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The Ride of a Lifetime / (by Robert Iger, 2019) -

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The Ride of a Lifetime /     (by Robert Iger, 2019) -

The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company / : , 15 (by Robert Iger, 2019) -

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The Ride of a Lifetime / (by Robert Iger, 2019) -
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2019
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Robert Iger
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Robert Iger, Jim Frangione
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upper-intermediate
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08:45:19
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

The Ride of a Lifetime / :

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: The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company

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PROLOGUE I N JUNE 2016 I made my fortieth trip to China in eighteen years, my eleventh in the past six months. I was there to oversee the final preparations before the opening of Shanghai Disneyland. Id been CEO of the Walt Disney Company for eleven years at that point, and my plan was to open Shanghai and then retire. It had been a thrilling run, and the creation of this park was the biggest accomplishment of my career. It felt like the right time to move on, but life doesnt always go the way you expect it will. Things happen that you cant possibly anticipate. The fact that Im still running the company as I write this is a testament to that. Much more profoundly, so are the events of that week in Shanghai. We were opening the park on Thursday, June 16. That Monday, the first wave of VIPs was scheduled to arrive: Disney board members and key executives and their families, creative partners, investors and Wall Street analysts. There was a huge international media contingent already there and more coming in. Id been in Shanghai for two weeks and was running on adrenaline. Since my first location-scouting trip to China in 1998, I was the only person who had been involved in the project from day one, and I couldnt wait to show it to the world. In the sixty-one years since Walt Disney built Disneyland in Anaheim, California, wed opened parks in Orlando and Paris and Tokyo and Hong Kong. Disney World in Orlando remains our largest, but Shanghai was of a different order than all the others. It was one of the biggest investments in the history of the company. Numbers dont really do the park justice, but here are a few to give some sense of its scope. Shanghai Disneyland cost about $6 billion to build. It is 963 acres, about eleven times the size of Disneyland. At various stages of its construction, as many as fourteen thousand workers lived on the property. We held casting calls in six cities in China to discover the thousand singers, dancers, and actors who perform in our stage and street shows. Over the eighteen years it took to complete the park, I met with three presidents of China, five mayors of Shanghai, and more party secretaries than I can remember (one of whom was arrested for corruption and banished to northern China in the middle of our negotiations, setting the project back nearly two years). We had endless negotiations over land deals and partnership splits and management roles, and considered things as significant as the safety and comfort of Chinese workers and as tiny as whether we could cut a ribbon on opening day. The creation of the park was an education in geopolitics, and a constant balancing act between the possibilities of global expansion and the perils of cultural imperialism. The overwhelming challenge, which I repeated to our team so often it became a mantra for everyone working on the project, was to create an experience that was authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese. In the early evening on Sunday, June 12, I and the rest of my team in Shanghai received news of a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, fifteen miles from Disney World. We have more than seventy thousand employees in Orlando, and we waited in horror for confirmation that some of them were at the club that night. Our head of security, Ron Iden, was with us in Shanghai, and he immediately began calling his network of security contacts in the States. It was twelve hours earlierjust before dawnin Orlando when we first heard the news. Ron told me hed have more information when I got up in the morning. My first event the next day was a presentation to investors over breakfast. Then I had to shoot a long interview with Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, which included touring the park and riding attractions with Robin and her crew. Then there was a meeting with Chinese officials about protocol for the opening ceremonies, a dinner with members of our board and senior executives, and finally a rehearsal for the opening-night concert that I was hosting. Ron periodically gave me updates as I moved through the day. We knew that more than fifty people had been killed and nearly as many injured, and that the shooter was a man named Omar Mateen. Rons security team ran Mateens name through our database and found that hed visited the Magic Kingdom a couple of months before the shooting, then again the weekend before. There was closed-circuit television footage of him on that last visit, pacing outside a park entrance near the House of Blues, in Downtown Disney. What we learned next shook me in a way few things have over the course of my career. It wouldnt be made public until nearly two years later, during the trial of Mateens wife as an accomplice to the murders (she was later acquitted), but federal investigators informed Ron that they believed Disney World had been Mateens primary target. Theyd found his phone at the scene of the shooting, and determined that it had been pinging off one of our cell towers earlier that night. They studied the CCTV footage and saw him, again, walking back and forth in front of the entrance near the House of Blues. There was a heavy metal concert there that night, which meant extra securityfive armed police officersand after a few minutes of casing the area, Mateen could be seen walking back to his car. Security cameras picked up two weapons in Mateens possession, a semiautomatic rifle and a semiautomatic pistol, hidden inside a childs stroller, along with a baby blanket that hadnt yet been taken out of its packaging. Investigators suspected that his plan was to cover his weapons with the blanket and wheel them up to the entrance before pulling them out. Our head of Parks and Resorts, Bob Chapek, was also in Shanghai, and he and I consulted throughout the day as Ron passed on more news. We were still anxiously waiting to hear if any of our people had been at the nightclub, and now we were concerned that the news of our being a target would soon be leaked. It would be a big story and would take a difficult emotional toll on the community there. The bond you form in high-stress moments like this, when youre sharing information that you cant discuss with anyone else, is a powerful one. In every emergency Ive encountered as CEO, Ive been grateful for the competence and cool heads and humanity of the team around me. Bobs first move was to send the head of Walt Disney World, George Kalogridis, back to Orlando from Shanghai, to give his people on the ground more executive support. The data on Mateens phone showed that once he got back to his car, he typed in a search for nightclubs in Orlando. He drove to the first club that came up, but there was construction going on in front of the entrance, and traffic was backed up. The second result was Pulse, where he ultimately committed his massacre. As the details of the investigation trickled in, I felt horror and grief for the victims of the shooting, and at the same time a sickening there but for the grace of God relief that hed been deterred by the security we had in place. Im often asked what aspect of the job most keeps me up at night. The honest answer is that I dont agonize over the work very much. I dont know if its a quirk of brain chemistry, or a defense mechanism I developed in reaction to some family chaos in my youth, or the result of years of disciplinesome combination of all of those things, I supposebut I tend not to feel much anxiety when things go awry. And I tend to approach bad news as a problem that can be worked through and solved, something I have control over rather than something happening to me. But Im also all too aware of the symbolic power of Disney as a target, and the one thing that weighs heavily on me is the knowledge that no matter how vigilant we are, we cant prepare for everything. When the unexpected does happen, a kind of instinctive triage kicks in. You have to rely on your own internal threat scale. There are drop-everything events, and there are others when you say to yourself, This is serious, I need to be engaged right now, but I also need to extricate myself and focus on other things and return to this later. Sometimes, even though youre in charge, you need to be aware that in the moment you might have nothing to add, and so you dont wade in. You trust your people to do their jobs and focus your energies on some other pressing issue. Thats what I was telling myself in Shanghai, half a world away from Orlando. This was the most momentous thing the company had embarked on since Disney World opened in 1971. We had never invested so much in something, with so much potentialfor success or failurein our nearly hundred-year history. I had no choice but to compartmentalize, to focus on the last-minute details of the opening ceremonies, and trust in my team in Orlando and in the protocols we had in place. We have a system that tracks employees whenever a disaster occurs. If theres a plane crash or a hurricane or a wildfire, I get reports on whos unaccounted for, whos had to evacuate their homes, who lost a friend or relative or pet, whose property was damaged. We have well over two hundred thousand employees around the world, so if something catastrophic happens, the odds arent insignificant that one of our people has been touched by it. After the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, I learned within hours that vendors from an ad agency we work with were killed. In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting in the fall of 2017, I got reports right away that more than sixty of our employees were at the outdoor concert that night. Fifty of them knew someone who was either killed or injured. Three had been shot themselves. And one, an employee at Disneyland, had been killed. By Tuesday morning in Shanghai, wed learned that two of our part-time employees were among those killed in the nightclub shooting. Several other employees were friends or relatives of victims. Our trauma and grief counselors went to work, contacting those affected and arranging mental health services. MY ITINERARY FOR those days leading up to the parks opening was scheduled down to the minute: leading park tours and giving interviews and attending rehearsals to give final notes on the opening-ceremony performances; hosting lunches and dinners and meetings with shareholders and vendors and members of our board; meeting with Chinese dignitaries to pay proper respects; dedicating a wing of the Shanghai Childrens Hospital; practicing a brief speech, part of which was in Mandarin, that Id be giving at the opening ceremony. There were even small intervals during which I was scheduled to get makeup, change my clothes, or sneak a quick snack. On Wednesday morning, I was leading a VIP tour of about a hundred guests. Jerry Bruckheimer was there, and George Lucas. Some of my direct reports were there with their families. My wife, Willow, and our kids were there. Everyone wore headsets, and I spoke into a microphone as I led them through the park. I remember exactly where we werebetween Adventure Island and Pirate Covewhen Bob Chapek approached me and pulled me aside. I assumed he had more news from the shooting investigation, and I leaned in so that he could privately give me an update. There was an alligator attack in Orlando, Bob whispered. An alligator attacked a young child. A little boy. We were surrounded by people, and I hid my rising sense of horror as Bob told me what he knew so far. The attack had occurred at our Grand Floridian Hotel resort at about 8:30 in the evening. It was now around 10:30 A.M. in Shanghai, so, two hours ago. We dont know the status of the child, Bob said. I instinctively started praying that somehow the boy was not killed. And then I started scrolling through the history in my mind. Had this ever happened before? In the forty-five years the park had been open, as far as I knew, a guest had never been attacked. I started to visualize the property. Bob told me it happened on the beach at the resort. Ive stayed in the Grand Floridian many times and know that beach well. Theres a lagoon there, but Ive never seen anyone swimming in it. Wait, that wasnt true. The image of a man swimming out to retrieve a balloon that his child had lost came to mind. It was about five years earlier. I remembered taking a picture of him as he swam back to shore, balloon in hand, laughing to myself at the things parents are willing to do for their kids. I finished the tour and waited for more news. Theres a protocol for what rises to me and what gets handled by someone else, and my team will regularly wait to tell me something until theyre sure its accurate. (To their frustration, I sometimes chide them that they dont report bad news to me fast enough.) This time the news came to me immediately, but I felt desperate for more. George Kalogridis, whom wed sent back in the aftermath of the nightclub shooting, landed right around the time of the attack and began to deal with it instantly, passing information on to us as it became available. I soon learned the boy was missing. Rescue teams hadnt found the body. His name was Lane Graves. He was two years old. The Graves family was staying at the Grand Floridian and had gone down to the beach for a scheduled movie night. The movie was canceled because of lightning, but they and some other families decided to stay and let their kids play. Lane took a bucket to fill at the waters edge. It was dusk, and an alligator that had come up to the surface to feed was right there in the shallow water. It grabbed the boy and took him under. The Graves family had come to Disney World from Nebraska, George told me. A crisis team was with them. I knew a couple of members of that team. They were exceptional at their jobs, and I was grateful they were there, but this would test them in the extreme. That night was our opening concert in Shanghai, to be performed by a five-hundred-piece orchestra and featuring the world-famous pianist Lang Lang, along with a lineup of the most revered composers and singers and musicians in China. Prior to the concert, I was hosting a dinner for a group of Chinese officials and visiting dignitaries. I did everything I could to focus on my responsibilities, but my mind returned constantly to the Graves family in Orlando. The thought that they had come to Disney World, of all places, and suffered such an unimaginable loss, loomed over everything. Thursday morning, June 16, was opening day. I woke at 4:00 A.M. and worked out, to try to clear my head, then wandered to a lounge on our floor and met with Zenia Mucha, our chief communications officer. Zenia and I have worked together for more than a dozen years. Shes been with me through it all, good and bad. Shes tough, shell tell me straight to my face when she thinks Im making a mistake, and she always has the best interests of the company at heart. The story was being reported widely now, and I wanted our response to come from me. Ive seen other companies deal with crises by letting a company spokesperson be their official voice, and that strategy has always struck me as cold and a bit cowardly. Corporate systems often work to insulate and protect CEOs, sometimes to a fault, and I was determined not to do that now. I told Zenia I had to issue a statement, and she immediately agreed that it was the right thing to do. There is so little you can say to make sense of something like this, but we sat there in the lounge and I dictated my feelings to Zenia as honestly as I could. I talked about being a father and a grandfather, and how that gave me the slightest window into the parents unimaginable pain. Fifteen minutes after our conversation, the statement went out. I returned to my room to start to get ready for the opening. Willow was up and out, and my boys were asleep. I couldnt seem to do what I needed to do next, though, and after several minutes I called Zenia again. When she answered her phone, I said, I have to speak with the family. This time I expected pushback from her and from our general counsel, Alan Braverman. This could become a complicated legal situation, and lawyers want to restrict the possibility of saying anything that might exacerbate liability. In this case, though, they both knew this was something I needed to do, and neither of them offered resistance. Ill get you a number, Zenia said, and within minutes I had the phone number of Jay Ferguson, a friend of Matt and Melissa Graves, the boys parents, whod flown to Orlando immediately to be with them. I sat on the edge of the bed and dialed. I didnt know what I was going to say, but when Jay answered, I explained who I was and that I was in Shanghai. I dont know if theyll want to talk with me, I said, but if they do, I would like to express my sympathies. If they dont, Ill express them to you and ask you to pass them on. Give me a minute, Jay said. I could hear talking in the background, and then suddenly Matt was there on speaker. I just started talking. I reiterated what Id said in the statement, that I was a parent and a grandparent, that I couldnt fathom what they must be going through. I told him that I wanted him to know from me, the person at the top of this company, that we would do anything we could possibly do to get them through this. I gave him my direct number and told him to call it if he needed anything, and then asked if there was anything I could do for them now. Promise me that my sons life wont be in vain, he said. He was speaking through heaving sobs, and I could hear Melissa also sobbing in the background. Promise me youll do whatever you can to prevent this from ever happening to another child. I gave him my promise. I knew from a lawyers perspective that I should be careful about what I was saying, that I should consider whether that was somehow an admission of negligence. When you work in a corporate structure for so long, you become trained to give legalistic, corporate responses, but I didnt care about any of that in this moment. I reiterated to Jay that he should call me if there was anything they needed, and then we hung up, and I sat there shaking on the edge of my bed. Id been crying so hard that both of my contact lenses had come out, and I was vaguely searching for them when Willow walked into the room. I just talked with the parents, I said. I was at a loss for how to explain what I felt. She came to me and wrapped her arms around me. She asked what she could do. I just have to keep going, I said. But I didnt have anything left. The adrenaline that had been powering me for the last two weeks, all that this project meant to me and the thrill Id felt at sharing it, had drained away. In thirty minutes, I was scheduled to meet the vice premier of China, the U.S. ambassador to China, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, the party secretary of Shanghai, and the mayor of Shanghai, and lead them on a tour of the park. I felt like I couldnt move. Eventually I called my team and said to meet me in the hotel lounge. I knew if I described the conversation to them, I would start crying again, so I kept it short and told Bob Chapek what Id promised Matt Graves. Were on it, Bob said, and sent word back to his team in Orlando right away. (What they did there was remarkable. There are hundreds of lagoons and canals on the property, and thousands of alligators. Within twenty-four hours, they had ropes and fences and signs up throughout the park, which is twice the size of Manhattan.) I went off to meet the dignitaries. We rode rides and posed for pictures. I struggled to smile and go on with the show. It was a stark example of the truth that what people see on the outside so often doesnt reflect whats happening on the inside. When the tour was over, I was scheduled to give a speech to the thousands of people gathered there in the park, and millions more in China watching on TV, then cut a ribbon and officially open Shanghai Disneyland to the world. Disney coming to mainland China was a major event. There were members of the press there from all over the globe. Both President Xi and President Obama had written letters that we were planning to read at the opening. I was well aware of the weight of it all, but I also couldnt stop thinking of the anguish of Matt Gravess voice on the phone. As I walked away from the vice premier, the president of Shanghai Shendi Group, the Chinese company wed partnered with, caught up to me and took me by the arm. Youre not going to talk about Orlando, are you? he said. Its a happy day. This is a happy day. I assured him I wouldnt say anything to dampen the mood. Less than half an hour later, I found myself sitting alone on a banquette in the Disney castle, waiting for a stage manager to give me the cue that it was time for my speech. Id memorized the lines in Mandarin that I was planning to deliver, and now I was struggling to recall them. It was true, it was a happy day, and I needed to try to focus on that and recognize what it meant for all the people who had worked so hard, for so long, to make this day happen; and for the people of China, who would have this place to dream about in the same way that I and so many American kids dreamed of going to Disneyland. It was a happy day. It was also the saddest of my career. IVE WORKED FOR the same company for forty-five years: twenty-two of them at ABC, another twenty-three at Disney, after Disney acquired ABC in 1995. For the past fourteen years, Ive had the enviable task of being the sixth CEO to run the company since Walt founded it in 1923. There have been difficult, even tragic, days. But for me this has also been, to steal from a phrase, the happiest job on earth. We make movies and television shows and Broadway musicals, games and costumes and toys and books. We build theme parks and rides, hotels and cruise ships. We stage parades and street shows and concerts every day in our fourteen parks across the world. We manufacture fun. Even after all of these years, I still sometimes find myself thinking, How did this happen? How did I get so lucky? We used to call our biggest, most exciting theme-park attractions E-Tickets. Thats what comes to mind when I think about the job, that its been a fourteen-year ride on a giant E-Ticket attraction known as the Walt Disney Company. But Disney also exists in the world of quarterly earnings reports and shareholder expectations and countless other obligations that come with running a company that operates in nearly every country in the world. On the least eventful days, this job requires an ability to constantly adapt and re-adapt. You go from plotting growth strategy with investors, to looking at the design of a giant new theme-park attraction with Imagineers, to giving notes on the rough cut of a film, to discussing security measures and board governance and ticket pricing and pay scale. The days are challenging and dynamic, but theyre also a never-ending exercise in compartmentalization. You address one thingWhat are the attributes of a Disney princess in todays world and how should they manifest in our products?then you put it away and shift your focus to the next: What will our slate of Marvel films be for the next eight years? And those are the rare days when things actually unfold according to schedule. As the week described above makes all too clear, there are also, always, crises and failures for which you can never be fully prepared. Few will be as tragic as the events of that week, but something will always come up. This is true not just of the Walt Disney Company but of any company or institution. Something will always come up. At its simplest, this book is about being guided by a set of principles that help nurture the good and manage the bad. I was reluctant to write it for a long time. Until fairly recently, I even avoided talking publicly about my rules for leadership or any such ideas, because I felt I hadnt fully walked the walk. After forty-five years, thoughand especially after the past fourteenIve come to believe that I have insights that could be useful beyond my own experience. If you run a business or manage a team or collaborate with others in pursuit of a common goal, this book might be helpful to you. My experiences from day one have all been in the media and entertainment world, but these strike me as universal ideas: about fostering risk taking and creativity; about building a culture of trust; about fueling a deep and abiding curiosity in oneself and inspiring that in the people around you; about embracing change rather than living in denial of it; and about operating, always, with integrity and honesty in the world, even when that means facing things that are difficult to face. These are abstractions, but my hope is that the stories and examples that are significant to me as I look back at the long arc of my career will help them feel more concrete and relatable, not just to the aspiring CEOs of the world but to anyone wanting to be less fearful, more confidently themselves, as they navigate their professional and even personal lives. For the most part, the book is organized chronologically. Since my first day at ABC, Ive had twenty jobs and fourteen bosses. Ive been the lowliest crew member working on a daytime soap opera and run a network that produced some of the most innovative television (and one of the most infamous flops) of all time. Ive twice been on the side of the company being taken over, and Ive acquired and assimilated several others, among them Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and, most recently, 21st Century Fox. Ive schemed about the future of entertainment with Steve Jobs and become the keeper of George Lucass Star Wars mythology. Ive thought every day about how technology is redefining the way we create, deliver, and experience media, and what it means to be both relevant to a modern audience and faithful to a nearly hundred-year-old brand. And Ive worked hard and thoughtfully to make a connection between that brand and billions of people around the globe. As I near the end of all of that and think back on what Ive learned, these are the ten principles that strike me as necessary to true leadership. I hope theyll serve you as well as theyve served me. Optimism. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists. Courage. The foundation of risk-taking is courage, and in ever-changing, disrupted businesses, risk-taking is essential, innovation is vital, and true innovation occurs only when people have courage. This is true of acquisitions, investments, and capital allocations, and it particularly applies to creative decisions. Fear of failure destroys creativity. Focus. Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important, and its imperative to communicate your priorities clearly and often. Decisiveness. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinion balanced with the need to make and implement decisions. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale. Curiosity. A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity. Fairness. Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy is essential, as is accessibility. People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances, and judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourage communication and innovation. Nothing is worse to an organization than a culture of fear. Thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is one of the most underrated elements of good leadership. It is the process of gaining knowledge, so an opinion rendered or decision made is more credible and more likely to be correct. Its simply about taking the time to develop informed opinions. Authenticity. Be genuine. Be honest. Dont fake anything. Truth and authenticity breed respect and trust. The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. This doesnt mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being good enough. If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it. If youre in the business of making things, be in the business of making things great. Integrity. Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organizations people and its product. A companys success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small. Another way of saying this is: The way you do anything is the way you do everything. PART ONE LEARNING CHAPTER 1 STARTING AT THE BOTTOM T HIS BOOK IS not a memoir, but its impossible to talk about the traits that have served me well over the course of my professional life and not look back at my childhood. There are certain ways Ive always been, things Ive always done, that are the result of some inscrutable mix of nature and nurture. (Ive always woken early, for example, as far back as I can remember, and cherished those hours to myself before the rest of the world wakes up.) There are other qualities and habits that are the result of purposeful decisions I made along the path. As is the case with many of us, those decisions were partially made in response to my parents, in particular my father, a brilliant and complicated man who shaped me more than anyone. He certainly made me curious about the world. We had a den lined with shelves full of books, and my dad had read every one of them. I didnt become a serious reader until I was in high school, but when I did finally fall in love with books, it was because of him. He had complete sets that he ordered from the Book of the Month Club of the works of all the American literary giantsFitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner and Steinbeck and so on. Id pull down from the shelves his copy of Tender Is the Night or For Whom the Bell Tolls or dozens of others and devour them, and hed urge me to read even more. We also spent our dinners discussing world events, and as young as ten years old, Id grab the New York Times on our front lawn and read it at the kitchen table before anyone else woke up. We lived in a split-level house in a small, mostly working-class town on Long Island called Oceanside. I was the older of two kids; my sister is three years younger. My mother was warm and loving, a stay-at-home mom until I went to high school, at which point she got a job in the local junior high school library. My dad was a Navy veteran who came back from the war and played the trumpet with some lesser big bands, but he figured he could never make much of a living as a musician, so never tried to do it full-time. He majored in marketing at the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School, and his first job was working in marketing for a food manufacturing company, and that led him into advertising. He became an account executive at an advertising agency on Madison Avenuehe handled the Old Milwaukee and Brunswick bowling accountsbut eventually lost that job. He changed agencies several times, almost always lateral moves. By the time I was ten or eleven, hed changed jobs so many times that I began to wonder why. He was always deeply politically engaged and had a very strong liberal bias. He once lost a job because he was determined to go to the March on Washington and see Martin Luther King, Jr., speak. His boss wouldnt give him the day off, but he went anyway. I dont know if he quit and went to the speech or if he was fired for going after hed been told he couldnt, but it was just one of several such endings. I was proud of his strong character and his politics. He had a fierce sense of what was right and fair, and he was always on the side of the underdog. But he also had trouble regulating his moods and would often say things that got him into trouble. I later learned that hed been diagnosed with manic depression, and that hed tried several therapies, including electroshock therapy, to treat his illness. As the older child, I bore the brunt of his emotional unpredictability. I never felt threatened by his moods, but I was acutely aware of his dark side and felt sad for him. We never knew which Dad was coming home at night, and I can distinctly recall sitting in my room on the second floor of our house, knowing by the sound of the way he opened and shut the door and walked up the steps whether it was happy or sad Dad. He would sometimes check in on his way past my room to make sure I was spending time productively, as he put it. That meant reading or doing homework or being engaged in something that would better me in some way. He wanted my sister and me to have fun, but it also was very important to him that we use our time wisely and work in a focused way toward our goals. Im certain that my vigilance (some might say obsessiveness) about time-management comes from him. I felt early on that it was my job to be the steady center of our family, which extended even to practical matters around the house. If something broke, my mother would ask me to fix it, and I learned as a young kid how to repair whatever needed repairing. Thats part of where my curiosity about technology comes from, too, I think. I liked using tools and taking things apart and understanding how they worked. My parents were worriers. There was a sense with both of them that something bad would soon be coming down the pike. I dont know how much of it is a fluke of genetics and how much is a learned reaction to their anxiety, but Ive always been the opposite of that. With few exceptions in my life, Ive never worried too much about the future, and Ive never had too much fear about trying something and failing. As I grew older, I became more aware of my fathers disappointment in himself. Hed led a life that was unsatisfying to him and was a failure in his own eyes. Its part of why he pushed us to work so hard and be productive, so that we might be successful in a way that he never was. His employment troubles meant that if I wanted to have any spending money, I needed to find my own jobs. I started working in eighth grade, shoveling snow and babysitting and working as a stock boy in a hardware store. At fifteen, I got a job as the summer janitor in my school district. It involved cleaning every heater in every classroom, then moving on to the bottom of every desk, making sure they were gum-free when the school year started. Cleaning gum from the bottoms of a thousand desks can build character, or at least a tolerance for monotony, or something. I attended Ithaca College and spent nearly every weekend night my freshman and sophomore year making pizza at the local Pizza Hut. I got mostly Bs and a few As in high school, but academics was never my passion. Something clicked for me when I went to college, though. I was determined to work hard and learn as much as I could learn, and I think that, too, was related to my fathera function of never wanting to experience the same sense of failure that he felt about himself. I didnt have a clear idea of what success meant, no specific vision of being wealthy or powerful, but I was determined not to live a life of disappointment. Whatever shape my life took, I told myself, there wasnt a chance in the world that I was going to toil in frustration and lack fulfillment. I dont carry much pain with me from those early years, other than the pain that my dad didnt live a happier life, and that my mother suffered, too, as a result. I wish he could have felt prouder of himself. My sister and I were never deprived of love as kids. We always had a roof over our heads and food on the table, but there was little or no money for much else. Vacations were usually spent driving to mundane places in our car or going to the beach a few minutes away from our house. We had enough clothes to look presentable, but nothing extra, and when I tore a pair of pants in the fall, I was typically told to wear them with a patch until we had the money to replace them, which could be months. I never felt poor, and no one viewed me as such. Things were a lot thinner than they looked, though, and as I grew older I became aware of that. Late in life, after Id become CEO of Disney, I took my father to lunch in New York. We talked about his mental health and his perspective on his life. I told him how much I appreciated everything that he and my mom had done for us, the ethics they instilled, and the love they gave us. I told him that was enough, more than enough, and wished that my gratitude might liberate him in some small way from disappointment. I do know that so many of the traits that served me well in my career started with him. I hope that he understood that, too. I STARTED MY career at ABC on July 1, 1974, as a studio supervisor for ABC Television. Before that, Id spent a year as a weatherman and feature news reporter at a tiny cable TV station in Ithaca, New York. That year of toiling in obscurity (and performing with mediocrity) convinced me to abandon the dream Id had since I was fifteen years old: to be a network news anchorman. Im only half-joking when I say that the experience of giving the people of Ithaca their daily weather report taught me a necessary skill, which is the ability to deliver bad news. For roughly six months of the year, the long bleak stretch from October through April, I was far from the most popular guy in town. I came to ABC thanks to my uncle Bobs bad eyesight. My mothers brother, whom I adored, spent a few days in a Manhattan hospital after eye surgery, and his roommate was a lower-level ABC executive, who for whatever reasons wanted my uncle to believe he was a big network mogul. He would fake taking phone calls in his hospital bed, as if there were important network decisions that only he could make, and my uncle fell for it. Before he was discharged, my uncle mentioned to his roommate that his nephew was looking for a job in television production in New York. The guy gave him his number and said, Tell your nephew to give me a call. He was surprised and a little confused about who I was when I actually followed through. Based on what my uncle had described, I was expecting a powerful network executive whose influence was felt at the highest reaches of the company. He was far from that, but to his credit, he did manage to get me an interview in the small department he ran at the network, Production Services, and not long after that I was hired on as a studio supervisor. The position paid $150 per week and was about as low as you could go on the ABC ladder. There were a half dozen of us who did all manner of menial labor, on game shows and soap operas and talk shows and news shows and made-for-TV specialsbasically anything produced at ABCs sprawling Manhattan studios. I was assigned to a whole gamut of programming: All My Children and One Life to Live and Ryans Hope, The $10,000 Pyramid and The Money Maze and Showdown. The Dick Cavett Show. Geraldo Riveras Good Night America. The ABC Evening News with Harry Reasoner. The job description was pretty simple: Show up whenever they needed me, for whatever task. Often that meant being at a studio at 4:30 A.M. for lighting calls. Soap opera sets were set up the night before a shoot, and my job was to let in the lighting director and stagehands long before the sun came up, so the lights would be in place when the director and actors arrived for their first run-throughs. I coordinated all the carpenters and prop masters and electricians, makeup artists and costume people and hairstylists, checking everybody in and making sure they had their marching orders for the day. I kept track of their hours and their grievances and their violations of union rules. I made sure catering was in place and the air-conditioning had cooled the studios enough to begin shooting under the hot lights. It was the opposite of glamorous, but I learned the ins and outs of all of those shows. I spoke the lingo. I got to know all of the people who made a TV show work. Maybe most important, I learned to tolerate the demanding hours and the extreme workload of television production, and that work ethic has stayed with me ever since. To this day, I wake nearly every morning at four-fifteen, though now I do it for selfish reasons: to have time to think and read and exercise before the demands of the day take over. Those hours arent for everyone, but however you find the time, its vital to create space in each day to let your thoughts wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities, to turn things over in your mind in a less pressured, more creative way than is possible once the daily triage kicks in. Ive come to cherish that time alone each morning, and am certain Id be less productive and less creative in my work if I didnt also spend those first hours away from the emails and text messages and phone calls that require so much attention as the day goes on. IT WAS A very different industry back then. In some ways it was better. The competition was simpler, the world less atomized. Certainly there was a mostly shared American narrative, organized around a general societal belief in basic facts. In many other ways, though, it was worse. For one, there was a shrugging tolerance of a level of disrespect that would be unacceptable today. It was without a doubt much more difficult on a day-to-day basis for women and members of underrepresented groups than it ever was for me. But even in my case, being low on the food chain meant exposure to the occasional, casual abuse that people would be fired for now. One example that captures so much of that time: The Evening News was broadcast at 6:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. The moment we wrapped, the anchorman Harry Reasoner and his stage manager, a man called Whitey, would walk off the set and park themselves at the bar of the Hotel des Artistes on West Sixty-seventh Street. (The Evening News was broadcast from a converted ballroom in the old hotel.) Every evening, Harry would down a double extra-dry Beefeater martini on the rocks with a twist. One of my responsibilities was to wait while the producer reviewed the show, then pass on word to Harry and the studio crew if any updates or fixes needed to be made before it aired in later time zones. One night Harry was ready to move on to martini number two, and he asked me to run back to the studio and find out from the producer where things stood. I ventured into the control room and said, Harry sent me to find out how it looks. The producer looked at me with complete disdain. Then he unzipped his pants, pulled out his penis, and replied, I dont know. You tell me how it looks. Forty-five years later, I still get angry when I recall that scene. Weve become much more aware of the need for fair, equal, non-abusive treatment in the workplace, but it has taken too long. In the fall of 1974, I got assigned to work The Main Event, a Frank Sinatra concert at Madison Square Garden that ABC was televising live in prime time. I was the studio supervisor onsite, which meant that I had to be on hand to run errands for the enormous Madison Square Garden stage crew. This was a plum assignment, and it was a big deal for me, personally. My father played Sinatra records endlessly on the turntable in our house. To this day, I can remember perfectly the image of my dad standing in the living room, blowing on his trumpet in accompaniment as Frank crooned. To be in the same building as Sinatra, attending rehearsals and doing my small part to make sure the production went smoothlyI couldnt believe my good fortune. The high point came a few hours before the concert was scheduled to begin, when I was told by an associate producer to run out and get a bottle of mouthwash and deliver it as fast as I could to Mr. Sinatras dressing room. I ran a few blocks to a pharmacy uptown and bought the largest bottle of Listerine I could find, thinking the whole time that Frank was having throat issues and the entire broadcast rested on my shoulders! Nervous and out of breath, I knocked on the dressing room door, mouthwash in hand. The door swung open, and I was greeted by an imposing bodyguard, who wanted to know what the hell I was doing there. Im delivering Mr. Sinatras Listerine, I said. Before he could respond, I heard that familiar voice, from somewhere deep in the room: Let him in. Moments later I was standing in front of the Chairman of the Board. Whats your name, kid? Bob. Wherere you from? For some reason I said, Brooklyn, which is where I was born and lived until my family moved to Long Island when I was five years old. I think I must have wanted to seem more real to him in some way, and Oceanside didnt quite have the same romance. Brooklyn! Frank said, like it was the next best thing to Hoboken, and then he handed me a crisp hundred-dollar bill. When the show ended, he gave every member of the crew a sleek gold cigarette lighter, inscribed LOVE, SINATRA. I spent the hundred dollars almost immediately, but the lighter sits in a drawer in my desk to this day. The Main Event was produced by Jerry Weintraub and Roone Arledge, then the brash forty-three-year-old head of ABC Sports. By 1974, Roone was already a legendary television executive. Hed stacked the crew with various producers who worked for him at Sports. The night before the concert, they rehearsed the entire show. Howard Cosell kicked it off, introducing Frank onto the stage like a prizefighter (the stage itself was made to look like a boxing ring in the center of the arena), and then Frank came on and performed for nearly two hours. It was the first time Id ever seen Roone in action. He watched it all, and when the rehearsal was over he decided that more or less everything needed to be scrapped and redone. The set needed to be redesigned, Howards intro needed to be reworked, the lighting needed to be radically changed. The entire way in which Frank interacted with the audience, Roone said, needed to be reconceived. I did my small tasks and watched as it all came down and went back up, to no small amount of swearing and moaning from the crew. There was no denying that the show that aired less than twenty-four hours later was of a different order than the one that had been rehearsed. I didnt understand how he did it, but Id later learn that this was classic Roone, absolutely unwilling to accept good enough, and completely comfortable pushing right up against an unmovable deadline (and exhausting a lot of people along the way) to make it great. The thrill of working on The Main Event wore off as soon as I returned to my mundane world of soap operas and game shows. Before long I had my own drama to contend with, however. The head of the small department I worked for was a corrupt bully who was paying vendors and suppliers out of our departments budget to do work (government jobs, he called them) for himself and other executives at ABC, then filling his own pockets with the kickbacks. He was also buying furniture that he claimed was for soap opera sets, then using stagehands to move it all into an apartment in Midtown that hed set up for a mistress. Id been asked to go along with all of this, either by helping out or by looking the other way, and it irritated me to no end. I started asking some people in the department if there was anything I could do about it, and word got back to him. One day he summoned me to his office. When I walked in, he immediately accused me of violating company rules. What are you up to? he said. I hear you used our truck to move in to a new apartment. In fact, Id briefly had access to a company pickup, and Id joked to some colleagues that maybe I should use the truck to move in to an apartment Id just rented. I never did it, and I told him so, but it dawned on me in that moment that someone must have told him I was a troublemaker. Youre spreading rumors about me, he said. When I didnt deny that Id been talking about him, he stared me down for a while before telling me, You know what, Iger? Youre no longer promotable. He gave me two weeks to find a job in another department or I was done at the company. I was twenty-three and certain my career in television was already over. But I went to the ABC job-posting sitein those days it was a clipboard hanging on a walland there, in a list of about twenty-five other jobs I wasnt qualified for, was the description of an opening at ABC Sports. I immediately called one of the guys I knew from the Sinatra concert and explained that I was in a tough spot. He told me to come down to 1330 (ABCs corporate headquarters, 1330 Avenue of the Americas), and a month later I was hired as a studio operations supervisor at ABC Sports. If you squinted, this new position was slightly more illustrious than the job Id just lost. But it was the break that made all the difference, part of which I like to think I owe to Frank Sinatra, and part to a guy who later got fired from the company for embezzlement. DURING ITS HEYDAY in the 70s and early 80s, ABC Sports was one of the networks most profitable divisions, largely because Monday Night Football and Wide World of Sports were so wildly popular. It also had a great lineup of college football and Major League Baseball and many of the major golf tournaments and boxing championships, and programs like The American Sportsman and The Superstars. Plus every four years, ABC was the network of the Olympics, having covered most of the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988. The guys who worked in Sports were the cool kids at the company, a status reflected in pretty much everything about them, the way they dressed (tailored suits and Gucci loafers with no socks), what they ate and drank (expensive wine and scotch, often at lunch), and the Hollywood stars and famous athletes and politicians they fraternized with. They were always off to somewhere exotic, often flying the Concorde to our European office in Paris, and then going from there to cover events in places like Monte Carlo and Saint Moritz. Eventually I rose high enough in the ranks that I had a seat on the Concorde, too. The traveling I did, especially for ABCs Wide World of Sports, changed my life. I hadnt been out of the country before then, and suddenly I was flying all over the world. (As Jim McKays opening voiceover intoned week after week, we were spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports.) On any given weekend, I might be at a surfing championship in Hawaii or a figure-skating event in Prague, a weight-lifting competition in Budapest or the Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne. There was cliff diving in Acapulco and downhill skiing in Kitzbuhel, gymnastics in China or Romania or the U.S.S.R. ABC Sports showed me the world and made me more sophisticated. I got exposed to things Id never contemplated before. I remember exactly where and when I ate my first fine French meal in Paris, the first time I ever uttered the word Montrachet, and my first experience driving through Monaco in a luxury sports car. For a kid whod grown up in a split-level house in Oceanside, New York, it all felt a little head-spinning. It was much more than the high life, though. I traveled regularly to the developing world and arranged for coverage of events in the Communist bloc, negotiating with intransigent governing bodies and navigating often corrupt and byzantine systems. I witnessed firsthand how people lived behind the Iron Curtain, and got a sense of the daily challenges of their lives. (I can still remember looking out over darkened Bucharest during the nightly brownouts when the government shut down the electrical grid in winter.) I also saw the ways in which their dreams were no different from the dreams of the average person in America. If politicians had an urge to divide the world or generate an us-versus-them, good-versus-bad mentality, I was exposed to a reality much more nuanced than that. As for all the glamour, there is (and eventually there was) a convincing argument to be made that living that high off the hog was irresponsible. However, at that time ABC Sports existed in its own orbit, often immune from the laws that governed the rest of ABC. Roone Arledge was at the center of that orbit. Roone had been tapped to run ABC Sports in the early 1960s, and by the time I arrived he was already television royalty. More than anyone in the history of broadcasting, he changed the way we experience televised sports. He knew, first and foremost, that we were telling stories and not just broadcasting events, and to tell great stories, you need great talent. He was the most competitive person Ive ever worked for, and a relentless innovator, but he also knew that he was only as good as the people he surrounded himself with. Jim McKay, Howard Cosell, Keith Jackson. Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, Chris Schenkel, Bob Beattie in skiing, Jackie Stewart in auto racing. They all had magnetic broadcast personalities, and Roone turned them into household names. The human drama of athletic competitionto cite another line from that Wide World of Sports openingthats really how Roone saw the events that we covered. Athletes were characters in unfolding narratives. Where did they come from? What did they have to overcome to get here? How was this competition analogous to geopolitical dramas? How was it a window into different cultures? He reveled in the idea that we were bringing not just sports but the world into the living rooms of millions of Americans. He was also the first person I ever worked for who embraced technological advancements to revolutionize what we did and how we did it. Reverse-angle cameras, slow-motion replays, airing events live via satellitethats all Roone. He wanted to try every new gadget and break every stale format. He was looking, always, for new ways to connect to viewers and grab their attention. Roone taught me the dictum that has guided me in every job Ive held since: Innovate or die, and theres no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested. He was also a relentless perfectionist. In my early years in Sports, I spent most of my weekends in a basement control room on Sixty-sixth Street. My job entailed taking in feeds from all over the world and delivering them to producers and editors, who would cut them and lay in voiceovers before they went to air. Roone would often show up in the control room, or if he didnt appear in person, hed call in from wherever he was. (There was a red Roone phone in each of our control rooms, as well as in the mobile units at every event we covered.) If he was at home watching a broadcasthe was always watching from somewhereand saw something he didnt like, hed call in and tell us. This camera angle is wrong. That story line needs more emphasis. Were not telling people whats coming up! No detail was too small for Roone. Perfection was the result of getting all the little things right. On countless occasions, just as Id witnessed at the Sinatra concert, he would rip up an entire program before it aired and demand the team rework the whole thing, even if it meant working till dawn in an editing room. He wasnt a yeller, but he was tough and exacting and he communicated in very clear terms what was wrong and that he expected it to get fixed, and he didnt much care what sacrifice it required to fix it. The show was the thing. It was everything to him. The show was more important to Roone than to the people who made it, and you had to make peace with that if you worked for him. His commitment to making things great was galvanizing. It was often exhausting, often frustrating (largely because he would wait until very late in the production process to give notes or demand changes), but it was inspiring, too, and the inspiration far outweighed the frustration. You knew how much he cared about making things great, and you simply wanted to live up to his expectations. His mantra was simple: Do what you need to do to make it better. Of all the things I learned from Roone, this is what shaped me the most. When I talk about this particular quality of leadership, I refer to it as the relentless pursuit of perfection. In practice that means a lot of things, and its hard to define. Its a mindset, really, more than a specific set of rules. Its not, at least as I have internalized it, about perfectionism at all costs (something Roone wasnt especially concerned about). Instead, its about creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity. You instinctively push back against the urge to say Theres not enough time, or I dont have the energy, or This requires a difficult conversation I dont want to have, or any of the many other ways we can convince ourselves that good enough is good enough. Decades after I stopped working for Roone, I watched a documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, about a master sushi chef from Tokyo named Jiro Ono, whose restaurant has three Michelin stars and is one of the most sought-after reservations in the world. In the film, hes in his late eighties and still trying to perfect his art. He is described by some as being the living embodiment of the Japanese word shokunin, which is the endless pursuit of perfection for some greater good. I fell in love with Jiro when I watched it and became fascinated by the concept of shokunin. In 2013, I traveled to Tokyo for work and went to the restaurant with some colleagues. We met Jiro, who made us our dinner, and I watched in awe as he deftly laid out nineteen gorgeous pieces of sushi, one after the other, over the course of thirty-five minutes. (The speed of the meal was due to his commitment to serve the sushi on rice that was at body temperature. If the meal took too long, the rice would drop a couple of degrees below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which to Jiro was unacceptable.) I loved the documentary so much that I showed excerpts of it to 250 executives at a Disney retreat. I wanted them to understand better, through the example of Jiro, what I meant when I talked about the relentless pursuit of perfection. This is what it looks like to take immense personal pride in the work you create, and to have both the instinct toward perfection and the work ethic to follow through on that instinct. ONE OF MY favorite interactions with Roone came at the beginning of my tenure at ABC Sports. Even though we worked on the same floor and Sports was a relatively small division, Roone never came across as accessible to me in those days. Other than perfunctory hellos, he barely acknowledged me. One day I found myself standing next to him at a urinal. To my surprise, Roone began to talk with me. Hows it going? After a moment of stunned silence, I said, Well, some days I feel like its tough just keeping my head above water. Roone looked straight ahead. Without missing a beat, he said, Get a longer snorkel. Then he finished his business and walked