Even iconic brands need fixing from time to time. But instead of the easy fixes, Bob Iger played the long game by addressing Disney’s cultural issues head-on with a three-pronged strategy, making it a stronger, more profitable company with greater depth in its overall brand. The takeaway for CEOs is that, yes, culture—and persistence—matter
The company had
grown very large, particularly after the acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC. And
it was operating in many changing and dynamic businesses.
While it had made
sense to create overall strategy at the center, we had grown so large and were
operating in such dynamic businesses that I thought that actually slowed
decision-making down, lessened accountability and created at some level—more
inadvertent than purposeful—of mistrust, where business units didn’t feel as
trusted as they needed to be by the corporation. What had served us well in the
past was no longer optimal.
So how do you manage the company differently today?
While we still
have strategic planning, it’s reconstituted with a different mission. For one
thing, the business units create their own strategies. I want them to fit into
a framework of the company, and they need to be consistent with the company’s
strategic priorities. But a different strategy for each business had to emanate
from the businesses and be implemented by the businesses.
most key business decisions that were being made needed to be made by the
individual businesses, with either the approval, knowledge or even involvement
in an advise-and-consent sense of the corporation. The business units had to
feel not only a sense of empowerment but a sense of ownership over their own
destinies—and thus a sense that they were trusted. If they could not be
trusted, then instead of taking away the freedom and responsibility from them,
we had to get new people.
becoming CEO, you struck a deal with Steve Jobs and Apple to put a Disney app
on the then new video iPod and iTunes. Why was it considered controversial at
That was a huge
step—or a very loud signal to the company that technology could be viewed as
friend, not foe, or as opportunity, not threat. It affirmed that we were
willing to take risks and were willing to challenge the status quo of our own
businesses, willing to enter partnerships with technology companies and willing
to embrace technology as a path to a much brighter future. This was probably
the loudest message I could have sent to this company about change.
Let me pause
here so I can show you one of my prized possessions. [Holds up framed
photograph of him shaking Steve Jobs’ hand on stage at an Apple event.] On
October 1, 2005, I officially become CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Three
weeks later, I showed up on stage with this guy who, to the world, was our
mortal enemy, because he controlled Pixar. In the court of public opinion,
Steve Jobs was right and Disney was wrong. He wasn’t necessarily right about
his opinions of Disney—but he was winning the perception battle. I showed up on
stage at an Apple event, when he’s announcing the video iPod, and this picture
commemorates our deal.
Going back to your
question, these moves were not only designed to set us up in terms of future
growth but to start shifting a culture and becoming a company that believed in
itself again. I say this not to be critical of what happened before. But times
had changed, and the needs of the company were very different. I took advantage
of being a new CEO to make these moves. And they led to tangible, cultural
change within the company.
Was there an instructive failure in your own career
that helped form who you are today as a leader?
My parents, my
father in particular, instilled in me a great work ethic and a level of
ambition. A lot of it came from a desire to prove that I was up to challenges.
I still feel that in me, by the way. I seek new challenges so I can prove that
I’m worthy of more. That’s driven me in many ways.
Early on, I
learned that if you owned your own failure, or embraced whatever
disappointment, it was probably the best way to process and overcome the
failure and disappointment. I remember early in my ABC Sports days a relatively
trivial mistake had been made on a weekend sporting event on Wide World of
Sports, where we simply missed a story that we should have had. In a
Monday-morning session that the former head of ABC Sports, Roone Arledge, had,
which was typically a postmortem of what went on during the weekend, whatever
we had missed came up. There was silence around the room as Roone questioned
what happened. At the time, I was young and low-titled and said, “It was my
mistake. I missed that.” There was complete silence in the room. Everyone
Here, I had admitted in front of the brass of then ABC Sports,
including the head of it, that I had made a mistake.
It was the most
empowering thing I could ever have done. We moved on. But what was interesting
to me about this was it was a lesson. It was probably the first time I ever
owned up to something like that in such a way. Looking back, it was relatively
trivial, but it was unbelievably empowering. And the respect that people had
for me for doing that actually put me in such a stronger, better position with
It taught me
that if you failed, you have an ability to not just accept the failure and
attempt to understand it but to be accountable for it. [Owning up to failure]
offers the best chance to recover from it. It’s a lesson I’ve taken with me
throughout [my career]. If something fails as a direct result of your decision
and you take responsibility for it, you’re much more likely to endure than if
you do the opposite.
Fuente: Chief Executive
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