How do you run a global media empire in 2018? It helps if you start your day early—and shut out the world for at least a little while. That’s the takeaway from a conversation Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger had with presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit on Tuesday.
Goodwin, armed by insights from researching her new book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, pressed Iger to illuminate his morning routine, share how he unwinds, and unpack his ambition, which, the Disney chief assured the audience at the top of the panel, does not include running for president.
Iger said he rises at 4:15 A.M.—and doesn’t rush to his phone. “I create a firewall with technology,” he said. “I like being alone with my own thoughts.” The media executive discussed the impact of early challenges on his life, including his father’s struggles with depression and difficulty holding a job. At age 23, Iger’s first boss told him he wasn’t “promotable,” he said; a bit of managerial misjudgment that seems laughable 44 years and billions of dollars in acquisitions later.
When Goodwin asked Iger about major deals he’s made at Disney, including his 2006 purchase of Pixar and his recent $71.3 billion acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox, Iger explained, “I like taking big risks.” During the conversation, Iger showed footage from Disney’s summer 2019 live-action film, The Lion King, and described the unique process director Jon Favreau is employing to make the update of the 1994 animated classic with virtual-reality tools. Iger said the movie, which he expects to see a finished version of in a few weeks, is “breathtaking.”
At one point, Iger decided to flip the questioning on Goodwin, asking the historian, “It feels as though we’re more polarized than we’ve been since the Civil War. What changes that?” Goodwin agreed with that analysis and said, “Citizens have to start acting. They can’t just wallow.”