out. He wasnt much for excuses. Only later, when I worked more closely with him, would I discover what people meant when they said that he refused to accept no for an answer. If he asked you to do something, you were expected to exhaust every possible method to accomplish it. If you came back and said you tried and it couldnt be done, hed just tell you, Find another way. In 1979, the World Table Tennis Championships were being held in Pyongyang, North Korea. Roone called me into his office one day and said, This is going to be interesting. Lets cover it on Wide World of Sports. I thought he was joking. He surely knew it would be impossible to secure the rights to an event in North Korea. He wasnt joking. I then embarked on a worldwide pursuit to secure the rights. The first stop was Cardiff, Wales, to meet with the head of the World Table Tennis Federation, and then from there, since I wasnt allowed to travel to North Korea, to Beijing to meet with the North Korean contingent. After a few months of intense negotiations, we were on the eve of closing the deal when I received a call from someone on the Asian desk in the U.S. State Department. Everything youre doing with them is illegal, he said. Youre in violation of strict U.S. sanctions against doing any business with North Korea. That certainly seemed like the end of the road, but I also had Roone in my mind, telling me to find another way. It turned out that the State Department wasnt opposed to our entering North Korea; they actually liked the idea of our going in with cameras and capturing what images we could there. They just wouldnt allow us to pay the North Koreans for the rights or enter into any contract with them. When I explained this to the North Korean contingent, they were livid, and it appeared that the whole thing would collapse. I eventually arrived at a workaround that involved securing the rights not through the host country but through the World Table Tennis Federation. The North Korean government, though we were no longer paying them, still agreed to let us in, and we became the first U.S. media team to enter North Korea in decadesa historic moment in sports broadcasting. Roone never knew the lengths Id gone to to get it done, but I know I wouldnt have done it had I not been driven in part by his expectations and my desire to please him. Its a delicate thing, finding the balance between demanding that your people perform and not instilling a fear of failure in them. Most of us who worked for Roone wanted to live up to his standards, but we also knew that he had no patience for excuses and that he could easily turn on anyone, in his singularly cutting, somewhat cruel, way, if he felt we werent performing to his satisfaction. Every Monday morning, the top executives in Sports would gather around a conference table to review the past weekends coverage and plan for what was coming up. The rest of us sat in a ring of chairs around the outer edge of the room, true backbenchers, waiting for critiques of the work wed just completed and orders for the week ahead. One morningthis was early in my time at Wide World of Sports, right around the time of the snorkel exchangeRoone walked in and began excoriating the entire team for missing a world record for the mile set by the great British middle-distance runner, Sebastian Coe, at a track-and-field event in Oslo, Norway. We were normally on top of such things, but there were unexpected complications in this case, and I hadnt been able to procure the rights to the race in time to air it. I suspected it was going to be a problem come Monday, but I held on to an unrealistic hope that it might slip by without mention. No such luck. Roone looked around the table at his senior team, wanting to know who was at fault. From the outer edges of the room, I raised my hand and said that it was my mistake. The room went silent; two dozen heads turned toward me. Nobody said anything, and we moved on, but after the meeting, various people came up to me and murmured, I cant believe you did that. Did what? Admitted it was your fault. What do you mean? No one ever does that. Roone never said anything to me about it, but he treated me differently, with higher regard, it seemed, from that moment on. In my early days, I thought there was only one lesson in this story, the obvious one about the importance of taking responsibility when you screw up. Thats true, and its significant. In your work, in your life, youll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you honestly own up to your mistakes. Its impossible not to make them; but it is possible to acknowledge them, learn from them, and set an example that its okay to get things wrong sometimes. Whats not okay is to undermine others by lying about something or covering your own ass first. Theres a related lesson, though, that I only came to fully appreciate years later, when I was in a position of real leadership. Its so simple that you might think it doesnt warrant mentioning, but its surprisingly rare: Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy. This doesnt mean that you lower your expectations or convey the message that mistakes dont matter. It means that you create an environment where people know youll hear them out, that youre emotionally consistent and fair-minded, and that theyll be given second chances for honest mistakes. (If they dont own up to their mistakes, or if they blame someone else, or if the mistake is the result of some unethical behavior, thats a different story, and something that shouldnt be tolerated.) There were people at ABC Sports who lived in fear of Roone turning on them, and as a result, they avoided taking risks or sticking their necks out too far. I never felt that way, but I could see it in others, and I understood where it came from. He was a capricious boss, and over time capriciousness takes a huge toll on a staffs morale. One day he would make you feel like you were the most important person in the division; the next he would deliver withering criticism or would put a knife in your back for reasons that were never quite clear. He had a way of playing people off each other, and I could never tell if it was a purposeful strategy or a function of his personality. For all of his immense talent and success, Roone was insecure at heart, and the way he defended against his own insecurity was to foster it in the people around him. Oftentimes it worked, in its way, and made you work that much harder to please him, but there were times when he drove me so crazy I was sure I was going to quit. I wasnt alone in thinking this. I didnt quit, though. I was able to make peace with the way Roone exercised his authority, to be motivated by the good and not be too personally wounded by the bad. I was naturally resilient, I think, and working for Roone made me more so. And I prided myself on working hard, especially in a place where so many of the people around me were better educated and from more sophisticated backgrounds. It was important to me to know that when it came down to it, I could outwork anyone else, and so I was focused much more on that than I was on the vicissitudes of Roones moods. It was only later, looking back, that I realized that so much of what we accomplished didnt have to come at such a cost. I was motivated by Roones drive for perfection and have carried it with me ever since. But I learned something else along the way, too: Excellence and fairness dont have to be mutually exclusive. I wouldnt have articulated it that way at the time. Mostly I was just focused on doing my job well and certainly wasnt thinking about what Id do differently if I were in Roones shoes. But years later, when I was given the chance to lead, I was instinctively aware of both the need to strive for perfection and the pitfalls of caring only about the product and never the people. CHAPTER 2 BETTING ON TALENT I N MARCH 1985, I was thirty-four years old and had just been made vice president at ABC Sports, when Leonard Goldenson, ABCs founder, chairman, and CEO, agreed to sell the corporation to a much smaller company, Capital Cities Communications. Cap Cities, as they were called, was a quarter the size of ABC, and they bought us for $3.5 billion. Everyone at ABC was blindsided by the announcement. How could a company like Cap Cities suddenly own a major television network? Who were these guys? How did this happen? These guys were Tom Murphy and Dan Burke. Over the years, theyd built Cap Cities, starting a small television station in Albany, New York, acquisition by acquisition. With help from Toms close friend Warren Buffett, who backed the $3.5 billion deal, they were able to swallow our much larger company. (As Tom Murphy put it, they were the minnow that ate the whale.) Tom and Dan werent from our world. In our eyes, they were small-time. They owned local TV and radio stations, a sprawling publishing business, including some midsize newspapers. They were church-going Catholics (their New York office was in a building on Madison Avenue owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York) with no network experience, no connection to Hollywood, and a reputation for drastic penny-pinching. We had no idea what was going to happen when they took over, but we knew that nothing we were used to would remain the same. The deal closed in January 1986. Shortly afterward, Tom and Dan held a corporate retreat in Phoenix. I didnt rank high enough to get invited, but I heard plenty of complaints and snickering from other ABC execs in the aftermath, about corny team-building exercises and Tom and Dans homespun values. Id later realize we were all being cynics and snobs. Over the next few years, those corny traditions would help form a genuine camaraderie within the company. And Tom and Dans allergies to Hollywood didnt mean they were unsophisticated, as a lot of executives at ABC assumed early on. It was just who they were: no-nonsense businesspeople who focused on the work and had zero interest in the glitz. It was true, though, that running a huge entertainment company was like nothing theyd done before. For one thing, they had never managed world-class executive talent. Nowhere was this more evident than in their relationship with Roone. By the time Cap Cities acquired us, Roone was running both Sports and ABC News, which hed taken over in 1977, when it was in the ratings tank. Hed transformed it as he had Sports, by putting his most high-profile anchorsPeter Jennings, Barbara Walters, Ted Koppel, and Diane Sawyeron a pedestal and using them across a range of shows. He created 20/20 and World News Tonight, then Nightline, which grew out of ABCs coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis. He brought the same relentless competitive spirit and striking visual sensibility to news coverage as he had to sports broadcasting, and the division thrived under him. Tom and Dan respected Roone, and they were well aware of his talent and reputation, but they were also a little intimidated by him. He spoke a language and moved in a world they werent familiar with, and Roone leveraged that to his advantage. He was aloof and sometimes openly critical of them. Hed show up late for meetings or would at times blatantly disregard some policy issued by the bean counters, as he saw them. I was one of the last of the old guard from Sports still around in those days, and Roone often commiserated with me. Id get a call from his assistant at the end of the day, asking me to come over to News, and when I arrived, Roone would pull out a bottle of a white Italian wine that he loved. Wed sit in his office, surrounded by Emmy awards, while he griped about how Tom and Dan were crimping his style. They dont get it, hed say. You cant save your way to success. Roone believed in sparing no expense in the pursuit of greatness, and he didnt want anyone telling him he had to change the way he did things to meet some arbitrary budgetary goals. He didnt care about the business side of things, but if pressed, he could always point to the revenue wed brought in over the years and say that the profligate spending allowed us not just to make amazing television but to create an aura of sophistication and glamour that advertisers wanted to be a part of. That wasnt how Tom and Dan worked. They came in and immediately stripped away all the perks wed grown used to. No more limos lined up in front of ABC headquarters waiting for executives. No more trips on the Concorde or first-class travel. No more bottomless expense accounts. They saw how our business was changing in a way a lot of people at ABC didnt want to accept. Margins were getting tighter; competition was tougher. Within our own company, even, ESPN was beginning to find its footing, which eventually would have a direct impact on ABC Sports. Tom and Dan werent just meat-and-potatoes guys who didnt get it. They were shrewd businesspeople who sensed which way the winds were blowing. (It also should be said that when they felt it was important to spend money, they did. Roone benefited from that more than anyone when they gave him the go-ahead to woo Diane Sawyer from CBS and David Brinkley from NBC to round out the all-star team at ABC News.) One of the first things they did after taking over was to tell Roone they didnt want him running both Sports and News. They gave him a choice, and Roone chose Newswith the one stipulation, that he would be the executive producer of our 88 Winter Olympics coverage in Calgary. I assumed theyd replace him with someone from within the division (I thought there was a chance it might even be me), but instead they brought in Dennis Swanson, who, prior to becoming the head of the vaunted ABC Sports division, had managed a half dozen or so local TV stations for ABC. (Denniss greatand legitimateclaim to fame was that he was the guy who put Oprah Winfrey on TV in Chicago in 1983.) Overnight, I went from working for the most successful sports television executive of all time to working for someone whod never spent a minute at a network or in sports broadcasting. My former boss, Jim Spence, was one of the people who also got passed over for Roones job. When Tom and Dan announced they were bringing in Dennis, Jim quit, and other senior executives followed him out the door. Jim went to the talent agency ICM to start a sports division. I hung around, hoping something might open up for me. After a short time working for Dennis, though, I called Jim to say it seemed like there was nothing for me there anymore and I needed to get out. Jim asked me to come join him at ICM, and we quickly crafted a deal. I was under contract at ABC, but I figured theyd let me out of it, and the next day I went into work planning to give Dennis my notice. Before I could set up a time to talk with him, I spoke with Steve Solomon, the head of Human Resources for ABC, whom Dennis had brought in to help him run Sports. I told Steve I was planning to leave. We need to talk with Dennis, he said. He has another idea for you. When I stepped into Denniss office, he said, Ive got news for you. Im going to make you senior vice president for programming. I want you to create a blueprint for all of ABCs sports programming. I was completely thrown. I was about to tell you I was leaving, I finally said. Leaving? I didnt really think there was a path for me here anymore. I explained that Jim Spence was starting a sports business at ICM and that Id made a decision to join him. I think thats a mistake, Dennis said. He wasnt so sure the company would let me out of my contract, for one. This is a big opportunity for you, Bob. I dont think you should just let it go. He gave me twenty-four hours to give him an answer. I went home that night and had a long conversation with my then wife, Susan. We weighed my misgivings about working for Dennis against the potential of this new job. We talked about our two daughters, and the security of being in a place I knew well, versus taking a risk on a new venture. Ultimately I decided to stay where I was because ABC Sports had been such a good place for me over the years, and I still wasnt ready to give up on it. There are moments in our careers, in our lives, that are inflection points, but theyre often not the most obvious or dramatic ones. I wasnt sure I was making the right decision. It was probably the safer one, really, to stay at the place I knew. But I also didnt want to leave too impulsively, because my ego had been bruised or because I had some feeling of superiority when it came to Dennis. If I was ultimately going to leave, it had to be because there was an opportunity that was too great to say no, and the ICM job wasnt that. Taking Dennis up on his offer proved to be one of the best career decisions I ever made. Id soon learn that I had been totally wrong in my assessment of him. He was an amiable, funny guy; his energy and optimism were infectious; and, crucially, he knew what he didnt know. This is a rare trait in a boss. Its easy to imagine another person in Denniss shoes overcompensating for the fact that hed never worked at a network by exuding a kind of fake authority or knowledge, but that wasnt how Dennis was wired. We would sit in meetings and something would come up and rather than bluffing his way through it, Dennis would say he didnt know, and then hed turn to me and others for help. He regularly asked me to take the lead in conversations with higher-ups while he sat back, and he took every opportunity to extol my virtues to Tom and Dan. In the lead-up to the Winter Olympics, Dennis asked me to present our plans to them and the highest-ranking executives in the company. It was an enormous opportunity for me, and a perfect example of how Dennis never put himself ahead of anyone else. It was who he was, a naturally generous man, but it was also a function of the culture that Tom and Dan created. They were two of the most authentic people Ive ever met, genuinely themselves at all times. No airs, no big egos that needed to be managed, no false sincerity. They comported themselves with the same honesty and forthrightness no matter who they were talking to. They were shrewd businesspeople (Warren Buffett later called them probably the greatest two-person combination in management that the world has ever seen or maybe ever will see), but it was more than that. I learned from them that genuine decency and professional competitiveness werent mutually exclusive. In fact, true integritya sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrongis a kind of secret weapon. They trusted in their own instincts, they treated people with respect, and over time the company came to represent the values they lived by. A lot of us were getting paid less than we would have been paid if we went to a competitor. We knew they were cheap. But we stayed because we felt so loyal to these two men. Their business strategy was fairly simple. They were hypervigilant about controlling costs, and they believed in a decentralized corporate structure. Meaning: They didnt think every key decision should be made by the two of them or by a small group of strategists in corporate headquarters. They hired people who were smart and decent and hardworking, they put those people in positions of big responsibility, and they gave them the support and autonomy needed to do the job. They were also tremendously generous with their time and always accessible. Because of this, executives working for them always had a clear sense of what their priorities were, and their focus enabled us all to be focused, too. IN FEBRUARY 1988, we went to Calgary to cover the Winter Games. As agreed, Roone was executive producer, and I was the senior program executive. Which meant that in the long run-up to the Olympics I was in charge of the intricate scheduling of all televised events, communicating and negotiating with the Olympic Organizing Committee and the various governing bodies around the world, and helping to plan our coverage in advance of the games. A couple of days before the games began, Roone showed up in Calgary and called me to his suite. Okay, he said. What are we doing? It had been two years since wed worked together, but right away it was like nothing had changedin good ways and bad. We were scheduled to air a three-hour Olympics preview the night before the opening ceremonies, and for weeks Id been trying to get Roone to focus on it. He finally watched it after arriving in Calgary, the night before it was scheduled to air. Its all wrong, he said. Theres no excitement. No tension. A team of people worked through the night to execute all of his changes in time to get it on the air. He was right, of course. His storytelling instincts were as sharp as ever. But it was such a stressful way to kick things off, and a reminder of how one persons unwillingness to give a timely response can cause so much unnecessary strain and inefficiency. We set up our operations in a cavernous warehouse on the outskirts of Calgary. There were several trailers and smaller buildings inside the warehouse that housed various production and tech crews. Our control room was in there, too, with Roone in the captains chair and me in the back row dealing with logistics. Behind the control room was a glass-enclosed observation booth for VIPs. Throughout the games, Tom and Dan and several board members and guests would spend time in the booth, watching us work. The first few days went off without a hitch, and then everything changed overnight. Strong chinook winds rolled in and the temperature shot up into the sixties. The snow on the alpine course and the ice on the bobsled runs melted. Event after event got canceled, and even those that took place proved to be a challenge because our cameras couldnt see anything through the fog. Every morning for the next several days, Id arrive at the control room having almost no idea what we were going to put on the air that night. It was a perfect example of the need for optimism. Things were dire, for sure, but I needed to look at the situation not as a catastrophe but as a puzzle we needed to solve, and to communicate to our team that we were talented and nimble enough to solve these problems and make something wonderful on the fly. The big challenge was finding programming to fill our prime-time hours, which were now filled with gaping holes where big-ticket Olympic events used to be. This meant dealing with an Olympic committee that was struggling to solve its own scheduling crises. Even before the games began, Id pushed my luck with them. The original draw for the hockey tournament had the United States playing two of the toughest teams in the world in the first two games. I assumed they would lose both contests, and viewer interest would drop off a cliff after they were eliminated. So Id traveled all over the world meeting with national hockey federations and Olympic committees to convince them to redraw the bracket. Now I was on the phone with the Calgary Olympic committee several times a day, begging them to change the schedule of events so that wed have something to show in prime time. The meetings with Roone before each nights telecast were almost comical. Hed come into the booth every afternoon and say, What are we gonna do tonight? And Id reply, Well, weve got Romania versus Sweden in hockey or some such thing, and then Id walk him through the rescheduled events, which were often lacking. Since we didnt have the competitions we needed, each day a team of producers was sent out to uncover compelling human-interest stories. Then theyd pull the features together and slot them into that nights telecast. The Jamaican bobsled team was a godsend. As was Eddie The Eagle Edwards, the quixotic British ski jumper who finished last in both 70- and 90-meter events. It was a high-wire act, but it was fun, too. And it was satisfying to face the challenge of each day knowing that the only way through was to stay laser-focused and to exude as much calmness as possible to the people around me. Somehow it all worked. The ratings were historically high. Tom and Dan were pleased. The added drama of having to improvise so much of it was a fitting end to Roones reign over sports television. It was also the last Olympics ABC would televise, after a forty-two-year run. We no longer held the rights after those games. On the final night of coverage, after we signed off, several of us hung around in the control room and drank champagne, toasting our efforts and laughing about how closely wed averted disaster. One by one people filed out and headed back to the hotel. I was the last one left in the control room and stayed there for a while taking in the silence and stillness after so much action. Then I turned out the lights and headed home. A FEW WEEKS LATER, I got called into a meeting with Tom and Dan. We want to get to know you better, Tom said. He told me theyd watched me closely in Calgary, and they were impressed with how Id handled myself under pressure. Some things might be opening up, Dan said, and they wanted me to know they had their eyes on me. My first thought was that maybe I had a chance at the top job at ESPN, but shortly after that meeting they gave it to the guy who was executive vice president of ABC Television at the time. There I was, frustrated at being passed over again, when they called me back in and gave me his job. We want to park you there for a little while, Dan said. But we have bigger plans. I didnt know what those plans were, but the job theyd just given menumber two at ABC TVfelt like a pretty far reach. I was thirty-seven years old, Id primarily worked in sports, and now I would be running daytime and late-night and Saturday morning television, as well as managing business affairs for the entire network. I knew precisely nothing about how any of that was done, but Tom and Dan seemed confident I could learn on the job. My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity. In part this is just garden-variety ambition. I wanted to move up and learn and do more, and I wasnt going to forgo any chance to do that, but I also wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing things that I was unfamiliar with. Tom and Dan were the perfect bosses in this regard. They would talk about valuing ability more than experience, and they believed in putting people in roles that required more of them than they knew they had in them. It wasnt that experience wasnt important, but they bet on brains, as they put it, and trusted that things would work out if they put talented people in positions where they could grow, even if they were in unfamiliar territory. Tom and Dan brought me into their inner circle. They let me in on their decision-making and confided in me about people, including Brandon Stoddard, who ran prime time as president of ABC Entertainment. Brandon was a talented executive who had great taste in television, but like a lot of others whod come up in entertainment, he didnt have the temperament for working in a corporate structure. Brandon had Hollywood figured out, and to him Tom and Dan were station guys who had no clue about his business. He was unable to hide his disdain for them and unwilling to adapt to their way of doing things, or even make an effort to understand where they were coming from. Tom and Dan, unsurprisingly, grew increasingly frustrated in return, and over time a mutual distrust and low-level animosity took hold. Early one Friday morning, Dan sat down across from me in the cafeteria at ABCs headquarters on West Sixty-sixth Street. Most days, he and I arrived at the office before everyone else, and wed often meet in the cafeteria and catch each other up on what was going on. He set his breakfast tray down and said, Tom is flying out to L.A. today. Do you know why? No, I said. Whats up? Hes going to fire Brandon Stoddard. It didnt completely shock me, but I was surprised that I hadnt heard anything about their plans for replacing him. It was going to be big news in Hollywood that theyd fired the head of ABC Entertainment. What are you going to do? I asked. I dont know, Dan said. Were just going to have to figure it out. Tom fired Brandon on that Friday. Dan flew out to meet him over the weekend, and on Monday evening I got a call from him at home. Bob, what are you doing? Making dinner for my girls, I said. We want you to fly out here tomorrow morning. Can you do that? I told him I could, and then he said, Before you get on the plane, theres something you should know. We want you to run Entertainment. Excuse me? We want you to be president of ABC Entertainment. Come out here and well talk about it. I flew out to L.A. the next morning and went straight to meet with them. The struggles with Brandon had become too much, they said. Theyd spent the weekend canvassing various people about who should replace him. One thought was to give the job to our head of research, Alan Wurtzel, whom they liked and respected. They raised this possibility with Stu Bloomberg, who had been the head of comedy and whom theyd just made head of drama at the network, as well. You cant do that, Stu told them. This is a creative job. You cant give it to the head of research! They then asked Stu, What do you think of Bob Iger? He didnt know me well, Stu said, but everyone had been impressed with how Id handled the Olympic coverage, and from what he knew people liked and respected me. Stu also told them he would gladly work for me, and that was enough for them. We want you to do this, Tom said. I was flattered, but I also knew this was a big risk for them. This would be the first time in the history of the company that the person running ABC Entertainment wasnt from the entertainment world. I wasnt sure anyone from outside Hollywood had held that job at any of the networks. Look, I appreciate your faith in me, I told them. But