Iger, Robert 1951–
President, Walt Disney Company; chairman, ABC Group
Education: Ithaca College, BA, 1973.
Family: Married Susan (maiden name unknown; divorced 1994); married Willow Bay (TV news anchor), 1995; children: four (first marriage, two; second marriage, two).
Career: ABC, 1974–1976, studio supervisor, daytime television; ABC Sports, 1976–1985, various production positions; 1985–1987, vice president, program planning and development; 1987–1988, vice president, program planning and acquisition, ABC Sports,; ABC-TV Network Group, 1988–1989, executive vice president; ABC Entertainment, 1989–1992, president; ABC-TV Network Group, 1992–1994, president; Capital Cities/ABC, 1993–1994, executive vice president; Capital Cities/ABC, 1994–1996, president and chief operating officer; ABC, 1996–1999, president; Disney/ABC Group, 1999, chairman; Walt Disney International, 1999, president; Walt Disney Company, 2000–, president and chief operating officer.
■ Robert Iger was a career-long ABC television executive and an influential figure in American entertainment. Iger rose from a production position to become head of the ABC television network, surviving two changes in corporate ownership. Following the Walt Disney Company's acquisition of ABC in 1996, he joined Disney management and emerged as second in command at the company, reporting only to the chief executive
officer (CEO) of Disney, Michael Eisner. Iger was con sidered likely to be Eisner's heir at Disney, one of the leading entertainment and marketing companies in the world.
Having set his sights on a career as a television news reporter during grade school, Robert Iger studied television production and broadcast journalism at Ithaca College in upstate New York, graduating magna cum laude. Returning to his native New York City, he searched in vain for a TV news position. Meanwhile, he found work at the daytime division of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) as a studio supervisor responsible for the daily production of soap-opera and game-show episodes. As he learned the nuts-and-bolts of network TV production, he refocused his career goal toward management. Switching to a job at ABC Sports in 1976, he founda mentor in Roone Arledge, who headed the network's sports division and, after 1977, the news division as well. As more of Arledge's attention went into building up ABC News, Iger gradually emerged as his most trusted aide in the sports operation. Arledge helped Iger make the difficult transition in corporate culture from a production employee to a network executive, promoting him repeatedly, often past senior executives. In 1985 Iger decisively crossed the line into higher management as vice president for program planning and development at ABC Sports.
Iger developed a reputation at ABC and elsewhere in the industry for getting things done as well as developing good rapport with on-air talent. His appointment in 1988 as executive vice president of the ABC-TV Network Group marked his "graduation" from the sports division into the central corporate structure of the company. Less than a year later he was named president of ABC Entertainment, effectively putting him in charge of ABC's prime-time television programming. Stockholders were generally pleased with Iger, who developed or championed many of the network's successful, longrunning hit series during the 1990s, including comedies such as Home Improvement, The Drew Carey Show, and America's Funniest Home Videos. Iger was also instrumental in bringing the immensely successful Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? to ABC. It was the first successful big-money quiz show to appear in prime time since the scandals of the 1950s. Steven Bochco, the executive producer of ABC series such as Doogie Howser, M.D., a comedy concerning a teenage genius who is a practicing physician, and CopRock, a short-lived musical police drama, praised Iger for taking chances on innovative program concepts. But Iger also kept his eye on the bottom line, winning the wrath of critics for canceling highly regarded drama series such as Twin Peaks, China Beach, and thirtysomething.
In 1993 ABC was bought by Capital Cities Broadcasting, an owner of local stations and cable-television franchises. Iger, who many credited for the high price paid for the company, was one of only a handful of long-time ABC executives to survive the buyout and prosper in its aftermath. Serving during the transition period as both president of the ABC-TV Network Group and vice president of Capital Cities/ABC, he emerged as chief operating officer of the combined company in 1994. Under Iger's leadership during the 1990s, ABC maintained its competitive position with its traditional broadcasting rivals, CBS and NBC, and moved ahead of them in expanding corporate operations into cable-television channels. The network invested in cable outlets such as ESPN (sports), Lifetime (targeted to women), and A&E (an arts channel that had been started and abandoned by CBS), all of which became profitable.
In 1999 the network, as part of Capital Cities/ABC, was sold once again, this time to the Walt Disney Company, a diversified entertainment conglomerate known chiefly for its family-oriented feature films, cable-television channels, and theme parks. The price, some $19 billion, was believed to be the highest ever paid for an entertainment company. Iger became chairman of the Disney/ABC Group and president of Walt Disney International, the corporate division responsible for managing Disney interests outside the U.S. Asked why Iger, who had virtually no international business experience, was given the latter responsibility, Disney's CEO Michael Eisner said that he believed it would help Iger by rounding out his experience, a vote of confidence that assured investors of Iger's future with the company. In January 2000 the one-time studio supervisor, with only a bachelor's degree in television production, moved past a bevy of Ivy League MBAs to become president and chief operating officer of the Walt Disney Company.
Iger was married to Willow Bay, a CNN on-air personality. A previous marriage ended in divorce in 1994. Iger was active in civic affairs in New York as a member of the board of directors of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and as a board member of the Outward Bound Program and the National Campaign Against Youth Violence. He was a trustee of Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, and of the Museum of Television and Radio.
See also entry on Walt Disney Company in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Fabrikant, Geraldine, "Disney Gives New Jobs to 2 of Its Top Managers," New York Times, February 26, 1999.
Gunther, Marc, "Bob Iger Gets Serious about Fixing ABC,"Fortune, June 22, 1998, p. 46.
——, "A Hollywood Hotshot Without a Hit," Fortune, September 29, 1997.
"Robert A. Iger, President, Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., Announces a Consolidation of the International Operations of Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. and Walt Disney Television International," PR Newswire Association, June 25, 1996.