The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) has become the most successful media conglomerate on the planet. During 2015, Disney’s revenues increased by $4.42 billion (€3.95 billion) while many other entertainment companies were struggling to survive.
Much of the credit for Disney’s success has been given to the company’s CEO; Bob Iger, who has become one of the most admired leaders in business. Many observers credit Iger for turning Disney around, and taking it to the top of the entertainment world.
There are many lessons that entrepreneurs and other leaders can learn from Iger. A few of the most valuable leadership insights you can get from Bob Iger include:
Money spent on quality acquisitions will pay off. Under Iger’s leadership Disney spent $4 billion (€3.55 billion) for Marvel Entertainment and its stable of iconic superheroes in 2010; and another $4 billion for Lucas Film (owner of Star Wars) in 2012. As of April 21, 2016, the latest Star Wars film; The Force Awakens, had made $2.053 billion (€1.82 billion) at the box office. The various Marvel superhero movies had raked in $9.065 billion (€8.04 billion) at the worldwide box office as of April 21, 2016. The lesson here is clear: paying a high price for a quality acquisition will pay off in the long one. Like Warren Buffett, Iger knows that you have to spend money to make money.
Secrecy can be good for business. Almost everybody in Hollywood was shocked when Disney announced that it was purchasing Lucas Film from George Lucas. By keeping the deal secret, Iger avoided complications such as counteroffers and media scrutiny; and kept the transaction simple. Disney was able to get a valuable asset with little or no hassle.
Honesty is the best policy. Iger is known for his honesty and straight dealing in an industry notorious for lying and backstabbing. This enabled him to make major deals; such as the purchase of the animation studio Pixar from Apple’s Steve Jobs, and the Lucas Film coup. The major reason Iger was able to pull off those deals, was that Jobs and George Lucas knew that they could trust him. They understood that he would give them a good deal and treat their creations right.
Mentorship can pay off. Iger is a well-known mentor to other business people. In 2014, Iger launched a Disney accelerator program that gave a group of startups investment capital and mentorship from the company’s executives. One of those executives was Iger himself; who was working with a small robotics company in Colorado called Sphero. During the mentorship process, Iger spotted a Sphero product that looked a lot like BB-8; a new droid in The Force Awakens. Disney licensed Sphero to make a robotic toy based on BB-8; the product ended up selling 22,000 units during its first 12 hours on the market.
Learn to tolerate failure. In 2013 Iger told The Hollywood Reporter that he views a subordinate’s failure as: “an opportunity for that person to come back and try again and not get excoriated, not get penalized for having taken that risk and failed, because it was an honest risk to take, an honest mistake.”
“I’ve certainly had a number of failures along the way depending on my own instincts and creativity, some fairly celebrated, at least during their time,” Iger admitted.
“Many of our businesses are creatively driven; actually all of them at some point,” Iger said. “And with creativity comes inevitable failure. The failure rate in our business is actually fairly high. It just comes with the territory because there is no science in creativity. A lot of that comes from people’s instincts and their own creativity.”
A strong brand is everything. Few executives understand that creating and maintaining a strong brand is the key to success in today’s digitally connected world. Disney is built on a series of strong brands including Star Wars, Disney itself, Marvel and Pixar; that can be repurposed across a wide variety of mediums and product lines. For example, a Marvel superhero such as Captain America can appear in video games, comic books, movies, on clothing and on store shelves as a variety of toys; all of which can generate revenue for Disney.
“It is pretty incredible that a company Walt Disney created 90 years ago last month is still vibrant and still a relevant brand,” Iger said in 2013. “Actually it is more relevant today than it has ever been, because the beauty of technology is that it enables us to access more people and more people can access the products we make. So our brand actually enters so many more people’s lives today.”
Bob Iger is be the flashiest business leader around, but he is certainly among the most successful. Studying Iger; and the empire he has built at Disney, can teach anybody a great deal about business, leadership, marketing and branding.