It’s New Year’s Eve, and as a writer, I decided that my final post of 2021 would be one I penned in awe of, and in gratitude to, Mr. Robert Iger, whose final day with Mickey and the gang is finally here.
As his contract with The Walt Disney Company expires tonight, Mickey and the mergers, Marvel and the Magic, the perks and the parks, Star Wars and stardom, PIXAR and the passholders will all become little more than memories of a life of Disney, some 48 years in the making. Well, that, and possibly fodder for his next book: The Ride of a Lifetime 2.0: How I Kept the Magic Alive After Leaving the House of Mouse, if, you know, he chooses to use this dawning of a new era in life to write yet another memoir.
“It’s bittersweet,” Iger said of his departure during an interview with Variety. “I’m going to miss people, and I’m going to miss the creative process.”
Robert Iger came to Disney long before he ever sat in the royal office of the company’s Chief Executive Officer. He was only 23 years young when he held his first Disney job; only that role had nothing in the whole wide world to do with Mickey.
Iger started his magical career as a weatherman for an ABC news station. But as he would continually prove throughout his tenure with The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger has always had a sort of Midas touch.
And what a class act!
What now? Iger hasn’t been uber-detailed in sharing his plans for the post-Disney future, which officially begins as 2022 comes rushing in.
“I officially became CEO on October 1, 2005, and I really have not had a day off since–not a day off,” Iger said during the interview. “I’m looking forward to what I’ll call a true day off–not a day on my boat where I’m answering emails all day and screening rough cuts.”
Mr. Iger’s immediate plans for the future don’t sound very “magic and fireworks” or “pomp and circumstance” at all.
“I guess I’m going to watch some college football without having to worry about the outcome of the ratings,” he quipped.
During his tenure as the Chief Executive Officer for The Walt Disney Company, the Midas-handed Iger not only oversaw, but was intimately involved in, the company’s many acquisitions, the most well known of which included PIXAR, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox, though there were dozens more.
Under his direction, The Walt Disney Company constructed and opened Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005–just as Iger was setting up housekeeping with the House of Mouse–and Shanghai Disneyland on June 16, 2016.
Iger was instrumental in the development and opening of new lands within the existing Disney Parks like the New Fantasyland expansion at Magic Kingdom, Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Mr. Iger was also behind the development and roll-out of Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+, which first went live on November 12, 2019. During his time as CEO at Disney, the company also released some of the highest-grossing films of all time, including Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Disney’s Frozen and Frozen 2, as well as Marvel’s Black Panther. Just this month, as Mr. Iger reaches for the door to say good-bye, Disney released Spider-Man: No Way Home, which earned the accolade of being the first pandemic-era film to cross the $1 billion threshold.
Also during Mr. Iger’s years of service to The Walt Disney Company and to its millions upon millions of fans, Disney enjoyed recognition as one of the “Most Reputable Companies” in both America and the world by Forbes magazine 14 years in a row, beginning in 2006, one of the “Best Employers” in both America (2019) and in the world (2018) by Forbes magazine, one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” by Fortune magazine from 2009 to 2021, and as one of the “World’s Most Respected Companies” by Barron’s beginning in 2019 until 2017.
By his own account, upon looking back at his House of Mouse accomplishments and their prominence within the company, Mr. Iger smiles wide when he thinks about the opening of Shanghai Disneyland and about making the Black Panther movie.
Mr. Iger says he’s not a “second-guesser,” that he doesn’t have any real regrets over his time with Disney.
“I love the fact that I exceeded people’s expectations,” he said. “There are a lot of things I’m pleased with as I leave this job; I think I surprised myself too.”
As with most things that have yet to befall us–good, bad, or indifferent, as a Disney fan and lover of all things Walt, Mickey, Imagineering, and the parks, etc. (and simply as a consumer, for that matter), I don’t have 1000% confidence in the hands to which Mr. Iger has had to pass the proverbial torch. But to be fair, I don’t know that there exists a person to whom I’d personally trust the Disney empire. Too much magic at stake.
And to be 1000% fair, even a new CEO savant with an unsurpassed acumen for the creative process who simultaneously has a gift for being able to please 100% of the people 100% of the time would likely still find the shoes with which he or she was tasked to fill in this position–namely those of Mr. Iger–an exceptionally difficult fit.
Mr. Iger was just that good at what he did under the title of Disney CEO, and only time will tell if another will grow into those shoes.
Disney has undergone a climate of change with Mr. Iger at the helm since 2005, but “change” can be a very good thing. A “change” in thinking led Walt Disney to build a massive theme park where families could experience and enjoy together, as he wasn’t satisfied with the old status quo, which left parents on the sidelines at attractions while children endured activities sans Mom and Dad.
A “change” in ownership from a glorified sole proprietorship (Mr. George Lucas) to the Disney family of companies led to the creation and development of scores of new characters, stories, and films from a galaxy far, far away, not to mention the planet Batuu. Can you imagine a world without Baby Grogu and The Mandalorian, not to mention that because of Disney, I was finally able to prove to my brother that my theory about Boba Fett escaping that sarlac pit wasn’t pie in the sky after all.
A “change” for Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang breathed new life into the Muppets, which many fear would have died with Mr. Jim Henson otherwise.
A “change” in the perception of theme park entertainment led to massive, magical and exciting expansions and vibrant new lands at the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks and at Disney Parks all around the globe. Remember Disney World before the Flight of Passage attraction? Before the Seven Dwarfs attraction? Without Be Our Guest Restaurant? Without Andy’s backyard? Without Chewie, R2D2, Star Tours, Rise of the Resistance, and the undeniable presence of the Dark Side?
Me neither. And years ago, I thought those changes would sully the magic. But they’ve largely added to it. It goes without saying that Mr. Iger wasn’t swinging a hammer at The World of Pandora, and he wasn’t responsible for placing the gems inside the Seven Dwarfs’ mine cave. Mr. Iger had no hands-on part in choosing what goes into a bowl at Satul’i Canteen, and no one secured written permission from him before moving forward with the decision to use Scrabble tiles to spell “Restrooms” at Toy Story Land.
Each was a task dreamed up and carried out by individuals within the Walt Disney Company. But Iger’s influence continually infused the climate and culture of the company, and greatness, ingenuity and the celebration of creative license, like everything else at the top, trickle down.
I for one am grateful for Mr. Iger’s affinity for evolving technology and his ability and willingness to find creative ways of applying it across The Walt Disney Comapny’s many endeavors. I am thankful for his business prowess, for his foresight, for his abilities as a visionary, and for his knack for using all of those superpowers to grow Disney and somehow grow the Magic as well.
I have always held Walt Disney in such high regard, that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put anyone on the same proverbial shelf with him. He was a visionary against which the concepts of genius and creativity should be measured.
But I’ll say that Robert A. Iger has relentlessly exemplified his own brand of vision and creativity that I believe Walt would have applauded. I think they would have worked very well together. Additionally, Mr. Iger has always had the business know-how that gave him–and Disney’s many offerings and endeavors–an upper hand.
Perhaps Mr. Iger has a little Walt AND a little Roy in him.
In response to Mr. Iger’s confession that he will miss Disney, I will say Disney fans like me will miss him and his influence across Disney dearly. Here’s hoping that successors realize the value of their predecessors, and that they will glean from that creative, outside-the-box, cutting-edge, and visionary way of doing things so that we never lose sight of one thing: that it all started with a mouse, and with a man devoted to building something that feels magical every time we experience it, no matter how old we get.
So thank you, Mr. Iger. Godspeed and God bless you in 1000% of your future endeavors, and may the Magic never elude you.