ABC. The latter network had high ratings for new hit dramas like Desperate Housewives and Lost. The latter was a show which Iger allegedly did not think would work when it was initially brought to the network, but he was proven wrong. However, Iger also fired the programmers for ABC, Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne, who pushed for these shows to be on the air. Some observers wondered if Iger would be able to put the right creative talent in place.
Iger also faced other challenges including helping revive ABC Family, a cable network that had been struggling in the ratings. He also needed to work on renewing a contract with Pixar, the company that produced animated features such as Monsters and The Incredibles. Disney had distributed Pixar's films for a number of years, but the two companies could not come to terms on renewing that deal when Eisner had been charge. The relationship had been profitable for both parties, but Pixar was not happy with the agreement.
Iger wanted to increase Disney's profitability in other ways as well. He had a goal of increasing the number of video games offered by Disney, perhaps by acquiring another company that already produced such titles. He also wanted to emphasize technology via branding. For example, Iger wanted to use the successful names like ESPN and Disney on phones. In addition, he wanted to offer more high tech options along the lines of ESPN being offered in high definition. Iger wanted it to be possible to get Disney's content to anyone using any type of device at any time.
As CEO, Iger was especially concerned with the inner workings of Disney. Corporate culture under Eisner had been trying for many employees. Iger made some immediate moves to improve the morale of Disney's executives. One such action was to dissolve the strategic planning department. Executives were not fond of the department which was seen as a means by which Eisner used to micromanage Disney as a whole.
Though Iger was not as big of a personality as Eisner, he worked hard. He rose daily at 4:30 A.M. and was at the office within two hours. Calling him "a more traditional businessman" than Eisner, Nell Minow, the editor of Corporate Library, told Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post, "He's not as glitzy and showbizzy. He projects a lot of sincerity and has that rare CEO quality—humility."
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Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2005, p. C1; July 9, 2005, p. A1.
New York Times, March 14, 2005, p. C2.
Time, July 18, 2005, p. 52.
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