The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company
Written By James King
4 min read
In The Ride of a Lifetime, former Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger gives an insight into a distinguished career that saw him rise from an entry-level job at American Broadcasting Company (ABC) to becoming the head of one of the world’s most famous corporations. Iger draws on his wide-ranging experiences to compile the following ten principles for successful leadership, citing numerous examples from his career to elaborate on their importance in his success.
Summary of main ideas
Optimism: “If you walk up and down the hall constantly telling people ‘The sky is falling,’ a sense of doom and gloom will, over time, permeate the company. You can’t communicate pessimism to the people around you. It’s ruinous to morale.”
Courage: “If you want innovation, you need to grant permission to fail.”
Focus: “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.” (quoting Iger’s former boss Dan Berg).
Decisiveness: “There is never 100% certainty.”
Curiosity: “The path to innovation begins with curiosity.”
Fairness: “This doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations... it means you create an environment where people know you will hear them out... and that they will be given second chances for honest mistakes.”
Thoughtfulness: “Long shots aren’t normally as long as they seem.”
Authenticity: “A little respect goes a long way and the absence of it can be costly.”
Relentless Pursuit of Perfectionism: “It’s a mindset...it’s not about perfectionism at all costs, it’s about creating an environment in which people refuse to accept mediocrity.”
Integrity: “True integrity, a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong is a kind of secret leadership weapon. If you trust your own instincts and treat people with respect, the company will come to represent the values you live by.”
Particularly fascinating insights come through his descriptions of handling important relationships.
For example, he devotes a lot of time to describing the influence of the legendary head of ABC’s Sports and News departments Roone Arledge who served as a demanding mentor before ultimately working for Iger, who had risen rapidly through the ranks to increasingly senior positions. Iger’s description of how he coaxed a last great project from an initially reluctant Arledge (ABC’s Millenium coverage) through a combination of firmness and sensitivity is a superb insight into the importance of emotional intelligence when leading others.
Other highlights include descriptions of Iger’s close relationship with Steve Jobs and his exploration of the complexities involved with being acquired by and then later acquiring other companies.
“True integrity, a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong is a kind of secret leadership weapon.”
How this book can help you
The ten principles of leadership are a great framework for anyone who finds themselves responsible for other people. But the underlying takeaway comes from Iger’s emphasis on the importance of consistently doing the ‘right thing’, even when the short term consequence is negative. By following his principles, acting with humility and treating those around him with respect, Iger was able to build a hugely successful career while maintaining a clear conscience. Iger also identified and executed on three core focus areas as he became CEO of Disney:
- Increase the amount of high-quality branded content
- Advance technologically
- Grow globally His explanation about how he landed on this approach provides a great lesson in the power of taking the time to create a thoughtful strategy and then sticking to it, rather than constantly reacting to events.
Some good further reading/watching/listening
Where to get it
About the author
Robert Iger enjoyed a long and successful career working for ABC Group and Walt Disney Corporation, culminating in a 15-year stint as Chairman and CEO. In his time at Disney, Iger oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. He was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in January 2020.
Penguin Random House LLC
September 23, 2019
Want to Build an
Effective Reading Habit?
Subscribe to our sporadic newsletter
and we will send you a pdf guide:
How to Build an Effective
Reading Habit in 2021.