I havent read a script since my TV-writing course in college. I dont know this part of the business. They responded in their usual fatherly way. Aw, Bob, youll be great, Tom said. Dan added, We want you to survive here, Bob. We hope when youre done youll be carrying your shield and not being carried out on it! I had dinner that night with Stu Bloomberg and Ted Harbert, the two men who, along with Brandon, were responsible for ABCs prime-time lineup. The plan was that I would run the department and Stu and Ted would split the number two job beneath me. Ted would run programming and scheduling; Stu would run development. They were both seasoned entertainment veterans, and Stu, in particular, had been responsible for a lot of ABCs recent success, including The Wonder Years and Roseanne. They would have been completely justified in their disdain for the guy who knew nothing about their business but was about to be their boss. Instead, they were two of the most supportive people Ive ever worked with, and their support started that first night. I told them over dinner that I needed their help. They knew the business, and I didnt, but our fates were intertwined now, and I hoped they would be willing to be patient with me as I learned on the job. Dont worry, Bob. Well teach you, Stu said. Itll be great. Trust us. I flew back to New York and sat down with my wife. Wed agreed before I went out there that I wouldnt make any final decision without our talking it through first. This job meant living in L.A., and we had a life we loved in New York. Wed just renovated our apartment; our girls were at a great school; our closest friends were in New York. Susan was an executive producer of news at WNBC and one of those New Yorkers who never want to live anywhere else. I knew this would be hard for her and that in her heart she wouldnt want to go. She was incredibly supportive. Lifes an adventure, she said. If you dont choose the adventurous path, then youre not really living. The next day, Thursday, Tom and Dan announced that I would be the new head of ABC Entertainment. Three days later I flew out to L.A. and started the job. CHAPTER 3 KNOW WHAT YOU DONT KNOW (AND TRUST IN WHAT YOU DO) I T WASNT QUITE leaping without a parachute, but it felt a lot like free fall at first. I told myself: You have a job. Theyre expecting you to turn this business around. Your inexperience cant be an excuse for failure. So what do you do in a situation like that? The first rule is not to fake anything. You have to be humble, and you cant pretend to be someone youre not or to know something you dont. Youre also in a position of leadership, though, so you cant let humility prevent you from leading. Its a fine line, and something I preach today. You have to ask the questions you need to ask, admit without apology what you dont understand, and do the work to learn what you need to learn as quickly as you can. Theres nothing less confidence-inspiring than a person faking a knowledge they dont possess. True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else. Luckily, I had Stu and Ted by my side. I was thoroughly dependent on them, especially in those early days. Their first order of business was to schedule what felt like an endless string of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings. Back then, the head of any of the three networks was one of the most powerful people in television (a fact that felt surreal to me), but to everyone in the industry, I was a looming question mark. I had no sense of how things were done in Hollywood, and no experience managing relationships with creative people or working with their representatives. I didnt speak their language. I didnt understand their culture. To them I was a suit from New York who suddenlyfor reasons that must have seemed bafflinghad immense influence over their creative life. So every day I met with the managers and agents and writers and directors and TV stars that Stu and Ted lined up for me. In most of those meetings, I had the distinct sensation of being poked and prodded in an effort to figure out who I was and what the hell I was doing there. The task was to not let my ego get the best of me. Rather than trying too hard to impress whoever was across the table, I needed to resist the urge to pretend I knew what I was doing and ask a lot of questions. There was no getting around that I was a square peg there. I didnt come up through Hollywood. I didnt have a big personality or any obvious swagger. I barely knew anyone in town. I could be insecure about that, or I could let my relative blandnessmy un-Hollywood-nessbe a kind of mystery that worked to my advantage while I absorbed as much as I could. I arrived in L.A. with six weeks left to decide on a lineup for the 198990 prime-time season. On my first day in the office, I was handed a stack of forty scripts to read. Each night Id take them home and dutifully make my way through them, making notes in the margins but struggling to imagine how the script in front of me would translate to the screen, and doubting my ability to judge what was good and what wasnt. Was I even paying attention to the right stuff? Were there things that other people could obviously see that I was missing entirely? The answer, at first, was yes. Id come in and meet with Stu and others to winnow the pile the next day. Stu could dissect a script so quicklyHis motivations arent clear at the top of Act 2and Id look back through the pages on my lap, thinking, Wait, Act 2? When did Act 1 end? (Stu would become one of my closest friends. I sometimes wore him down with my questions and inexperience, but he persevered and taught me vital lessons, not just about how to read scripts but about how to interact with creative people.) I started to realize over time, though, that Id internalized a lot by watching Roone tell stories all those years. Sports wasnt the same as prime-time TV, but there were important lessons about structure and pacing and clarity that Id absorbed without even knowing it. In my first week in L.A., I had lunch with the producer and writer Steven Bochco, who had two huge hits for NBC, Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law, but had recently signed a lucrative ten-series deal with ABC. I mentioned to Steven that I was anxious about reading scripts. I didnt even know the lingo and yet there was pressure to make decisions, quickly, on so many shows. He waved it off in a way that I found comforting coming from someone like him. Its not rocket science, Bob, he said. Trust yourself. At the time, there were several successful shows in ABCs prime-time lineupWhos the Boss?, Growing Pains, Roseanne, The Wonder Years, and Thirtysomething. But we were a distant number two to NBC, the network juggernaut. My job was to find a way to narrow that gap. We added more than a dozen new shows that first season, among them Family Matters and Life Goes On (the first show on television to feature a major character with Down syndrome), and Americas Funniest Home Videos, which became an immediate, gigantic hit and is now in its thirty-first season. We also aired Stevens first big success for the network. Hed just delivered the script when I arrived: Doogie Howser, M.D., about a fourteen-year-old doctor juggling his life as both a physician and an adolescent boy. Steven showed me a video of the teenage actor, Neil Patrick Harris, whom he wanted for the lead role. I told him I wasnt sure. I didnt think Neil could carry the show. Very politely and straightforwardly, Steven slapped me down, gently suggesting that I didnt know a thing. He informed me that it was basically his decisionnot just whom to cast, but whether to go forward with the project or not. According to his deal, if we said yes to a project, he got a thirteen-episode commitment. If we said no, we had to pay him a kill fee of $1.5 million. Saying yes to this show was one of my first program decisions, and thankfully Steven was right about Neil. Doogie Howser, M.D. had four strong seasons for ABC and marked the beginning of a long collaboration and friendship with Steven. THERE WAS ANOTHER, much bigger risk we took that first season. Based on a literal back-of-a-napkin pitch at a restaurant in Hollywood, ABCs head of drama had given the go-ahead to a pilot from David Lynch, by then famous for his cult films Eraserhead and Blue Velvet, and the screenwriter and novelist Mark Frost. It was a surreal, meandering drama about the murder of a prom queen, Laura Palmer, in the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Twin Peaks. David directed the two-hour pilot, which I vividly remember watching for the first time and thinking, This is unlike anything Ive ever seen and we have to do this. As they did every year, Tom and Dan and a few other executives came out that spring for pilot season. We screened Twin Peaks for them, and when the lights came up, the first thing Dan did was turn around and look at me and say, I dont know what that was, but I think it was really good. Tom was much less taken than Dan, and the other New Yorkbased executives in the room agreed. It was too weird, too dark, for network TV. I had such respect for Tom, but I also knew this show was important enough to fight for. There were changes taking place that we had to face. We were now competing with the edgier programming available on cable TV, and with the new upstart Fox Network, not to mention the growth of videogames and the rise of the VCR. I felt that network television had become boring and derivative, and we had the chance with Twin Peaks to put something on TV that was utterly original. We couldnt just fall back into our same old stance while everything changed around us. It was the Roone lesson all over again: Innovate or die. Eventually, I convinced them to let me screen the pilot for a younger, more diverse audience than a group of older guys from ABC in New York. The test audiences didnt exactly support putting the show on network television, particularly because it was so different; but it was just thatits being differentthat motivated us to give it the green light and make seven episodes. I decided to put it on in midseason, in the spring of 1990 rather than the fall of 89. Each season we hold back shows as midseason replacements for the inevitability of a few failing shows. Theres a bit less pressure on those replacement shows than the ones that launch in the fall, and it seemed like the best strategy for Twin Peaks. So we put it into production, to air in the spring, and in the intervening months rough cuts of the first few episodes began to come in. Although hed given me permission to go ahead months earlier, Tom watched a couple of them and wrote me a letter that said, You cant air this. If we put it on television, it will kill our companys reputation. I phoned Tom and said we had to air Twin Peaks. By that point, there was already a tremendous buzz in and outside of Hollywood that we were doing this. There was even an article on the front page of The Wall Street Journal about this buttoned-up guy at ABC who was taking huge creative risks. Suddenly I was getting calls from Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. I visited Steven on the set of Hook, which he was directing at the time, and George at his Skywalker Ranch. They were both interested in talking about what they might do for ABC. That notion, that directors of that caliber would be interested in making television shows, was unheard of until we started making Twin Peaks. (Two years later, in 1991, George delivered The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which lasted for two seasons.) I told Tom, Were getting unbelievable praise from the creative community for taking this risk. We have to air this. To Toms credit, thats what won him over. He was my boss, and he could have said, Sorry, Im overruling you. But he understood the value of our winning over creative people in Hollywood, and he accepted my reasoning that this was a risk worth taking. We promoted the show on the Academy Awards in late March and aired the two-hour pilot on Sunday, April 8. Nearly thirty-five million peopleabout a third of TV watchers at the timetuned in. We then scheduled it for Thursdays at 9:00 P.M., and within weeks Twin Peaks became the most successful program wed put in that time slot in four years. It was on the cover of Time. Newsweek described it as being like nothing youve seen in primetimeor on Gods earth. I went to New York that May for the up-fronts, the big spring gathering where networks preview upcoming series for advertisers and the press, and had to go onstage to talk about ABC. Every once in a while a network executive takes a big risk, I said, and immediately the crowd broke into a standing ovation. It was the most exhilarating thing Id ever felt in my career. The wave of euphoria broke almost immediately. Within six months, Twin Peaks went from cultural phenomenon to frustrating disappointment. Wed given David creative freedom, but as we got toward the end of the first season, he and I became locked in an ongoing debate about audience expectations. The entire show hinged on the question of who killed Laura Palmer, and I felt David was losing sight of that, laying breadcrumbs in a way that felt random and unsatisfying. David was and is a brilliant filmmaker, but he was not a television producer. Theres an organizational discipline that running a show requires (delivering scripts on time, managing a crew, making sure everything moves forward according to schedule) that David simply didnt have. Theres a storytelling discipline, too. With a film, you need to get people in for two hours and give them a good experience and hope that they leave the theater engaged and enthralled. With a television series, you have to keep them coming back, week after week, season after season. To this day, I love and respect David, and will forever be in awe of his work, but the fact that he didnt have a television producers sensibility resulted in storytelling that was too open-ended. You need to resolve the mystery, or at least give people some hope that it will be resolved, I said. Its beginning to frustrate the audience, including me! David felt the mystery wasnt the most important element of the show; in his ideal version, wed never find out who the killer was, but other aspects of the town and its characters would emerge. We went around and around until, finally, he agreed to reveal the killer partway through season two. After that, the storytelling became a mess. There was no engine propelling the story after the mystery was resolved. Making matters worse, there wasnt enough discipline in the production process, which led to confusion and delays. It became obvious to me that David, as brilliant as he was, should not run the show, and I debated firing him and bringing in a group of experienced television showrunners to take it over. I concluded it was a no-win situation, and we would be vilified if we fired David Lynch. Instead, we moved Twin Peaks to Saturday night, in part to take pressure off its need to perform, and when its ratings dropped precipitously, David blamed me publicly. Id given it a death sentence, he said, first by pushing for a resolution to the mystery, then by putting it on a night when nobody would watch it. Looking back on it now, Im not convinced I was right. I was applying a more traditional television approach to the storytelling, and David may have been ahead of his time. Deep down, I felt David was frustrating the audience, but it may well be that my demands for an answer to the question of who killed Laura Palmer threw the show into another kind of narrative disarray. David might have been right all along. Managing creative processes starts with the understanding that its not a scienceeverything is subjective; there is often no right or wrong. The passion it takes to create something is powerful, and most creators are understandably sensitive when their vision or execution is questioned. I try to keep this in mind whenever I engage with someone on the creative side of our business. When I am asked to provide insights and offer critiques, Im exceedingly mindful of how much the creators have poured themselves into the project and how much is at stake for them. I never start out negatively, and unless were in the late stages of a production, I never start small. Ive found that often people will focus on little details as a way of masking a lack of any clear, coherent, big thoughts. If you start petty, you seem petty. And if the big picture is a mess, then the small things dont matter anyway, and you shouldnt spend time focusing on them. Of course, no two situations are alike. Theres a big difference between giving feedback to a seasoned director like J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg and someone with much less experience and confidence. The first time I sat down with Ryan Coogler to give him notes on Black Panther, I could see how visibly anxious he was. Hed never made a film as big as Black Panther, with a massive budget and so much pressure on it to do well. I took pains to say very clearly, Youve created a very special film. I have some specific notes, but before I give them to you, I want you to know we have tremendous faith in you. This is all a way of stating what might seem obvious but is often ignored: that a delicate balance is required between management being responsible for the financial performance of any creative work and, in exercising that responsibility, being careful not to encroach on the creative processes in harmful and counterproductive ways. Empathy is a prerequisite to the sound management of creativity, and respect is critical. REMARKABLY, THE DEMISE of Twin Peaks wasnt our biggest failure that season. In the spring of 1990, I gave the green light to Cop Rock, a show that would become the butt of late-night jokes and take a permanent place on lists of the worst TV shows of all time. But I stand by the decision to this day. In one of our earliest meetings, Steven Bochco told me that in addition to Doogie Howser, he had another idea: a police drama set to music. Hed been approached by a Broadway producer interested in turning Hill Street Blues into a musical, which for various reasons he couldnt do. But the idea had stuck with himnot to make a cop musical for Broadway, but to make a cop musical for TV. Hed bring it up periodically, and Id deflect the idea. I wanted a cop show from Steven, but I didnt want a musical. That spring, though, still basking in the glow of that first season of Twin Peaks, I finally came around. You know what? I told him. Why not? Lets try it. The show took place in the LAPD and in all respects it operated like a normal, well-plotted police proceduralexcept that in moments of high drama characters would burst into song: blues songs, gospel songs, big ensemble numbers. I sensed from the moment I saw the pilot that it wasnt going to work, and would possibly be legendarily bad, but I also thought there was a chance I could be wrong. I admired Stevens talent so much, and in any case I figured if I was going to be in, I needed to be all in. Cop Rock premiered in September 1990. Normally, when shows first aired, Id ask our head of research in New York to call me in L.A. with the overnight ratings. This time I told him, If the ratings are good, call. If theyre bad, just send a fax. At 5:00 A.M., I woke to the sound of the fax machine humming, then closed my eyes and went back to bed. The reviews were not, in fact, universally terrible. I remember one complimented the shows audaciousness. Others said that if you stripped away the music, you were left with a great Steven Bochco police drama. Most of the rest said it was an embarrassment. We pulled it in December of that year, after eleven episodes. Steven threw a wrap party on the lot, to celebrate and mourn the end of the show together. At the end of his remarks, he said, Well, it aint over till the fat lady sings, and over our heads soared a corpulent, singing woman on a flying trapeze. I got up and addressed the cast and crew. We tried something big and it didnt work, I said. Id much rather take big risks and sometimes fail than not take risks at all. Thats genuinely how I felt at the time. I didnt regret trying it. And its how I felt a few months later when we pulled the plug on Twin Peaks. I didnt want to be in the business of playing it safe. I wanted to be in the business of creating possibilities for greatness. Of all the lessons I learned in that first year running prime time, the need to be comfortable with failure was the most profound. Not with lack of effort but with the unavoidable truth that if you want innovationand you should, alwaysyou need to give permission to fail. Steven and I shared the flop that was Cop Rock together. We had a sense of humor about it, and I made a point to never distance myself from the decision to put it on the air. It felt like a much-higher-stakes version of the lesson Id learned in that room at ABC Sports years before. You cant erase your mistakes or pin your bad decisions on someone else. You have to own your own failures. You earn as much respect and goodwill by standing by someone in the wake of a failure as you do by giving them credit for a success. Once the Cop Rock wounds had healed a bit, Steven told me that he wanted to make what he called the first R-rated show in TV history. I said, Steven, you did Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law for NBC. Where is that for us? I get a police show and its Cop Rock. And now you want to do something that will send advertisers running for the hills? What I didnt appreciate is how much Steven felt that hed already done all that other stuff and was driven to do something differentand how much he was responding to the shifting landscape of television. He felt HBO was going to be eating our lunch soon because their shows creators didnt have to comply with prudish network censors or worry about offending advertisers. So he pitched NYPD Blue as the first R-rated drama on network TV. I agreed with Steven about the changing nature of television and the stodginess of the networks, but I also knew there was no way I could get permission to put an R-rated show on TV. The sales guys told me that, and I told Steven, and for a while we both walked away from the idea. I did believe, though, that we could do something that stretched the boundaries but wasnt quite R-rated, and Steven eventually got intrigued by that idea. If we were to do that, he said, what would it look like? He and I consulted with the censors and came up with a template for what we could and could not do on a PG-13 show. We made a glossary of all the words that were technically inbounds. (Asswipe was okay; asshole was not. You could use prick to describe a person but not a body part.) We pulled out a notebook and drew stick figures, basically, of naked people, figuring out what angles would reveal enough but not too much. The next step was to sell it to Dan Burke. Dan flew out to L.A., and the three of us had lunch near Stevens office. We showed him our glossary and our stick figures and explained why this show was important to us. You guys can do this, Dan finally said. But when the shit hits the fan, and its going to hit the fan, my skirt isnt wide enough for youhe pointed at meto hide behind. It was another example of my being willing to take risks in part because of the faith Dan and Tom placed in me. They gave me this job, and Id delivered quickly, and that gave me an enormous amount of latitude with them. I couldnt do whatever I wanted, but I had the freedom to exercise a considerable amount of authority. Its a trust that Brandon Stoddard, my predecessor, never earned. He refused to respect them, and therefore they didnt respect him, which in turn meant they were determined to tell him no when he fought for things he wanted. After we got Dans approval, there was a long, painstaking development period, in which Steven pushed in one direction and ABCs standards-and-practices folks pushed back, until compromises were finally reached. The show premiered in the fall of 1993, a full season after wed initially intended to put it on the air. The American Family Association called for a boycott; many advertisers refused to buy spots; more than 50 of our 225 affiliates preempted the first episode. But the critical reception was extraordinary, and in its second season it was among the top ten shows on TV. It would become a mainstay of prime time for a dozen years, winning 20 Emmys and being regarded as one of the best dramas ever created for the network. During my stint running prime time, we ended up number one with the coveted 1849 demographic four out of five years. We even unseated Brandon Tartikoff, whod kept NBC atop the Nielsen rankings for sixty-eight straight weeks. (Brandon called to congratulate me when the rankings came out showing ABC on top. He was a classy guy, and hed done something that no one will ever do again. I feel a little sad about it, I told him. Its like Joe DiMaggios streak coming to an end.) Our success was a team effort, always, but it was also the first success I experienced in my career that was publicly ascribed to me. On the one hand, it felt odd that I was getting credit for things that other people made. Id come to Entertainment knowing nothing about the job, and this group of incredibly talented people shared everything they knew with me. They worked hard and werent threatened by the fact that Id become their boss. Because of their generosity, we succeeded together, and yet the credit was largely given to me. I think its also fair to say, though, that we wouldnt have gone to number one in prime time without my running it. Dan and Toms faith gave me the courage to take big risks; and if I had a strength, it was my ability to urge creative people to do their best work and take chances, while also helping them rebound from failure. Its always a collective effort, but my years running Entertainment gave me a new appreciation for what it takes to get a group of talented people to produce at the highest level. Finding that balance between accepting credit for real achievements and not making too much of the hype from the outside world has only gotten more necessary during my years as CEO. I often feel guilty in front of other people with whom I work, when so much attention and credit is being directed toward me. It manifests itself in strange ways. Im often in meetings with someone from outside the company and that person will look only at me, even though Im surrounded by colleagues at the table. I dont know if other CEOs feel this way, but its embarrassing to me, and in those moments I make a point of directing praise and attention to my coworkers. Similarly, when Im the one attending a meeting with a group outside of Disney, I make sure to connect and speak with every person at the table. Its a small gesture, but I remember how it felt to be the overlooked sidekick, and anything that reminds you that youre not the center of the universe is a good thing. OVER THANKSGIVING WEEKEND 1992, Dan Burke called me to say that the president of ABC was retiring. They wanted me to move back to New York and take his place. This wasnt a total surprise. When theyd made me head of Entertainment, Tom and Dan had suggested that, if I did well, they wanted me eventually to run the network. It was a surprise, though, when I asked Dan when they wanted me to start. January 1, he said, just over a month. I was happy to be going back, and not just for the job. Earlier that year, Susan and I had separated and she had moved back to New York with our daughters. Susan never liked L.A., and she liked it less once we were apart. New York was where she felt at home, and I couldnt begrudge her that. I flew back as often as I could to see the girls, but it was a terrible year. On short notice, I sold the house in Los Angeles and packed up my things and moved in to a room at the Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side. And on January 1, at age forty-three, I became president of the ABC television network. Id known it was coming for some time, but it was still surreal when it happened. My old mentorsRoone in News, Dennis Swanson in Sportswere now reporting to me. Ted Harbert, who along with Stu Bloomberg had taught me how to be a television executive, took over for me at Entertainment. Less than a year later, at the end of 1993, Tom Murphy called me into his office. Dans going to retire in February, he said. I need you to take his job. I cant do it, I said. Ive barely started this job. Who will run the network? You gotta wait. As much as my instinct was to say yes to every opportunity, this felt too fast. Eight months later, Tom came to me again. I need you in that job, he said. I need help running the company. In September 1994, I became president and COO of Capital Cities/ABC, a year and nine months after becoming president of the network. It was a dizzying and sometimes destabilizing trajectory. I wouldnt as a rule recommend promoting someone as rapidly as they promoted me, but I will say one more time, because it bears repeating: The way they conveyed their faith in me at every step made all the difference in my success. Soon after I became Chief Operating Officer, in the spring of 1995, Michael Eisner, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company, began making inquiries into a possible acquisition of Cap Cities/ABC. It didnt go anywhere initially, and right around that time, Tom told me that he was planning to talk with the board about my succeeding him as CEO. That July, we were in Sun Valley, Idaho, for the annual Allen and Company conference. I was standing in a parking lot talking with Tom, and I could see Warren Buffett, our