Disney CEO Bob Iger’s 5 Strategies For Taking Risks And Coming Out On Top

Perhaps no CEO is under more fire at the moment than Bob Iger. As actors and screenwriters strike, the well-compensated Disney head has become something of a whipping boy in the mainstream press. Whether or not that status is deserved is another matter, but here we look at some business advice from the man who has run the Walt Disney Company since 2005 (not including a two-year break before being asked back).

1. “No one wants to follow a pessimist. … You can be skeptical, you can be realistic, but you can’t be cynical.”

In carrying out a vision for the company, a CEO has to be optimistic. In an interview with CNBC’s Jim Cramer around the release of his 2019 memoir The Ride of Lifetime, Iger said, “I remember as a kid seeing WWII movies and you’d have some captain or lieutenant or officer of some sort saying, ‘OK, we’re going over this hill, come on fellas.’ If that guy is a pessimist, who’s going to go over the hill with him? I think if you equate that to business, it’s in many respects somewhat similar.”

2. “You have to take the time to study; you have to know the issues, the facts.″

According to the Disney CEO, thoughtfulness is the root of other leadership qualities, like openness, fairness and a respect for diversity. “You need to really want to learn about new things,” he said during a talk at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, according to cnbc.com. “You must listen to a diversity of opinions and surround yourself with a diversity of people. No. 1, the decision will be right. Second, it will be listened to. Third, it will be respected more. You won’t be shooting from the hip.”

3. “I’m a big believer in taking chances, particularly in a business where it is very dynamic and changing before our eyes, a lot led by digital technology.”

On his second day as CEO, he presented the Disney board with a bold proposition—to buy Pixar, then the world’s most successful animation company. Under Iger, Disney went on to acquire Marvel and Lucasfilm, making the company the biggest entertainment conglomerate in the world. Of course, he also infamously green-lit Cop Rock. “My role as CEO and leader demands I set direction and standards and act as a catalyst,” Iger said. “For risk-taking and change, and great quality and experimentation.”

4. “Experience is not always right.”

Corporations often play it safer when it comes to hiring decisions than business decisions. But emphasizing experience over vision and intelligence can be detrimental to growth and innovation. “I’m the product of a couple of bosses who took real chances, who put me in jobs I had no experience in whatsoever,” Iger says. “That taught me a great lesson.”

5. “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo.”

The temptation for a company is to hold on to what it already has. But with insurgents taking risks, incumbents like Disney have to act like mavericks themselves to stay on top of and ahead of the game. This strategy has led Iger to take more risks, like putting ESPN content on its wireless app and acquiring Maker, a producer of YouTube videos, for $500 million. “Insurgents are great at taking risks,” Iger says. “You have to behave more like them.”

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