largest shareholder, and Michael Eisner talking nearby. They waved for Tom to come over, and before he walked away, I said, Do me a favor. If you decide to sell to Michael, give me some warning, okay? It didnt take long. A few weeks later, Michael reached out to Tom formally to begin the negotiation for Disney to buy Capital Cities/ABC. CHAPTER 4 ENTER DISNEY S O MUCH HAS been said and written about Disneys acquisition of us that I have little to add, except from my own unique perspective, given my position at ABC and the fact that I was told at the time that it was of critical importance to Michael Eisner that I sign a five-year contract to remain with the combined company. Michael had been Disneys CEO since 1984, and hed been running the company without a number two for more than a year, after his COO Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash in the spring of 1994. If this deal went through, Disney would nearly double in size, and Michael knew he couldnt integrate the two companies and run the newly combined entity on his own. It was a lot for me to absorb. One day I was in line to become the next CEO of Cap Cities/ABC; the next I was being asked to run the media division of Disney for at least five years. While the latter was an intriguing job, objectively, it felt at the time like a bitter pill to swallow. I knew if I agreed to stay on, it would likely require moving back to Los Angeles, and I didnt want to do that. I hated the thought of being away from my daughters again, and my aging parents were on Long Island, and I wanted to remain close to them. I was also now engaged to Willow Bay, whom I had started dating a little more than a year earlier. Willow had her own great job in New York, anchoring the weekend edition of Good Morning America, subbing for the weekday host Joan Lunden during the week, and being groomed as her successor. I didnt want to be apart from her, and I didnt want to ask her to give up her job so she could come across the country with me. So, on one side of the scale, the personal reasons for walking away were piled fairly high. On the other side, the professional reasons for staying were stacked just as tall. I didnt know Michael well, but I liked and respected him. We had overlapped briefly at ABC years before, but I was a low-level employee then and our paths never crossed. Years later, he and Jeffrey Katzenberg, whom Michael brought in to run Walt Disney Studios after he became CEO, had tried to hire me when I was running ABC Entertainment. That he was now saying the deal wouldnt happen without me suggested that one day he might ask me to fill the role of COO that had been empty since Frank Wellss death. Ive generally tried over the years to keep my eye on the job I have and not the jobs I might someday have, but the thought that I might have a shot at running Disney one day was hard to ignore. Willow was unequivocally supportive. She said I had nothing to lose and a lot to possibly gain by staying, and that she trusted that she and I could figure out whatever we needed to figure out. I sought some wisdom from Tom Murphy, too. Tom was conflicted (he wanted to deliver me to Michael as part of the deal), but he was also capable of separating out his interests, and hed always been a good sounding board for me. I knew he was being genuine when he said, Pal, if you play your cards right, one day you will run that company. Disney and Capital Cities/ABC agreed to financial terms on a Friday afternoon. While there were some finer points still to be hashed out, the only major issue left unresolved was whether I was staying or going. That same night, Willow and I had scheduled a dinner with the Jesuit priest who was going to marry us. (Im Jewish and Willows Catholic, so wed enlisted both Father Ghirlando and a Jewish cantor from New Jersey to officiate our wedding.) There I was, a divorced Jewish guy hoping to impress the priest who would perform our service, and every couple of minutes I had to stand up and excuse myself from the table to take calls regarding the deal. I began to worry about seeming disrespectful to Father Ghirlando, so I finally apologized for the interruptions and said, I know Im Jewish, but I need to ask you for priest-client confidentiality. Of course, he said. Were about to announce the biggest deal in entertainment history, and Im trying to make a decision on whether to stay on with the company or not. Thats what all of these calls are about. Father Ghirlando didnt offer any clerical wisdom, but he did bless whatever decision I was about to make. We continued talking about our wedding service, but every time I excused myself to take another call, Father Ghirlando seemed mildly thrilled, knowing that he was hearing about one of the biggest acquisitions in the history of American business before the rest of the world. On Tom Murphys recommendation, I hired a lawyer named Joe Bachelder, and on Saturday morning I went to Joes office in midtown Manhattan and told him that this needed to be resolved fast. I was leaning toward staying, so now I was basically sending Joe in to do battle with Disneys general counsel, Sandy Litvack, to work out a deal that felt right to me. The following night, ABC and Disney board members convened at the offices of Dewey Ballantine, the firm representing Disney. It was a tense situation. While the boards were hashing out the specifics of this mega-merger, Sandy Litvack was complaining that the entire thing was going to blow up because Joe was being too tough. At one point Michael Eisner pulled Tom Murphy aside and begged him to intervene and get me to agree to the deal Disney was offering. Michael then confronted me himself a little later. Bob, he said, its easier to negotiate this $19.5 billion deal than it is to figure out yours. Will you please just say yes? The final sticking point was the matter of whom I would be reporting to. Joe was pushing for a formal agreement that I would report directly to Michael, and Michael refused. He wanted the freedom to name a president, someone who would exist between the two of us, and he wanted to make sure that I understood he could do that. While I would have liked him to say that I was formally his number two, I appreciated how direct Michael was with me. I finally told Joe to accept later that night. I was hoping for a path to possibly becoming CEO one day (understanding that nothing is ever guaranteed), but it wasnt the right time to fight for that. I wanted the merger to go well, and I wanted to make sure the Capital Cities team was treated well by Disney. Without me there, I was fairly certain they would get subsumed by Disney in potentially dispiriting ways. We all convened the next morning at the crack of dawn at ABCs headquarters on Sixty-sixth Street. The plan was for us to make the announcement, do a press conference in one of ABCs studios (TV-1, where one of the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates took place), and then Michael and Tom would walk next door to TV-2 to do an interview on Good Morning America, which was airing live. It truly would be breaking news. No one at ABC News had been told in advance that a deal was imminent. Coincidentally, Willow was filling in for Joan Lunden that day. When Charlie Gibson, her co-anchor, noticed the commotion in the studio next door, he asked her, On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate what is happening next door? Willow, who of course knew what was up but was sworn to secrecy, responded, Id give it a twelve, Charlie. My five-year extension was announced along with the deal. Afterward, I immediately convened a meeting of all of the top Cap Cities/ABC executives. None of them saw this coming, and they were still in shock. There were people around the table who had worked for Tom and Dan for their entire careers, and they were looking at me asking, What happens now? What do we do? I spoke as frankly as I could. Disney was a very different corporate culture than ours, but Tom had the interests of the entire company at heart when he agreed to the deal. It was going to be a difficult transition, though; there was no way around that. I wanted people to understand that I knew how unsettling it was. The corporate culture we were all used to was about to end. Disney was more aggressive, more creative, more a creature of Hollywood than the company wed all worked for. I was in a position to make the transition easier, though, and I wanted them to know they could rely on me if they needed my help. As for the deal itself, a lot of people were shocked at the $19.5 billion price tag; others thought Tom could have held out longer and sold for much more. Its impossible to say. It turned out to be a bargain for Disney, though; that much is certain. Michael never got much credit for having the guts it took to make that deal, but it was an enormous risk, and it paid off for years to come. The acquisition gave Disney the scale to remain independent when other entertainment companies were coming to the painful realization that they were too small to compete in a changing world. The assets Disney acquired in the mergerespecially ESPNdrove growth for years and were a vital buffer for nearly a decade as Disney Animation struggled with a series of box-office disappointments. A COUPLE OF weeks after we announced the deal, I flew to Aspen to spend a weekend with Michael and his wife, Jane, at their place in Snowmass. I was stunned by how beautiful it was, a giant log cabin designed by the architect Bob Stern, who was also a member of the Disney board, nestled in a valley surrounded by Aspens peaks. Everything about the place exuded great taste. Disney had done due diligence about the assets they purchased, but there was no way they could understand all of the complexities of the company they were about to own. I arrived carrying numerous binders, each detailing the many businesses of Capital Cities, including ABC, its television stations, ESPN, a sprawling radio business, a big publishing business with newspapers and magazines, other cable channels, and a collection of other small businesses. Your team did your assessment quickly, I told him, so theres a lot you dont know. For the next two days, I walked Michael through every aspect of our company. He may have been thinking he was buying a television company, but it was so much more complex than that. There was everything from ESPNs rights deals to upcoming negotiations between ABC and the NFL. I gave him a breakdown of our radio business, which ranged from country to talk to WABC, and talked about dealing with a talk radio host whod said something controversial and incendiary on the air. There were delicate issues around Barbara Walterss contract, which was about to expire, and the intricacies of managing a network news business. The complexities went on and on. I wanted Michael to understand the reality, and I also wanted him to know that I had it covered. Michael was clearly rattled. He was only fifty-two at the time, but hed undergone a heart bypass operation a year earlier, and Jane kept a watchful eye on his diet and schedule and exercise routine. I wasnt aware at the time of how much she had been urging him to change his lifestyle, and how much anxiety this acquisition was causing her. She wanted him to work less, and there I was sitting in their home telling him, This is going to be a much bigger lift than youre aware of, and theres a much greater urgency to solve some of these problems than you know. At the end of the weekend, Michael drove me to the airport. Along the way, we stopped to meet Michael Ovitz and his family, who had a home nearby. Jane, Michael, and the Ovitz family had plans to go for a hike. I wasnt aware that the two families were close, but I could see that afternoon that there was a chemistry between them. Ovitz had recently tried to leave CAA, the business he cofounded and turned into the worlds most powerful talent agency, to run Universal Studios. That hadnt panned out, and he was looking to start a new chapter of his career in Hollywood. As I left for the airport and my flight back to New York, it dawned on me that Michael might be considering him for the number two position at Disney. A week later that suspicion was confirmed. Michael called and said, Your briefing was eye-opening. It certainly wont be easy to manage this new company. Jane was concerned, too, he said. Then he addressed the Ovitz question directly. When we made the deal, I left open the possibility of bringing in someone else between us. Yes, I said, I knew nothing was guaranteed. Well, I wanted you to know that Im hiring Michael Ovitz, and hes going to be your boss. Ovitz was going to be president of the Walt Disney Company, not chief operating officer. As corporate hierarchies go, that meant that he was my boss, but he wasnt necessarily Michaels preordained successor. I felt a moment of disappointment, but I also appreciated that Michael had been straight with me during the negotiation and candid with me now. He didnt try to sugarcoat it or pretend the arrangement was something it was not. I was forty-four at the time and I still had a lot to learn, and in any event, there was nothing to be gained by getting off to a bad start with either of them. I wanted to make things work. After the announcement about Michael Ovitz, I said to a reporter from The New York Times, If Mike Eisner thinks this is the right thing for the company, then I trust his instincts. The day the quote appeared in the Times, I was informed by an executive at Disney that Michael disliked being referred to as Mike. I hadnt even started yet and Id already committed my first faux pas. I soon learned that others had much stronger feelings about the Ovitz hire than I did. I was told that Joe Roth, the chairman of the studio, was irate, and that Sandy Litvack and Steve Bollenbach, Disneys chief financial officer, were unhappy with the new corporate structure and had refused to report to Ovitz. From three thousand miles away in New York, I could already feel the resentment building at Disney Corporate. Hiring Michael Ovitz had generated internal strife from the moment it was announced, but I had no idea how tense things were going to get. FOR THE NEXT several months, while we all waited for regulatory approval from the FCC, I commuted to Los Angeles on a weekly basis, getting to know the various Disney executives who would soon be my colleagues. Willow and I also knew wed have no chance for a honeymoon once the deal closed, so we radically shortened our engagement and got married in early October 1995. We spent our honeymoon in southern France, and were staying at the posh Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat when a gigantic box arrived filled with Disney merchandise: matching Mickey Mouse pajamas, bride and groom Mickey hats, Donald Duck slippers. There was so much stuff, and it was so over the top, that we didnt know what to do with it all. We decided to leave it there when we left, thinking maybe someone would get a kick out of it or have kids who might like it, but to this day a part of me is embarrassed at the thought of the staff there coming into our room after we checked out and seeing all of the Mickey Mouse paraphernalia. I remember looking at it all and saying to Willow, I work for a very different company now. (In fact, in all the years I worked for him, I rarely saw Michael Eisner wearing a tie that wasnt a Mickey tie. All the senior leadership were encouraged to wear them, too, though I acted as if Id never gotten that particular memo.) There were more significant differences than the branded attire. The whole culture operated differently. Tom and Dan were warm, accessible bosses. If you had a problem, they opened their doors to you. If you needed advice, they offered it selflessly. As businessmen, they were intensely focused on managing expenses and increasing earnings, and they surrounded themselves with executives who could work for them forever as long as they adhered to the same principles. They also believed in a decentralized corporate structure. If you stuck to your budget and behaved ethically, Tom and Dan gave you room to operate with independence. Other than a CFO and a general counsel, there was no corporate staff, no centralized bureaucracy, and very little interference with the business units. Disney was the opposite of all that. In their earliest days running the company, Michael and Frank Wells had formed a central corporate unit called Strategic Planning, populated by a group of aggressive, well-educated executives (they all had MBAs, many from Harvard and Stanford). They were steeped in analysis and adept at providing the data and insight Michael needed to feel secure in every business move the company made, while he made all of the creative decisions himself. They had significant power over the rest of the company, and they wielded it with impunity over all of the senior leaders who ran Disneys various business units. I arrived at Disney about halfway through Michaels twenty-one-year tenure as CEO. He was one of the most celebrated and successful CEOs in corporate America, and his first decade had been extraordinary. He aggressively expanded Disneys theme parks and resorts and introduced a far more profitable pricing strategy. He launched the cruise-ship business, which was relatively small compared to other businesses but also solidly profitable. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, Disney Animation produced hit after hit: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These led to an explosion in Disneys consumer-products business, with revenue coming from Disney stores and licensing and all forms of global merchandise distribution. The Disney Channel, which they launched in the United States, quickly became a success, and Walt Disney Studios, which was responsible for the live-action films, released a string of commercial hits. As we joined the company, though, cracks were beginning to show. The void left by Frank Wellss death led to intense acrimony between Michael and Jeffrey Katzenberg, who claimed much of the credit for the success of Animation during Michaels first decade. Jeffrey resented that Michael didnt promote him after Frank Wellss death. Michael in turn resented that Jeffrey was pressuring him to do so. In 1994, not long after his open-heart bypass surgery, Michael forced Jeffrey to resign, which resulted in a very public, very acrimonious, and expensive legal battle. On top of those struggles, Disneys Animation unit began to falter. The next several years would be punctuated by a slew of expensive failures: Hercules, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Fantasia 2000, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, and Chicken Little. OthersThe Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, Tarzan, and Lilo and Stitchwere modest successes, but none came close to the creative or commercial successes of the prior decade. To his credit, Michael had the wisdom during this period to enter into a relationship with Pixar that resulted in some of the greatest animated films ever made. From the beginning, the Disney teammostly the guys from Strat Planning, as they were calledtook advantage of us as the newcomers to the company. It wasnt that everything they did was bad, it was just the opposite of what those of us whod worked for Tom and Dan were used to. They were a completely centralized, process-oriented company, and we instinctively bristled at the way they operated. They had also never acquired a big company before, and theyd given very little thought as to how to do it with sensitivity and care. Disagreements that could have been handled with diplomacy were instead done with a tone that was often authoritative and demanding. They acted as if, because theyd bought us, we were expected always to bend to their will. It didnt sit well with a lot of the former Cap Cities people. I was high enough up that I was protected, but a lot of people below me were worried about what was going to happen to them, and I spent a ton of time and energy soothing anxieties and intervening in struggles on their behalf. I also had my own run-ins. Soon after the acquisition, Disney wisely divested our entire newspaper business, years before the bottom fell out of that industry. But we held on to some magazines, including the fashion magazine W. Shortly after the deal, the editor and publisher of W mentioned to me that Jane Pratt, the founder of Sassy magazine and an early contributor to VH-1 and MTV, had an idea for a hip Cosmopolitan called Jane. Jane came in and pitched the idea, which I liked because it could connect us to a younger, less stodgy demographic. I reviewed a business plan that made sense to me and I gave the team the green light. I soon got a call from Tom Staggs, who would later be my CFO and worked then in Strat Planning. Tom was contacting me on behalf of his boss, Larry Murphy, who ran the entire Strategic Planning unit. He sheepishly told me that Larry didnt allow any of Disneys businesses to expand, invest, or attempt to start anything new without a thorough analysis by his group. Once they did the analysis, theyd bring their recommendation to Michael. I could tell Tom wasnt comfortable being the messenger, so I politely said that he should tell Larry that I was going forward with this and didnt need his input. That quickly led to a call from Larry, who wanted to know what the hell I was doing. Youre creating this magazine? Yes. Do you know how much its going to cost? Yes. And you think its a good idea? Yes. We dont work that way at Disney, he said. In the end, Larry allowed the venture to go forward. He was reluctant to pick a fight with me so soon after Id joined the company, but the signal was clear that from then on there would be no freelancing at Disney. In fairness, it was a small idea, and arguably not worth the time and investment (though we ended up selling W and Jane to Si Newhouse at Cond? Nast and made a profit on the transaction). But theres a way to convey that while also conveying that you trust the people who work for you, and preserving in them an entrepreneurial spirit. Dan Burke taught me that exact lesson early on in a way that couldnt have been more opposite from the Strat Planning approach. I cant recall exactly what it was in response to, but in one of our conversations about some initiative I was considering, Dan handed me a note that read: Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest trombone-oil manufacturer in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of trombone oil a year! He was telling me not to invest in projects that would sap the resources of my company and me and not give much back. It was such a positive way to impart that wisdom, though, and I still have that piece of paper in my desk, occasionally pulling it out when I talk to Disney executives about what projects to pursue and where to put their energy. WHILE I WAS trying to adapt to the new culture at Disney, I was also watching the rapid disintegration of the relationship between my new boss, Michael Ovitz, and Michael Eisner. It was painful to witness, and it was taking place before the eyes of a lot of people at the company. Michael Ovitzs tenure officially began in October 1995, and from the beginning it was clear that he was the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had left CAA and had lost out on a bid to run Universal. You could sense how important it was to him to remain atop the Hollywood pyramid, and the offer to be Michael Eisners number two was the life preserver he thought he needed. But the process of making decisions at an agency is nothing like the process at a large corporation, especially a highly structured place like Disney. Rather than helping Michael run a complicated collection of businesses, which is a big part of the role of a number two, Ovitz came with a thousand ideas, most involving the giant personalities that he had relationships with. As co-head of CAA, a privately held agency, he was used to showing up with a ton of ideas that could immediately be acted upon, and he assumed he could do the same here. He was the quintessential agent, and he was used to always being accessible for clients, often dropping everything he was doing in order to be available for them. Those habits did not work for Disney. He wanted to offer people like Tom Clancy, Magic Johnson, Martin Scorsese, and Janet Jackson (and many more) omnibus deals that would span Disneys businesses. He was constantly pitching these people on what Disney could do for them. Deals like this might sound great in a press release, but they rarely turn out well. They need a senior executive to act as a sponsor, putting in the time and energy necessary to shepherd each aspect of the deal through every business and every initiative. They also send a signal to the talent that they have carte blanche, and at places like Disney, where every idea is carefully vetted, this can be a disaster. I was working out of New York, but flew to L.A. every week for Michael Eisners Monday staff lunches, which gave me a front-row seat on the whole debacle. Ovitz would show up with his energy and ideas, and it was clear to everyone around the table that Michael Eisner, who knew better, had little interest in them. Michael would then dutifully run through our business updates and new strategies, and Ovitz, feeling disrespected, would aggressively tune out and broadcast his lack of interest. The whole team saw this happen, in meeting after meeting. The body language alone was painful to witness, and the discomfort started to affect the entire senior management team. When the two people at the top of a company have a dysfunctional relationship, theres no way that the rest of the company beneath them can be functional. Its like having two parents who fight all the time. The kids feel the strain, and they start to reflect the animosity back onto the parents and vent it at each other. I tried to be polite with Ovitz through it all and respect that I had a direct reporting relationship to him. I made an attempt to educate him on the businesses that reported to me, often giving him briefing reports to help him better understand the particulars of network television ratings or ESPN distribution deals or talent contracts, but each time he was either dismissive of the information or distracted by phone calls. Once, he took a call, in my office, from President Clinton, talking with him for forty-five minutes while I sat outside. A call from Tom Cruise interrupted another meeting. Martin Scorsese ended a third, just minutes after it started. Meeting after meeting was either canceled, rescheduled, or abbreviated, and soon every top executive at Disney was whispering behind his back about what a disaster he was. Managing your own time and respecting others time is one of the most vital things to do as a manager, and he was horrendous at it. With his ideas going nowhere and Michael Eisner essentially icing him out of any significant role at the company, Ovitz became angry and embarrassed. Even if hed been given the authority to genuinely function in his role, though, I think he still would have failed at Disney, because he was just not wired for corporate culture. I would give him a stack of materials in advance of a meeting, and the next day hed come in not having read any of them and say, Give me the facts, then render a fast opinion. There was no sense that he was acting fast because hed processed all the information. The opposite was the case. He was covering up for not being prepared, and in a company like Disney, if you dont do the work, the people around you detect that right away and their respect for you disappears. You have to be attentive. You often have to sit through meetings that, if given the choice, you might choose not to sit through. You have to learn and absorb. You have to hear out other peoples problems and help find solutions. Its all part of being a great manager. The problem was, Michael Ovitz wasnt a manager, he was still an agent. He knew that business better than anyone, but thats not the business we were in. IN APRIL 1996, Michael Eisner visited me in my office in New York. He walked in and closed the door and said, I know its not working with Michael. It was a disaster to hire him. He knew that other executives, like Joe Roth, the head of Disney Studios, were talking about quitting because they were so frustrated, and he pleaded with me not to do that. I wasnt planning to quit. I didnt like itmy first six months at Disney were the most dispiriting and unproductive of my careerbut I was still new to the company, and because I was based in New York, I wasnt exposed to the pain quite as much as others were. Mostly what I thought was, this is a difficult problem for Michael to deal with, and I dont want to add to his strain. I dont know exactly when Im going to do it, Michael said to me. But Im going to fire him. He asked me not to discuss it with anyone, and I gave him my word. I was never sure who else he told, but I expected Michael would say something to Ovitz within weeks of that discussion. Instead, months dragged on, and the tension and the dysfunction grew even worse. Everyonethe two of them, all of the senior leadership, the entire staff who worked for Ovitzwas unhappy. It was time to stop the bleeding. Finally, in December, more than eight months after he told me he was going to do it, Michael Eisner fired Michael Ovitz and ended this painful chapter in the history of the company (though the pain lingered on in the form of shareholder lawsuits over the $100 millionplus severance package Ovitz received). I now have a cordial relationship with Michael Ovitz. Hes been generous about Disneys success during my time as CEO, and when I look back on it, I think of him not as a bad guy but as a participant in a big mistake. The culture shift was just too big a leap for him. He and Michael both wanted it to work, each for his own powerful reasons. Michael expected that Ovitz would come in and know how to do the work, and Ovitz had no idea what kind of adjustments hed need to make to succeed within the culture of a giant, publicly traded company. They should both have known that it couldnt work, but they willfully avoided asking the hard questions because each was somewhat blinded by his own needs. Its a hard thing to do, especially in the moment, but those instances in which you find yourself hoping that something will work without being able to convincingly explain to yourself how it will workthats when a little bell should go off, and you should walk yourself through some clarifying questions. Whats the problem I need to solve? Does this solution make sense? If Im feeling some doubt, why? Am I doing this for sound reasons or am I motivated by something personal? CHAPTER 5 SECOND IN LINE F OR THE NEXT three years, Michael ran the company without a number two. Our relationship grew closer in the wake of Ovitzs leaving, but I also sensed from time to time a wariness on Michaels part, that he felt I had an eye on his job and could never fully trust me. It resulted in a kind of ongoing approach and avoidance. Michael would bring me in on decisions at times and confide in me, and then suddenly he would go cold and keep me at arms length. It was true that Id stayed on after the acquisition in part because I thought I might have a shot at running the company one day, but that didnt mean I was angling for Michaels job. It meant I was committed to doing my own job as best I could, and to learning as much as I could about all aspects of the company. As had been the case throughout my career, if the time came when Michael was ready to step down, I wanted to be ready when the opportunity arose. Ive been asked a lot over the years about the best way to nurture ambitionboth ones own and that of the people you manage. As a leader, you should want those around you to be eager to rise up and take on more responsibility, as long as dreaming about the job they want doesnt distract them from the job they have. You cant let ambition get too far ahead of opportunity. Ive seen a lot of people who had their sights set on a particular job or project, but the opportunity to actually get that thing was so slim. Their focus on the small thing in the distance became a problem. They grew impatient with where they were. They didnt tend enough to the responsibilities they did have, because they were longing so much for something else, and so their ambition became counterproductive. Its important to know how to find the balancedo the job you have well; be patient; look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow; and make yourself one of the people, through attitude and energy and focus, that your bosses feel they have to turn to when an opportunity arises. Conversely, if youre a boss, these are the people to nurturenot the ones who are clamoring for promotions and complaining about not being utilized enough but the ones who are proving themselves to be indispensable day in and day out. As with so many things, Tom and Dan were perfect models in this regard. They were invested in my growth, they conveyed how much they wanted me to succeed, and they cleared a path for me to learn what I needed to know in order to move up and eventually run the company. At every stage I worked hard to absorb as much as I could, knowing that if I performed, they had larger plans in place. As a result, I felt profoundly loyal to them. The dynamics between a CEO and the next person in line for his or her job are often fraught, though. We all want to believe were irreplaceable. The trick is to be self-aware enough that you dont cling to the notion that you are the only person who can do this job. At its essence, good leadership isnt about being indispensable; its about helping others be prepared to possibly step into your shoesgiving them access to your own decision making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and, as Ive had to do, sometimes being honest with them about why theyre not ready for the next step up. Michaels relationship with me played itself out in complicated ways. Sometimes I felt he was questioning my abilities; other times he was generous and encouraging and leaned on me to take work off his plate. A high point in our relationship came in late 1998, when Michael came to my office in New York and told me he wanted me to create and run a new international organization. I was chairman of the ABC Group at the time, which meant I was running the ABC network and ESPN, as well as all of Disney TV. This was going to be a huge lift on top of those responsibilities, but I was eager to do it and grateful that Michael had turned to me. Disney was surprisingly parochial back then. We had offices all over the world, from Latin America to India to Japan, but we didnt have a coherent global strategy or even structures in place that made sense. In Japan, for instance, we had a studio office in one part of Tokyo, a consumer-products business in another, a TV business somewhere else. None of them spoke with another. There was no coordination around back-office functions like accounting, say, or IT. That kind of redundancy existed everywhere. More important than that, though, we didnt have people in any of our territories whose job was to manage our brand in that place and look for unique opportunities. It was all a very passive, Burbank-centric approach. Michael saw the problem and knew that it needed to change. He knew we needed to grow internationally. Years earlier, hed set his sights on building a theme park in China. Frank Wells, Michaels number two for the first decade that he ran Disney, had made some overtures to Chinese officials in the early 90s, but hed never made much progress. From those initial meetings, though, China was aware that we were interested in a park there, and theyd recently signaled that they wanted it to happen. I was one of the few Disney executives with international experience, from my time working for ABC Sports and Wide World of Sports, and I was the only one who knew anything about China, having managed to get some ABC childrens programming on the air there in the pre-Disney days. So Michael made me president of Walt Disney International and tasked me not just with forming an international strategy but with finding a place to build a theme park in China. We had an initial discussion about where, and for a combination of factorsweather, population, available landwe soon concluded that Shanghai was the only workable location. In October 1998, as Willow was entering her ninth month of pregnancy with our first child, I traveled to Shanghai for the first time for Disney and was taken around and shown three pieces of property. You can have any one of these, the Chinese officials said, but you need to decide quickly. We settled on a property in Pudong, outside of downtown Shanghai, although on our first visit to what was a small farming village on the outskirts of a then-rising city, it wasnt exactly easy to envision a Disney castle in the middle of a fully developed Disneyland. Canals ran throughout the village, with little children and stray dogs walking about. Small vegetable patches were sprinkled among ramshackle houses and occasional general stores. Bicycles far outnumbered cars, and what we would consider modernity was nowhere in sight. It was, however, perfectly situated between Shanghais soon-to-be-opened international airport and what would become downtown to one of the worlds largest and most vibrant cities. Thus began what would become an eighteen-year journey, which would bring me back to that same spot more than forty times. MEANWHILE, IN MY other domain, ABC entered the early stages of what would be a long downward slide. The hit shows wed developed back when I was running prime time had gotten long in the tooth, and wed become complacent and unimaginative in our development process. NYPD Blue was still in the top 20, and we had a couple of othersHome Improvement, The Drew Carey Showthat did well. But the rest of our lineup, with the exception of the perennial juggernaut that is Monday Night Football, was largely uninspiring. We were briefly saved in 1999 when we launched Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which wed initially said no to and then reconsidered when the creator came back to us with Regis Philbin as host. It turned out to be a godsend at the time, and later a crutch. Its numbers were astounding when it first aired, not just for a game show but for any show. That first season, it pulled in about thirty million viewers per night, three nights a week, numbers that were all but inconceivable at that point in network TV. It was number one in the ratings for the 992000 season, a network savior, but it couldnt totally mask our deeper problems. There was one other bright spot that year. In the middle of 1998, Id begun thinking in earnest about our coverage of the upcoming millennium. I felt strongly that people around the world would be fascinated with this moment, and that the entire company, led by ABC News, should turn its attention and resources to it. Eighteen months in advance, I called a meeting with the senior executives from News, Entertainment, and Sports and told them what I envisionedthat we would provide wall-to-wall, twenty-four-hour coverage as midnight moved across the globe and each time zone rang in the new millennium. I remember saying enthusiastically that we should own the event, then looking at Roone sitting silent and expressionless across the table. He clearly hated the idea. The meeting ended, and I pulled him aside. Do you think Im crazy? I asked. How are we going to make a calendar change visually interesting for twenty-four hours? he said. I could have answered in any number of ways (it was actually an interesting challenge), but something in Roones tone and body language told me his problem wasnt really with the visuals. It was that he was being asked to execute a big idea that wasnt his, by the guy who used to say How high? when Roone said Jump. Id been Roones boss since 1993, when Tom and Dan made me president of the network. Wed worked well together over those years. He was proud that Id risen to the top of the company, but he still thought of me as his understudythat Id cut my teeth under him and I was his ally in the front office who would protect him from corporate meddling and allow him to do his thing. I was less blindly devoted to Roone than he wanted to believe, but there was no harm in his thinking it, and no real reason for me to ever disabuse him of the notion. He was at his best when his ego was least threatened. But I also needed him to execute the thing I was asking him to execute. Its a tricky thing, moving people over to your side and enlisting their enthusiastic engagement. Sometimes its worth talking through their reservations and patiently responding to their concerns. Other times you simply need to communicate that youre the boss and you want this done. Its not that one approach is nice and the other isnt. Its just that one is more direct and nonnegotiable. It really comes down to what you believe is right for the momentwhen a more democratic approach is useful both in getting to the best outcome and in building morale, and when you have enough certainty in your opinion that youre willing to be an autocrat even in the face of disagreement. In this case, I absolutely believed I was right, and I wasnt going to let anyone, even the vaunted Roone Arledge, dissuade me. Of course he could have easily sabotaged it, undermining it through lack of effort and enthusiasm and communicating that to his people. Like many people Ive worked or negotiated with over the years, Roone didnt respond well if he felt he was being big-footed. So I resorted to a kind of soft autocracy, showing respect but also communicating that this was going to happen no matter what. Roone, I said, if there was ever an idea that people would assume came from you, this is it. Its big and bold. It could be impossible to execute, but when has that ever stopped you? I wasnt exactly sure if it was the idea he didnt like, or if at that point he just didnt feel he had the energy for a big production like this. But I knew he couldnt walk away from a challenge, so I was playing to his pride to get him on board. He didnt say anything, but he smiled and nodded, as if to say Okay, I got it. In the end, we created something that will go down as a great achievement. It took months of prepwork by Roones team to get it done, and he came in at the end, as he had countless times, and lifted the whole thing to another place. Peter Jennings anchored our millennium coverage from Times Square. We were there on the scene when the clock struck midnight in Vanuatu, in the first time zone to welcome the new millennium. Over the next twenty-four hours we were live from China and Paris and Rio de Janeiro, from Walt Disney World and Times Square and finally from Los Angeles before we went off the air. Peter was brilliant, sitting in a tuxedo in a studio overlooking the thousands of party-goers below, guiding viewers through this experience shared by everyone around the globe, which would never happen again in any of our lifetimes. No network committed as many resources as we did, and no one came close to the size of our audience. I visited the studio a few times throughout that day. It was clear early in the broadcast that our coverage was going to be a huge success, and you could feel the excitement in the studio as the day went on. The most satisfying moment for me came as I watched Roone presiding over the whole production, sending instructions out to the teams in the field, talking into Peters earpiece to introduce a story line into the coverage, calling for different camera angles and anticipating transitions. It felt like watching the master conductor Id first laid eyes on a quarter of a century earlier at the Frank Sinatra concert in Madison Square Garden. About twenty hours into the day, I met him in the control room. He had a huge smile on his face and grabbed my hand and gave it a long, warm shake. He was proud of himself. He was proud of me. He was grateful that Id given him the chance to do this. He was nearly seventy years old at that point, and this was the last big event he would produce in a lifetime of them. Two years later, Roone would die after a protracted battle with cancer. The week before he passed, I was in New York for Thanksgiving weekend, and that Saturday night I was home watching the USCNotre Dame game on ABC. My phone rang at 10:00 P.M., and when I answered, the ABC operator said, Mr. Iger, Roone Arledge is calling for you. If you had the number and it was an emergency, you could call the ABC switchboard and an operator would track down the person you needed to talk to. Roone still had the number, and something urgent was on his mind. The operator connected us. Roone? Bob, are you watching? The football game? Yes, the football game! Have you noticed the audio is all off? The announcers werent making any sense, he said. It was all gibberish. I was aware that Roones condition had worsened recently and that hed been hospitalized. I knew he must have been hallucinating, but some old, sentimental sense of duty kicked in. Roone was saying something was wrong, and I had to try to make it right. Let me check, Roone, I said. Ill call you back. I called the control room and asked if there were any complaints about the audio. No, Bob. Nothing was the response I got from ABCs Master Control Center in New York. Can you call the switchboard and check if theyre hearing anything? After a few moments I heard back: Nope. Nothing. I called Roone. I just checked with the control room. They made sure theres nothing wrong. Before we could linger on what he thought he was hearing, I asked, How are you doing, Roone? His voice was a whisper. Im in Sloan Kettering Hospital, he said. How do you think Im doing? I asked if he was seeing visitors, and the next day I went to see him. When I walked into his room, he was lying in bed, and I knew the moment I saw him that he wouldnt live much longer. There was a figure-skating competition on the television, and he was watching intently. I went over and stood near him. He looked up at me, and then at the skater onscreen. Its not the same as it used to be, he said. Is it? I dont know if he was thinking back to those days when we could go anywhere and do anything, and there were no executives haranguing him about the money he was spending. Or the days when he was a legend in the room and no one would dare to doubt his authority. Or maybe it was more existential than that. The business had changed beneath him. The world had changed. He didnt have much time left. I looked down at him in bed and I knew this would be the last time I saw him. No, Roone, I said. Its not what it used to be. OUR FORTUNES AT ABC went downhill after the bright spot of our millennium coverage. Millionaire was still popular in 200001, but not nearly as big as it had been the season before. We could see the diminishing returns, but we didnt have good shows in development. Rather than making major changes in order to revitalize Entertainment, we leaned harder on this one show to carry us. We put it on five times a week as a way of competing against NBC, which was prospering with its Must See TV Thursday night, and CBS, which had found its legs again with Survivor and CSI. In a matter of a couple of years, wed slipped from being the most-watched network on television to the last of the big three, and we were barely holding on to that as Fox continued to grow. I take some of the blame for that. I was running ABC, and I supported putting Millionaire on several nights a week. It was an easy fix for ABCs troubles, but when it started to sink, our deeper problems were laid bare. By late 1999, the strain of running the company on his own was taking a toll on Michael. He was growing more isolated and insecure, more distrustful and critical of the people around him. He knew he needed someone to help shoulder the burden, and he was feeling pressure from the board to signal that, after sixteen years at the top, he was at least beginning to think about succession. It wasnt an easy thing for him to do. After the Ovitz fiasco, Michael was wary of naming a second in command. He recognized that he couldnt keep things going as they were, but he didnt want to deal with the complications of dividing responsibility and sharing decision making and having to involve someone else in his various goings on. Michaels reluctance to name a number two had consequences throughout the company. It was clear he needed help, but because he wasnt filling the number two position, others moved in to try to occupy the void. Sandy Litvack, our general counsel, was promoted to vice chairman and began to see himself as a de facto COO. Strat Planning, which was now being run by Peter Murphy (no relation to Larry Murphy, his predecessor), got involved in more day-to-day decision making rather than looking at long-term strategy. There was a landgrab for authority and a blurring of boundaries and responsibilities, which had destructive effects on company morale. For months, Michael was hot and cold toward me. Hed depend on me, and Id think it was just a matter of time before he named me COO. Then hed keep me at arms length, and Id be back to feeling unsure about the future. In August of 99, I took my first-ever two-week vacation, renting a house on Marthas Vineyard with Willow and our now almost two-year-old son, Max. Tom Murphy called me on the first night of our vacation. Hed been at a dinner in Los Angeles with Michael and a few other Disney board members the night before, and in a discussion about succession, Michael said that I would never be his successor. Tom was horrified, as he put it to me, especially since hed exhorted me to stay years earlier during the merger negotiations. Pal, he said now, I hate to give you bad news, but you need to leave Disney. Michael doesnt believe in you and he told the board you cannot succeed him. You need to quit. I was devastated. Over the last several years, Id dealt with the constant frustration and distraction of having to report to Michael Ovitz. Id worked incredibly hard to integrate ABC into Disney, making sure that our people were valued and respected and helping to initiate an assimilation process that hadnt been thought through on the Disney side. Id designed and implemented an entire international structure for the company, which required being away from my family for trip after trip, traveling constantly for over a year. Through it all, Id always been a defender of and a loyalist to Michael, and now I was being told again, twenty-five years after my first boss had told me back in 1975I wasnt promotable. I told Tom I wasnt going to quit. I was due a bonus at the end of the year, which I wasnt going to walk away from. If Michael was going to fire me, I needed to hear it from him directly. I hung up the phone and gathered my composure. I decided not to tell Willow while we were away. She was a prominent anchor on CNN at that point, cohosting Moneyline, an hour-long financial-news program. Her career was soaring, but the job was intense, and on top of the professional demands on her she somehow had been able to find the time and energy to be a wonderful mother to Max. She needed a break, and so I kept all that I was feeling to myself until we were back home in New York. Then I waited for the shoe to drop. In September, I was at the headquarters in Burbank when Michael asked to see me. I was certain it was the end, and I walked into his office steeling myself for the blow that was coming. I sat down across from him and waited. Do you think youre ready to move to L.A. permanently and help me run the company? he asked. It took me a moment to absorb what he was saying. I was confused, and then relieved, and then unsure that this was something I could trust. Michael, I finally said, do you have any idea how inconsistent youve been with me? He was asking me to move my family out to California and for Willow to give up a huge job, not four weeks after telling a table full of people that I would never be his successor. You have to be straight with me about what this is, I said. His reaction was more candid than I expected. He said he wasnt sure I would want to move back to L.A., so that was a concern. The bigger issue, though, was that if he named me COO, hed be competing with myself, he said. I assumed he meant that the board would have someone to turn to if they wanted to replace him, but I was never really certain. Michael, I said, I have no intention of gunning for your job or doing anything to undermine you. I told him I would love to have the chance to run the company someday, but I didnt see that happening in the near future. Ive never imagined you leaving, I said. And I cant imagine the board wanting you to leave. It was true, I couldnt. We werent in the smoothest waters, but at that point, there wasnt a crisis of confidence around Michael. He was still one of the most respected CEOs in the world. The meeting ended inconclusively. Michael didnt offer me a title. He didnt put any formal plan in motion. I went back to New York and waited to hear more, but it didnt come up again until a month later. We were attending the London premiere of the stage production of The Lion King, and Michael suggested that I fly back to L.A. with him to talk about my future. I was scheduled to fly to China from London, however, and so we agreed Id come to L.A. a few weeks later to hash out the details. In early December, Michael finally made a proposal for me to become president and chief operating officer and a member of the Disney board. This was an undeniable vote of confidence, and came as something of a shock, given the conversation with Tom a few months earlier. I quickly negotiated a deal on my own with Sandy Litvack, who in addition to his quasi-COO role was still our general counsel. Sandy wasnt happy about my ascendancy. The day before the announcement, he called me to change the agreement. Id be executive vice president rather than president and COO, he said, and the board seat would be eliminated. I told Sandy it was president, COO, and a member of the board or nothing. He called me back an hour later to confirm all three, and we announced the next day. Professionally, it was an extraordinary opportunity. There was no guarantee that Id someday become CEO, but at least I had a chance to prove myself. Personally, it was another difficult move. My parents were in their late seventies by then and needed more help than ever. My daughters were twenty-one and eighteen years old, and I didnt want to live on the other side of the country from them again. CNN agreed to let Willow anchor her show from L.A., focusing on the technology and entertainment industries, but it was a difficult thing to make work. Though Willow was incredibly supportive, as she has been every step of the way, it wasnt lost on me that here I was, a decade later, asking another wife to sacrifice her own career in some way in order for us to move to Los Angeles in the service of mine. I also could not have anticipated in a million years what was to comefor Disney, for Michael, and for me. As is so often the case in life, the thing Id been striving toward was finally here, and now the hard times were about to begin. CHAPTER 6 GOOD THINGS CAN HAPPEN I VE OFTEN SAID that Michael re-founded Walts company. When he took over Disney in 1984, its glory days were a distant memory. The company had been struggling since Walt died in 1966. Walt Disney Studios and Animation were in terrible shape. Disneyland and Walt Disney World were still popular, but they were also responsible for nearly three-quarters of the companys income. In the last two years before Michael came on, Disneys net income fell by 25 percent. In 1983, the corporate raider Saul Steinberg tried to take Disney over, the latest in a series of takeover attempts that the company barely survived. The next year, Roy Disney, Walts nephew, and Sid Bass, Disneys largest shareholder, brought in Michael as CEO and chairman and Frank Wells as president to reverse the companys fortunes and maintain its independence. (Michael had been running Paramount, and Frank was the former chief of Warner Bros.) They then hired Jeffrey Katzenberg, whod worked under Michael at Paramount, to run Disney Studios. Together, Jeffrey and Michael revitalized Disney Animation, which restored the brands popularity and spawned huge growth in consumer products. They also invested more attention and resources in the Disney-owned Touchstone Films, which then produced several live-action, non-G-rated hits like Ruthless People and Pretty Woman. Michaels biggest stroke of genius, though, might have been his recognition that Disney was sitting on tremendously valuable assets that they hadnt yet leveraged. One was the popularity of the parks. If they raised ticket prices even slightly, they would raise revenue significantly, without any noticeable impact on the number of visitors. Building new hotels at Walt Disney World was another untapped opportunity, and numerous hotels opened during Michaels first decade as CEO. Then came the expansion of theme parks, with the opening of MGM-Hollywood Studios (now called Hollywood Studios) in Florida and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) outside of Paris. Even more promising was the trove of intellectual propertyall of those great classic Disney moviesjust sitting there waiting to be monetized. They began selling videocassettes of the classic Disney library to parents whod seen them in the theater when they were young and now could play them at home for their kids. It became a billion-dollar business. Then came the Cap Cities/ABC acquisition in 1995, which gave Disney a big television network, but, most important, brought in ESPN and its nearly hundred million subscribers at the time. All of this illustrated that Michael was a remarkably creative thinker and businessman, and he turned Disney into a modern entertainment giant. After he made me number two, we divided our responsibilities, giving him primary oversight of the Walt Disney Studios, as well as Parks and Resorts, while I concentrated on the media networks, consumer products, and Walt Disney International. Other than Animation, which he didnt really let me in on, Michael gave me access to much of his thinking and decision making. Its not an exaggeration to say that he taught me how to see in a way I hadnt been able to before. I had no experience with the creative process that went into building and running a theme park, and had never spent time visually imagining a visitors experience. Michael walked through the world with a set designers eye, and while he wasnt a natural mentor, it felt like a kind of apprenticeship to follow him around and watch him work. In my time as Michaels number two, we opened Disneys Animal Kingdom in Florida and Hong Kong Disneyland and California Adventure in Anaheim. I walked miles upon miles with him in advance of the opening of those parksand in existing parks, toogetting a sense of what he saw and what he was constantly looking to improve. He would walk down a path and look out into the distance and immediately identify nuances, like landscaping that wasnt lush enough, or fences that encroached on important views, or buildings that seemed either out of place or out of style. These were great teaching moments for me. I learned so much about how to manage the business, but more important, I learned what the creative and design essence of our parks should be. Michael would also allow me to accompany him on his many visits to Walt Disney Imagineering, located on a sprawling campus in Glendale, California, just a few miles from our studio lot in Burbank. Imagineering has been the subject of many books and articles, and the simplest way I can describe it is that it is the creative and technical heart of everything we build that isnt a film or TV show or consumer product. All of our theme parks and resorts and attractions, cruise ships and real estate developments, all of the live performances and light shows and parades, every detail from the design of a cast members costume to the architecture of our castles emanates from Imagineering. It is impossible to overstate the creative and technical brilliance of Disneys Imagineers. They are artists, engineers, architects, and technologists, and they occupy a place and fulfill a role that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. To this day, I find myself awed time and time again by their ability to envision something fantastical and then make it real, often at a scale that is enormous. When I visited Imagineering with Michael, Id observe him critiquing projects large and small, reviewing everything from storyboards detailing the experience in one of our attractions to the design of a stateroom on a soon-to-be-built cruise ship. Hed hear presentations about upcoming parades, or review the design of the lobby of a new hotel. What struck me, and what was invaluable in my own education, was his ability to see the big picture as well as the granular details at the same time, and consider how one affected the other. As the scrutiny of Michael intensified in the upcoming years, he would often be accused of being an oppressive perfectionist and micromanager. For his part, hed say, Micromanaging is underrated. I tend to agree with him, but to a point. Thanks to my years working for Roone Arledge, I didnt need to be convinced that the success or failure of something so often comes down to the details. Michael often saw things that other people didnt see, and then he demanded that they be made better. That was the source of so much of his and the companys success, and I had immense respect for Michaels tendency to sweat the details. It showed how much he cared, and it made a difference. He understood that great is often a collection of very small things, and he helped me appreciate that even more deeply. Michael was proud of his micromanagement, but in expressing his pride, and reminding people of the details he was focused on, he could be perceived as being petty and small-minded. I once watched him give an interview in the lobby of a hotel and say to the reporter, You see those lamps over there? I chose them. Its a bad look for a CEO. (I should confess that Ive caught myselfor have been caughtdoing the same thing a few times. Zenia Mucha has said to me, in a way only she can: Bob, you know you did that, but the world doesnt need to know, so shut up!) In early 2001, every media and entertainment company was feeling the ground shifting beneath its feet, but no one was sure which way to run. Technology was changing so fast, and the disruptive effects were becoming more obvious and anxiety-provoking. In March of that year, Apple released its Rip. Mix. Burn. campaign, telling the world that once you purchased music, it was yours to duplicate and use as you wish. A lot of people, including Michael, saw that as a mortal threat to the music industry, which would soon threaten the television and movie industries. Michael was always a staunch defender of copyrights, often speaking out on the issue of piracy, and the Apple ad really bothered himso much so that he targeted Apple publicly, testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee that Apple was flagrantly disrespecting copyright law and encouraging piracy. This didnt sit well with Steve Jobs. It was an interesting time, and marked what I saw as the beginning of the end of the traditional media as we knew it. Of great interest to me was the fact that almost every traditional media company, while trying to figure out its place in this changing world, was operating out of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that couldnt possibly survive the sea change that was under way. There was no one who embodied that change more than Steve Jobs, who in addition to running Apple was the CEO of Pixar, our most important and most successful creative partner. In the mid-90s, Disney had made a deal with Pixar to coproduce, market, and distribute five of their films. Toy Story was released in 1995 under a previous deal. It was the first full-length digitally animated feature filma seismic creative and technological leapand it grossed nearly $400 million worldwide. Toy Story was followed by two more successes: A Bugs Life, in 1998, and Monsters, Inc., in 2001. Taken together, those three movies grossed well over a billion dollars worldwide and established Pixar, at a time when Disney Animation was beginning to falter, as the future of animation. Despite the artistic and financial success of Pixars films, tension built up between the two companies (mostly, between Michael and Steve). When the original deal was made, Pixar was still a startup, and Disney had all the leverage. Pixar gave away a lot in the deal, including ownership over all the sequel rights to their films. As their success and stature grew, the unequal dynamic between the two companies began to gnaw at Steve, who hated it when anyone tried to push him around. Michael was more focused on the specifics of the deal that had been negotiated, and seemingly unaware or uncaring of Steves feelings. The situation worsened as Toy Story 2 was being developed. It was originally supposed to be released straight to video, bypassing movie theaters, but when early iterations of the film demanded more production resources, the two companies concluded it should be released on the big screen first. The movie grossed nearly $500 million worldwide, and then a contractual argument ensued. Pixar argued it should count toward their five-film Disney commitment, and Michael refused, since it was a sequel. This became another bone of contention between Michael and Steve. As Pixars reputation and influence grew with each release, so did the tension with Disney. In Steves mind, he and Pixar deserved more respect from Disney, and he wanted the contract to reflect the shifting leverage. He also thought, because they were eclipsing Disney both creatively and commercially, that Disney should have turned to them for creative assistance. Instead, he felt Michael always treated them as a lesser partner in the relationship, a studio for hire, which he took as a huge slight. Michael felt equally disrespected. He and others at Disney believed they were much more than just silent partners in the creation of the films, and that Steve never gave Disney the credit it deserved. I wasnt involved at all in the Pixar relationship during my time as COO, but it was clear that Pixar was gaining swagger as Disney was losing it, and these two strong-willed personalities were destined to battle each other for supremacy. That was the lay of the land throughout much of 2001our industry changing at blinding speed; tensions between Michael and Steve threatening the future of a vital partnership; a string of box-office failures leading to a public loss of faith in Disney Animation; sinking ratings at ABC; and a board of directors that was just beginning to take note and question Michaels leadership. Then came September 11, which would change the world and challenge us in ways we never imagined. I was up that morning at the crack of dawn, working out at home, when I looked up at the TV and saw a report that a plane had just flown into one of the Twin Towers. I stopped my workout and went into another room and turned on the television in time to see the second plane hit. Immediately, I called the president of ABC News, David Westin, to determine what he knew and how we were planning to cover these events that were unfolding before our eyes. David had little information, but like all major news organizations, we were scrambling hundreds of people in many directionsto the Pentagon, the White House, lower Manhattanto try to understand what was happening. I rushed to my office and called Michael on my way. He hadnt seen the news yet, but as he turned on his television, we shared our concernthat Disney might also be a target. We made the decision to close down Walt Disney World in Orlando immediately and empty the park, and not to open Disneyland at all. I spent the rest of the day coordinating our response on various frontsspending hours on the phone with ABC News, making sure all of our people were safe, strategizing security in our parks for the days to come, and generally trying to help people keep calm during what was the most unsettling time of our lives. Among the many ripple effects of the attacks was a global slowdown in tourism that lasted long after September 11. The impact on Disneys business was devastating. The stock market as a whole fell sharply, and Disney lost nearly a quarter of its value within days of the attacks. Then our largest shareholder, the Bass family, were forced to sell a massive amount of Disney stock135 million shares, worth about $2 billionto cover a margin call, which precipitated another steep drop in our share price. Companies around the globe would struggle to recover for some time, but our issues were piling up, and this marked the beginning of a long slide into controversy and strife for Disney, and for Michael. IN MANY WAYS, he handled the trouble to come admirably and stoically, but it was impossible not to fall prey to pessimism and paranoia as the stress became more intense. I would occasionally answer my phone and Michael would be on the line saying that hed just been in the shower, or on a plane, or in a conversation over lunch, and had become convinced that something we were doing was going to fail, someone was going to overtake us, some deal was going to go south. He would literally say to me, The sky is falling, and over time a sense of doom and gloom began to permeate the company. Michael had plenty of valid reasons to be pessimistic, but as a leader you cant communicate that pessimism to the people around you. Its ruinous to morale. It saps energy and inspiration. Decisions get made from a protective, defensive posture. Michaels natural pessimism often worked for him, up to a point. He was motivated in part out of a fear of calamity, and that often fueled his perfectionism and his success, although its not a very useful tool to motivate people. Sometimes his concerns were justified, and it was right to address them, but often a kind of free-floating worry had him in its grip. This wasnt Michaels only state. He also had a natural exuberance that was often infectious. But in his later years, as the stress on him steadily increased, pessimism became the rule more than the exception, and it led him to close ranks and become increasingly cloistered. No one could have handled the stress that Michael was under perfectly, but optimism in a leader, especially in challenging times, is so vital. Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion. Optimism sets a different machine in motion. Especially in difficult moments, the people you lead need to feel confident in your ability to focus on what matters, and not to operate from a place of defensiveness and self-preservation. This isnt about saying things are good when theyre not, and its not about conveying some innate faith that things will work out. Its about believing you and the people around you can steer toward the best outcome, and not communicating the feeling that all is lost if things dont break your way. The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you. No one wants to follow a pessimist. IN THE YEARS after September 11, two key board members, Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, who was Roys lawyer, began to openly express their lack of faith in Michaels ability to run the company. Roy had a long, complicated history with Michael. He was largely responsible for bringing Michael on as CEO and chairman of the board, and along with all shareholders, he benefited greatly under Michaels leadership. Between 1984 and 1994, Disneys annual profits quadrupled, and its stock price increased 1,300 percent. Michael went out of his way during those years to be solicitous with Roy and show him deference and respect. This wasnt easy to do. Roy could be very difficult at times. He viewed himself as the keeper of the Disney legacy. He lived and breathed and bled Disney, operating as if any break from tradition was a violation of some sacred pact hed made with Walt himself (who supposedly never showed his nephew much respect). Roy tended to revere the past instead of respecting it, and as a result he had a difficult time tolerating change of any sort. He hated Michaels acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC, because it meant introducing non-Disney brands into the companys bloodstream. On a lesser but maybe more illustrative note, he got very angry one Christmas season when we decided to sell pure white Mickey Mouse plush dolls in our Disney stores. Mickey is only these colors, black and white and red and yellow, and thats it! Roy raged in emails to Michael and me. He wanted the albino Mickeys, as he called them, taken from the shelves, which we didnt do, but it was a huge distraction. He also had a drinking problem. We never discussed it at Disney while he was alive, but years later one of his kids spoke openly with me about the problems his parents had with alcohol. Roy and his wife, Patti, could get angry after a few drinks, often resulting in vicious late-night emails (I was on the receiving end of several), focused on mistakes he believed we were making as stewards of the Disney legacy. As the challenges we were facing grew, Roy became more openly critical of Michael, eventually fully turning on him. In 2002, Roy and Stanley sent a letter to the board demanding that Michael address their concerns, which were numerous: the anemic ratings at ABC; the animus with Steve Jobs and Pixar; disagreements over theme-park strategy; and troubles with what they believed was Michaels problematic micromanaging. Their letter was so specific in its grievances that we had no choice but to take it seriously. It resulted in a full management presentation to the board, addressing each issue and how they would be remedied. It didnt seem to matter. Roy and Stanley spent the better part of a year actively trying to convince the board to oust him, and in the fall of 2003, Michael finally hit his limit with them. Michaels strategy was to turn to the companys governance guidelines regarding board member tenure, which stipulated that board members had to retire at age seventy-two. The rule had never been applied but Roy was challenging Michael in such extreme ways that he decided to invoke the clause. Rather than telling Roy himself, though, Michael had the chairman of the boards nominating committee inform him that he would not be allowed to stand for reelection and would be retired as of the next shareholders meeting in March 2004. Our next board meeting was scheduled in New York on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. On Sunday afternoon, Willow and I were on our way to a museum and had plans for a dinner date that evening, when Michaels assistant summoned me to an emergency meeting at Michaels apartment in the Pierre Hotel on East Sixty-first Street. When I arrived, Michael was holding a letter from Roy and Stanley that had been slipped under his door. He handed it to me and I began to read. Roy stated in the letter that he and Stanley were resigning from the board. He then went on a blistering, three-page critique of Michaels stewardship of the company. The first ten years had been a success, he acknowledged, but the latter years had been defined by seven distinct failures, which Roy laid out point by point: 1) a failure to bring ABC Prime Time back from its ratings abyss; 2) the consistent micro-management of everyone around you with the resulting loss of morale throughout this company; 3) a lack of adequate investment in theme parksbuilding on the cheapthat has depressed park attendance; 4) the perception by all of our stakeholdersthat the company is rapacious, soulless, and always looking for the quick buck rather than long-term value, which is leading to a loss of public trust; 5) a creative brain drain from the company due to mismanagement and low morale; 6) a failure to build good relationships with Disneys partners, particularly Pixar; and 7) your consistent refusal to establish a clear succession plan. Roy concluded by writing: Michael, it is my sincere belief that it is you that should be leaving and not me. Accordingly, I once again call for your resignation and retirement. There was validity to some of Roys complaints, but many of them were out of context. It didnt matter. We all knew we were on a very rough road now, and we began to strategize for the inevitable public relations nightmare. The letter was only the beginning. Roy and Stanley soon launched what they called the Save Disney campaign. For the next three months, leading up to the annual shareholders meeting in Philadelphia in March 2004, they publicly criticized Michael at every opportunity. They worked to get other members of the board to turn against him. They set up a Save Disney website and they aggressively lobbied Disney shareholders to cast a withhold vote at the upcoming meeting and dump him from the board. (If you own stock in the company, you receive a proxy, and every year you can cast a vote in favor of individual board members or you can withhold your vote of support, which is the equivalent of a no vote.) While this was going on, the long-simmering animosity between Michael and Steve Jobs finally boiled over. Disney was trying to extend its five-picture partnership deal with Pixar, but Steve put a new deal on the table that was impossible to accept. Pixar would control production and retain all sequel rights, and Disney would be reduced to a distribution partner. Michael refused; Steve wouldnt budge on any counterproposals. In the middle of the prolonged negotiations, an internal memo that Michael wrote to the board before the release of Finding Nemo got leaked to the press. In the memo, Michael said that he wasnt impressed by the early cuts hed seen, and that Pixar would get a reality check on what he believed was their unearned arrogance. If Nemo didnt do well, he suggested, that wouldnt necessarily be bad, since Disney would have more leverage in the negotiations. There was nothing Steve was more averse to than someone trying to use leverage over him. If you tried to do that, he went nuts. Michael, too, was averse to anything he perceived as bullying of him or the company, and the combination of the two of them made an already challenging negotiating process nearly impossible. At some point, Steve referred to Disney Animations string of embarrassing duds, and then in January 2004, he made a very public, in-your-face announcement that he would never deal with Disney again. After ten months of trying to strike a deal, were moving on, he said. Its a shame Disney wont be participating in Pixars future successes. Michael responded by saying it didnt matter, we could make all of the sequels we wanted of the Pixar films wed released and there was nothing they could do about it. Then Roy and Stanley got involved and issued a statement of their own, saying, More than a year ago, we warned the Disney board that we believed Michael Eisner was mismanaging the Pixar partnership and expressed our concern that the relationship was in jeopardy, adding fuel to their argument that Michael had lost control of the company. In fact, Michael had been right to reject Steves terms. It would have been fiscally irresponsible to accept the deal Steve proposed. The cost to Disney was too high and the benefits were too low. But the public perception, which was amplified by all of the coverage of the busted negotiations and the rift with Steve Jobs, was that Michael had screwed up badly, and it was a blow to him. Two weeks later, we convened an investors conference in Orlando. The plan was to reassure industry analysts about the future of the company and counter all of the recent damage. Our first-quarter earnings reports were to be released that day, and the numbers were good. Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean, which had come out in May and June the previous year, were both massive hits, and overall our revenue was up 19 percent. It was the first blue sky wed seen in a while, and we were looking forward to making the case that we were back on track. Things didnt pan out that way. On a cloudy, cool Florida morning, I left my hotel room at around 7:00 A.M. and was on my way to the conference when I received a call from Zenia Mucha, our chief communications officer. Zenia often makes her points emphatically; in this case emphatic was an understatement. Comcast has gone hostile! she hollered into the phone. Get to Michaels suite now! Comcast was the largest cable provider in the country, but Brian Roberts, their CEO, knew that owning Disney would transform them. It would allow them to marry Disneys content with their vast cable distribution network, which would be a potent combination. (They were especially interested in ESPN, which at the time was the highest-priced channel in cable TV.) A few days earlier, Brian had called Michael and made an offer to buy Disney. Michael told him he wasnt going to engage in negotiations, but if he wanted to make an official offer, the board would be obligated to consider it. But were not for sale, Michael said. The rejection resulted in a hostile, unsolicited public offer to the Disney board and its shareholders to acquire Disney for $64 billion, to be paid in Comcast stock. (For every share of Disney stock they owned, shareholders would get .78 a share of Comcast stock.) When I walked into Michaels suite, the first thing I heard were the voices of Brian Roberts and Steve Burke, Comcasts president, giving a live interview on CNBC. I knew Steve well. He had worked for me for two years, from 1996 to 1998, and had been with Disney for ten years before that, most recently at Disneyland Paris. When Michael replaced him there and brought him back to New York, Steve came to work for me at ABC. Hes the eldest son of my old boss, Dan Burke, whom I deeply respected and loved, and while he didnt have Dans natural warmth, Steve was smart and funny and a fast learner. I taught him a lot about the TV and radio businesses, and he taught me a lot about navigating the ins and outs of Disney. In 1998, I badly needed someone to take over ABC and free me up to do the other aspects of my job, and I told Steve I was planning to promote him to president of the network. He said that he didnt want to move to L.A. (Michael was planning to move all of ABC to L.A. at the time), and shortly after that, he told us he was leaving Disney for Comcast. Id invested so much in him, and wed grown close over those two years, that it felt like a knife in my back. Now here he was on television, twisting it further. When asked what he would do to fix the network, Steve replied, Bring in better people to run it. Zenia and Alan Braverman, our general counsel, and Peter Murphy, the head of Strategic Planning, were already there in Michaels suite when I arrived, staring at the TV. We were all caught completely off guard by the takeover bid, and immediately scrambled to formulate a response. We needed to put out a public statement, but first we had to find out where the board stood. At the same time we were trying to figure out what made Brian so certain Disney would sell in the first place? Soon it became apparent that someone, either inside the board or close to it, must have told him that Michael was vulnerable and Disney in such bad shape that if he made an offer, the board would go for it. It would give the board a less confrontational way to get rid of Michael. (Years later, Brian confirmed to me that an intermediary, claiming to represent a board member, encouraged him to bid.) As we struggled to collect ourselves together, another wave hit that we didnt see coming. A company called Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) is the biggest company in the world providing proxy and governance advice to investorslargely mid-sized fundson how they should assess corporate governance and cast their proxy votes. ISS typically influences more than a third of the voting shares in a proxy election, and that morning they issued a public recommendation in support of Roy and Stanleys campaign to vote against Michael. The proxy votes wouldnt be announced until March, but we already knew to expect a large vote of no confidence. As we left Michaels suite to go to the investors meeting, we were now facing two massive crises. I remember thinking that it was like wed entered a conventional war with Roy and Stanley and Steve, and now another party had launched nuclear weapons. We did our best under the circumstances to defend ourselves to the investors, but serious concerns about the future of the company had been raised in very public ways. We held our heads high, touting our recent returns and walking them through our future plans, making the best case we could under the circumstances. It was a tough meeting, though, and there was no way around it: Things were only going to get tougher. OVER THE NEXT several weeks, Comcasts takeover bid collapsed. Brian Roberts had assumed that Disneys board would jump at his initial offer, and when they didnt, it allowed for a number of other factors to emerge. First, the announcement of our increased earnings resulted in a spike in our stock price, so we immediately became more expensive. Second, Comcasts shareholders reacted negatively to the announcement. They werent in support of Brians move, and Comcasts stock price sank fast, diminishing the offer even further and throwing the whole calculus off. Last, influencing all of this was a general public opposition to the deal being expressed to the media: that Disney still had emotional resonance as an American brand, and the idea of its being swallowed by a giant cable provider was anathema to consumers. Comcast eventually withdrew its bid. Michaels troubles werent going away, however. The following month, three thousand Disney shareholders gathered in Philadelphia for our annual meeting. The night before the meeting, Roy and Stanley and the Save Disney contingent held a big public rally at a downtown hotel. There was a lot of media coverage of the event, in which Roy and Stanley vehemently criticized Michael and called for a change in leadership. At some point Zenia came to me and said, You have to go out and talk to the press. We need to get our side of the story out. There was no way Michael was going to do itit would have been too charged and confrontationalso I had to be the one. Zenia quickly notified some members of the press that I would be coming out to speak with them, and the two of us walked into the lobby of the convention center, where our meeting was to take place the next day. Seventy-five giant, differently designed Mickey Mouse statues had been transported from Orlando for the meeting, and I stood between two of them and took questions for about an hour. I didnt have any notes prepared, and I dont recall the specific questions, though Im sure they were all about the shareholder meeting, and how we were planning to respond to the criticisms coming from Roy and Stanley. I do recall that it was withering. I defended the company and supported Michael, and I expressed my genuine skepticism about Roy and Stanleys motivations and actions. It was the first time in my career Ive ever had to withstand the glare of so much press scrutiny, and while there was no way to reverse the tide that was coming in, I look back on that moment and feel proud for having been able to stand there and hold my ground. THE NEXT DAY, shareholders started lining up outside the convention center at 5:00 A.M. When the doors opened hours later, thousands of people streamed in, many of whom were sent into a large overflow room to watch on closed-circuit TV. Michael and I made opening remarks; then each of our business-unit leaders gave presentations about the state of their businesses and future plans. We had agreed to allow Roy and Stanley to each make fifteen-minute statements, but not from the stage. When they went beyond the time limit, we let them finish out of courtesy. Their statements were blistering, and greeted with cheers by many people in the room. After they were done we took questions for an hour. Michael knew it would be an all-out assault from the beginning, but he carried himself through it admirably. He acknowledged many of the difficulties and made his case that our performance and our stock price were improving. He talked about his passion for the company, but it was a foregone conclusion that the day was not going to end well for him. When the proxy votes were finally tallied, 43 percent of shareholders withheld their support of Michael. It was such a devastating expression of no confidence that we announced the count in raw numbers rather than as a percentage, hoping it might sound less bad. Still, there was an audible gasp in the room when the announcement was made. The board met in an executive session immediately after the shareholders meeting. They knew they had to do something in response and decided to strip Michael of his role as chairman but let him remain as CEO. George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader from Maine, was a member of the board, and they unanimously voted for him to replace Michael as chairman. Michael made some effort to convince them otherwise, but he was mostly resigned to the inevitability of it. There was one final indignity to the day. The news was so big that our own news program, Nightline, wanted to devote that nights show to the Save Disney movement and the voting results. We collectively decided that it was in Michaels and the companys best interest to face the music and go on the show to take questions from Ted Koppel, Nightlines anchor, about what it meant for Michael and for the future of Disney. It was incredibly painful for him to be subjected to scrutiny from his own news people, but he did it with a brave face. The March shareholders meeting and the loss of his chairmans title marked the beginning of the end for Michael, and the reality was beginning to sink in. In early September 2004, he sent a letter to the board announcing that he would step down when his contract expired in 2006. Two weeks later, the board met and accepted Michaels offer. George Mitchell came to me afterward to say they were going to issue a press release announcing that Michael would not renew his contract when it expired, and a search process would commence immediately, with the intention of finding a successor by June 2005. Once they found someone, George told me, they would hasten the transitionin other words, they intended to replace Michael in the fall of 2005, a year before his contract expired. I asked him what they were planning to say about the search. That were going to look for outside candidates and inside candidates, George said. What inside candidates are there other than me? None, he said. Youre the only one. Then you need to write that, I said. Im the COO, and as of today, youre making Michael a lame duck. Im going to have to step in and exert a lot more authority. I understood there was no guarantee that I would be Michaels successor, but people in the company needed to know it was at least a possibility. I felt so much depended on that moment. If the rest of the company didnt believe I was a serious candidate, then Id have no real authority, and I would be a lame duck right along with Michael. Often people who worry too much about public perception of their power do so because they are insecure. In this case, I needed the board to bestow some degree of power in me if I was going to be able to help run the company through this turbulent time, and if I was going to have any chance of being the next CEO. What are you asking? George said. Im asking you to write in the press release that Im the only internal candidate. George understood exactly what I needed and why, and Ill always be grateful for that. It meant I was able to run the company from a position ofnot exactly strength, but not exactly weakness, either. Even though theyd formally stated that I was a candidate, I dont think anyone on the board, maybe not even George, thought I would get the job, and many of them thought I shouldnt. There would be a lot of talk during the upcoming months about how Disneys problems could only be solved by a change agent from the outside. Its a meaningless phrase and a corporate cliche, but the sentiment was clear. Exacerbating matters was the feeling on the board that their reputation had been sullied, and while it was far less painful to them than what Michael had suffered, they were exhausted from the drama and they needed to send a signal now that things were going to be different. Handing the keys to the guy whod been Michaels number two through five of the most difficult years in the companys history didnt exactly signal a new day. CHAPTER 7 ITS ABOUT THE FUTURE T HE CHALLENGE FOR me was: How do I convince the Disney board that I was the change they were looking for without criticizing Michael in the process? There had been some decisions I disagreed with, and I thought the company was in need of change given all the noise, but I respected Michael and was grateful for the opportunities hed given me. Id also been COO of the company for five years, and it would have been hypocritical, transparently so, to lay all of the blame on someone else. Mostly, though, it just wouldnt have been right to make myself look better at Michaels expense. I vowed to myself not to do that. I spent a few days after the announcement trying to figure out a way to thread that particular needlehow to talk about the past without implicating myself too much in decisions that werent mine, or swinging too far the other way and joining in a pile-on of Michael. The solution to that predicament came from an unexpected place. A week or so after the boards announcement, I received a phone call from a highly regarded political consultant and brand manager named Scott Miller. Years ago, Scott had done some very useful consulting for ABC, so when he called to say he was in L.A. and asked if he could come see me, I was eager to meet with him. He arrived in my office a few days later and dropped a ten-page deck in front of me. This is for you, he said. Its free. I asked what it was. This is our campaign playbook, he said. Campaign? What youre about to embark on is a political campaign, he said. You understand that, right? In some abstract way, yes, I understood that, but I hadnt been thinking of it in the literal terms Scott meant. I needed a strategy for getting votes, he said, which meant figuring out who on the board might be persuadable and focusing my message on them. He asked me a series of questions: Which board members are definitely in your corner? Im not sure any of them are. Okay, whos never going to give you a chance? Three or four names and faces immediately flashed through my mind. Now, who are the swing voters? There were a handful whom I thought I might be able to convince to take a flyer on me. Those are the ones you have to focus on first, Scott said. He also understood the bind I was in regarding how I talked about Michael and the past, and hed already anticipated it. You cannot win this as an incumbent, he said. You cannot win on the defensive. Its only about the future. Its not about the past. That may seem obvious, but it came as a revelation to me. I didnt have to rehash the past. I didnt have to defend Michaels decisions. I didnt have to criticize him for my own benefit. Its only about the future. Every time a question came up about what had gone wrong at Disney over the past years, what mistakes Michael made, and why they should think Im any different, my response could simply and honestly be: I cant do anything about the past. We can talk about lessons learned, and we can make sure we apply those lessons going forward. But we dont get any do-overs. You want to know where Im going to take this company, not where its been. Heres my plan. You must think, plan, and act like an insurgent, Scott told me, and your plan should be formed with one clear thought in mind: This is a battle for the soul of the brand. Talk about the brand, how to grow its value, how to protect it. Then he added, Youre going to need some strategic priorities. Id given this considerable thought, and I immediately started ticking off a list. I was five or six in when he shook his head and said, Stop talking. Once you have that many of them, theyre no longer priorities. Priorities are the few things that youre going to spend a lot of time and a lot of capital on. Not only do you undermine their significance by having too many, but nobody is going to remember them all. Youre going to seem unfocused, he said. You only get three. I cant tell you what those three should be. We dont have to figure that out today. You never have to tell me what they are if you dont want to. But you only get three. He was right. In my eagerness to demonstrate that I had a strategy for solving all of Disneys problems and addressing all of the issues we were confronting, I hadnt prioritized any of them. There was no signaling as to what was most important, no easily digested, comprehensive vision. My overall vision lacked clarity and inspiration. A companys culture is shaped by a lot of things, but this is one of the most importantyou have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. In my experience, its what separates great managers from the rest. If leaders dont articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them dont know what their own priorities should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted. People in your organization suffer unnecessary anxiety because they dont know what they should be focused on. Inefficiency sets in, frustration builds up, morale sinks. You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life. A CEO must provide the company and its senior team with a road map. A lot of work is complex and requires intense amounts of focus and energy, but this kind of messaging is fairly simple: This is where we want to be. This is how were going to get there. Once those things are laid out simply, so many decisions become easier to make, and the overall anxiety of an entire organization is lowered. After the meeting with Scott, I quickly landed on three clear strategic priorities. They have guided the company since the moment I was named CEO: 1) We needed to devote most of our time and capital to the creation of high-quality branded content. In an age when more and more content was being created and distributed, we needed to bet on the fact that quality will matter more and more. It wasnt enough to create lots of content; and it wasnt even enough to create lots of good content. With an explosion of choice, consumers needed an ability to make decisions about how to spend their time and money. Great brands would become even more powerful tools for guiding consumer behavior. 2) We needed to embrace technology to the fullest extent, first by using it to enable the creation of higher quality products, and then to reach more consumers in more modern, more relevant ways. From the earliest Disney years under Walt, technology was always viewed as a powerful storytelling tool; now it was time to double down on our commitment to doing the same thing. It was also becoming clear that while we were still, and would remain, primarily a content creator, the day would come when modern distribution would be an essential means of maintaining brand relevance. Unless consumers had the ability to consume our content in more user-friendly, more mobile, and more digital ways, our relevance would be challenged. In short, we needed to view technology as more of an opportunity than a threat, and we had to do so with commitment, enthusiasm, and a sense of urgency. 3) We needed to become a truly global company. We were broad with our reach, doing business in numerous markets around the world, but we needed to better penetrate certain markets, particularly the worlds most populous countries, like China and India. If our primary focus was on creating excellent branded content, the next step was to bring that content to a global audience, firmly planting our roots in those markets and creating a strong foundation to grow significantly in scale. To continue to create the same things for the same loyal customers was stagnation. That was the vision. It was about the future, not the pastand the future was about organizing the entire companys mission, all of our businesses, and every one of our 130,000 employees at the time, around these three priorities. Now I just needed to convince ten board members, most of whom had little or no faith in me, that this was the right course for the company and I was the right person for the job. MY FIRST ALL-ON-ONE interview with the board took place on a Sunday evening in our boardroom in Burbank. They questioned me for two hours, and while they werent openly combative, they werent especially warm and friendly, either. They had been under pressure for a long time, and now they were under even more. Their determination to project how seriously they were taking this process was evident in their no-nonsense demeanor. It was clear that my having been on the board myself for five years wasnt going to make the road any smoother. It so happened that months before Id committed to participating in a triathlon in Malibu that day, and I didnt want to leave my team in the lurch. So I woke at 4:00 A.M. and drove to Malibu in the dark, rode the eighteen-mile bike leg of the race, then sped home and showered and changed and went to Burbank for my meeting with the board. At the last minute, to keep my energy from slumping during the interview, I devoured a protein bar right before I walked through the door. For the next two hours, my stomach loudly gurgled, and I worried the board was thinking that my GI system was sending a signal to them that I couldnt handle the pressure. The good news was that this was my first opportunity to show them my plan. I laid out the three core principles, and then I fielded several questions about the poor state of morale within the company. There is still tremendous passion for the brand, I said. But my goal is for Disney to be the most admired company in the world, by our consumers and our shareholders and by our employees. That last part is key. Well never get the admiration or the public unless we get it from our own people first. And the way to get the people working for us to admire the company and believe in its future is to make products theyre proud of. Its that simple. There was another, more practical issue that I mentioned regarding morale. Over the years wed become a company in which virtually all noncreative decisions were made by the central oversight group, Strategic Planning, that I mentioned earlier. Strat Planning was composed of about sixty-five analysts with MBAs from the best business schools in the country. They occupied the fourth floor of our headquarters, and as the company expanded, Michael depended on them more and more to analyze all of our decisions and dictate the strategies for our various businesses. In many ways, this made sense. They were very good at what they did, but it created two problems. One was something I alluded to previously, that the centralized decision making had a demoralizing effect on the senior leaders of our businesses, who sensed that the power to run their divisions really resided at Strategic Planning. The other was that their overly analytical decision-making processes could be painstaking and slow. The world is moving so much faster than it did even a couple of years ago, I said to the board. And the speed with which things are happening is only going to increase. Our decision making has to be straighter and faster, and I need to explore ways of doing that. I assumed that if the leaders of our businesses felt more involved in making decisions, that would have a positive, trickle-down effect on the companys morale. I had no idea at the time how dramatic and immediate that effect would be. THE SIX-MONTH PROCESS that followed that initial interview with the board tested me more than anything in my career. Id never been more challenged intellectuallyin terms of business intelligence, anywaynever done more intensive thinking about how our company operated and what needed fixing, never processed so much information in such a short amount of time. I was doing all of that on top of the day-to-day demands of helping to run the company (Michael was there, but his attention was often understandably elsewhere), and the long, stressful days began to wear on me. The strain wasnt primarily because of the workload. Ive always prided myself on my ability and willingness to put in a greater effort than anyone else. For me, the hardest test by far was managing the public scrutiny and the overtly expressed opinions that I should not be the next CEO. The Disney succession was an important business story, and the reporting around itWhat was the board thinking? Who was in the mix? Could the company be righted?was relentless. The consensus among business analysts and commentators largely echoed the opinions of those board members opposed to me: Disney needed fresh blood, a new perspective. Choosing Iger amounted to a giant rubber stamp of Michael Eisner. It wasnt just the press, though. Early in the process, Jeffrey Katzenberg met me for breakfast near the Disney lot in Burbank. You need to leave, Jeffrey told me. Youre not going to get this job. Your reputation has been tarnished. I knew that distinguishing myself from Michael was going to be a struggle, but I hadnt up to that point considered that the outside world perceived me as being tainted. Jeffrey felt a need to disabuse me of that idea. There was no separating me from the mess of the last few years, he said. You should go do some pro bono work to rehabilitate your image. Rehabilitate my image? I heard him out and tried to remain calm, but I was stunned, and angry, by Jeffreys certainty that I was done. Still another part of me wondered if he was right. Maybe I didnt fully comprehend what everyone else around me could see plain as day: that there was no way I was getting this job. Or maybe this was all just Hollywood Kremlinology and the biggest task before me was to continue to make the best case I could make for myself and ignore all of the distractions that I couldnt control. Its so easy to get caught up in rumor mills, to worry about this persons perception of you or that persons, what someone might say or write about you. Its easy to become defensive and petty and to want to lash out when you feel youre being unfairly misrepresented. I didnt believe I deserved this job; I didnt think I was entitled to it, but I did believe I was right for it. Part of proving that was remaining steady in the face of so much publicly expressed doubt. I still recall one headline, in the Orlando Sentinel, that said Eisners Heir Far from Apparent. Many others expressed similar sentiments, and for a while it seemed that every day someone was writing or talking about what an abdication of responsibility it would be if the board named me CEO. Stanley Gold was quoted in another publication saying I was a gentleman and a hard-working executive, but most of the Disney board have open questions about whether [I] should succeed Michael. That had an ominous tone to it. There was one board member, Gary Wilson, who not only didnt think I should get the job, but clearly thought he could further his own agenda by baiting me and attempting to humiliate me in our meetings. I had to consistently remind myself that Gary Wilson wasnt my problem. As much as this process was a test of my ideas, it was also a test of my temperament, and I couldnt let the negativity being expressed by people who knew little about me affect the way I felt about myself. By the end of the process, I would be interviewed fifteen times: that first all-on-one interview; then one-on-one interviews with every member of the board; then follow-up interviews with board members who requested them; then one of the most insulting experiences of my career, an interview with a headhunter named Gerry Roche, who ran a well-known search firm called Heidrick and Struggles. Gerry had been hired by the board to benchmark me against the outside candidates and to help the board field candidates they did not know. When I learned of this, I complained to George Mitchell that it was offensive and that Id already answered everything that could be asked of me. Just do it, George said. The board wants to check off every box. So I flew to New York for a lunch meeting at Gerrys office. We sat in a conference room, with only water on the table. Gerry held a copy of James Stewarts DisneyWar, which had just been published and which investigatedand in several instances reported inaccuratelyMichaels years as CEO and mine as COO. The book had Post-it notes on several pages, to mark the passages he wanted to challenge me on. He flipped through the book and asked me a series of questions that had little or nothing to do with me. Thirty minutes into the interview, Gerrys assistant came in with a single brown-bagged lunch, for him, and told him the private jet that was going to take him to a wedding in Florida was leaving soon, and he had to go or he was going to miss it. With that, he got up and left. I never ate, and I walked out of the interview infuriated at the waste of time and the lack of respect. There was only one time that the stress and frustration truly got to me. It was January 2005, several months into the process, and Id taken my six-year-old son, Max, to an L.A. Clippers game at the Staples Center. In the middle of the game, my skin began to feel clammy. My chest tightened, and I felt short of breath. Both of my parents had suffered heart attacks at fifty. I was fifty-four at the time and I knew the symptoms. In fact, Id always lived in fear of having one. Part of me was sure this was it, and another part was sure it couldnt be. I ate well, worked out seven days a week, had regular checkups. I couldnt be experiencing a heart attack, could I? I debated calling for an EMT at the game, but was worried about frightening Max. Instead, I told him I was feeling sick to my stomach, and we left for home. There was a driving rainstorm in L.A. that afternoon, and I was barely able to see the road. My heart felt like it was getting squeezed by a fist inside my chest. I knew it was foolish to be behind the wheel with my son in the backseat, and I worried that Id made a terrible mistake. In the moment, though, I could only think that I needed to get home. I pulled into our driveway, Max jumped out of the car, and I immediately phoned my internist, Dennis Evangelatos, then called a friend who came and drove me to Denniss house. Dennis knew me well and he was aware of the stress Id been under. He checked my vital signs, then looked me square in the eye and said, Youre having a classic anxiety attack, Bob. You have to get some rest. It was a relief, but also a worry. Id always thought of myself as somewhat impervious to stress, able to stay focused and calm in tense situations. The strain of this process was taking a bigger toll than Id admitted even to myself, much less to my family or close friends, and a bigger toll than it should take. I left Denniss house and got home and took some time to put everything that was happening into perspective. It was a big job, and a big title, but it wasnt my life. My life was with Willow and my boys, with my girls back in New York, with my parents and my sister and my friends. All of this strain was ultimately still about a job, and I vowed to myself to try to keep that in perspective. The only time I cracked in front of the board was in my final interview with them. After months of interviews and presentations, they called for one more, a Sunday evening meeting in a hotel conference room in Pasadena. I arrived to learn that they had spent the afternoon at one of the board members homes interviewing Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay, who was the other main contender at that point. (The other four had either dropped out or been eliminated.) By then, I had had it with the whole process. I couldnt believe there was anything left that they didnt know, any question that hadnt already been answered thoroughly several times over. I wanted it to come to an end. The company, which had been facing an uncertain future for half a year nowmuch longer, if you added in the months of turmoil around Michaels futureneeded it to come to an end even more. Some members of the board didnt comprehend this, and I had hit the limits of my patience. Toward the end of that final interview, Gary Wilson, the board member who had been goading me to disparage Michael throughout the entire process, asked me one more time: Tell us why we should believe that you are different. What do you think Michael did wrong? What would you do differently? It struck a nerve, and I lashed back at him in front of the rest of the board. Youve asked me the same questions on three prior occasions, I said, struggling to keep myself from hollering. I find it offensive, and Im not going to answer it. Everyone in the room went silent, and the interview came to an abrupt end. I stood up and left without looking any of them in the eye. I didnt shake anyones hand. I didnt thank them for their time. Id flunked my self-imposed test to withstand anything they threw at me with patience and respect. That night, George Mitchell and another board member, Aylwin Lewis, each called me at home. You probably didnt do yourself irreparable harm, George said, but you didnt do yourself much good, either. Aylwin was harsher. This wasnt the time to let everyone see you sweat, Bob, he said. I wasnt happy Id done it, but I was human. I couldnt take it back at that point, anyway, and I felt my anger was justified. At the end of my conversation with George, I said, Please just make a decision. Its time. The company is suffering because of all this. When I look back on that time now, I think of it as a hard-earned lesson about the importance of tenacity and perseverance, but also about the need to steer clear of anger and anxiety over things you cant control. I cant overstate how important it is to keep blows to the ego, real as they often are, from occupying too big a place in your mind and sapping too much of your energy. Its easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you youre great. Its much harder, and much more necessary, when your sense of yourself is being challenged, and in such a public way. The succession process was the first time in my career that I had to face that level of anxiety head on. It was impossible to completely filter out the chatter about me or to not be hurt by very public conversations about how ill-suited I was for the job. But I learned, through strong self-discipline and love from my family, that I had to recognize it for what it wasthat it had no bearing on who I wasand put it in its proper place. I could control what I did and how I comported myself. Everything else was beyond my control. I didnt maintain that perspective every moment, but to the extent that I was able to, it kept the anxiety from having too strong a hold. ON A SATURDAY in March 2005, the board convened to make its decision. Most of the members called into the meeting; Michael and George Mitchell were together in a conference room at ABC in New York. I woke up that morning thinking I might have convinced enough of the undecided members of the board to give me the job, but when I thought of all the drama and scrutiny around the process, it felt just as possible that they would go another way, that some of the skeptics would have argued forcefully for a change in the narrative, and they would name an outsider. I spent the day with my two boys, trying to distract myself. Max and I tossed a ball around, went to lunch, and spent an hour in his favorite neighborhood park. I told Willow that if bad news came, I was getting in my car and taking the cross-country drive that Id long dreamed of taking. A solo trip across the United States seemed like heaven to me. As soon as that meeting ended, George Mitchell and Michael called me at home. Willow was with me in the office we shared. The job of CEO was mine, they said; it would be announced the next day. I appreciated that Michael was on the call. I knew it must have been painful for him. Hed poured himself into that job and wasnt quite ready to relinquish it, but if he had to be succeeded by someone, I believe he was happy that that person was me. I was grateful to George for the way he had treated me throughout the process. If not for him, I dont think I would have gotten a fair shake by the rest of the board. Mostly, I was thankful for Willow. I couldnt have done it without her faith and wisdom and support. She was rooting for me the whole time, of course, but time after time, she told me this was not the most important thing in my life, in our lives. I knew she was right, but taking her words to heart took work, too, and she helped me do that. Once the call ended, Willow and I sat quietly for a moment, trying to savor it all. I had a mental list of the people I wanted to call right away, and I was fighting the urge to start dialing and instead trying to just be still, to breathe a bit, to let in both the elation and the relief. Eventually, I called my parents in Long Island. They were proud, if a little incredulous that their son was going to be running the company founded by Walt Disney. Then I called my daughters in New York, and my old Capital Cities bosses, Dan Burke and Tom Murphy. And then I called Steve Jobs. It was an odd call to make, but it felt important to me to reach out to him, in case there might still someday be a chance of salvaging the relationship with Pixar. I barely knew Steve at that point, but I wanted him to know that it was going to be announced the next day that I was the next CEO of the company. His response was basically Okay, well, thats cool for you. I told him that Id love to come see him and try to convince him that we could work together, that things could be different. He was typical Steve. How long have you worked for Michael? Ten years. Huh, he said. Well, I dont see how things will be any different, but, sure, when the dust settles, be in touch.

  • WALL-E / - (Disney, 2012)    WALL-E / - (Disney,
  • Chicken Little /   (Disney, 2012)    Chicken Little /
  • Peter Pan Comes to London /      (Disney, 2011)    Peter Pan Comes to London /
  • Nemo in school /    (Disney, 2012)    Nemo in school /

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