Robert Iger, chair and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, visited Penn Tuesday evening to discuss his long history at the company and the work he has done to become the head of Disney.
Hundreds gathered in the Annenberg Center auditorium to hear Iger speak in conversation with Wharton professor Adam Grant as part of the Authors@Wharton speaker series. Iger's new book, "The Ride of A Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of The Walt Disney Company," reached number one on The New York Times bestseller list.
Iger spoke about his role at Disney which involves generating creative content, utilizing the latest technologies in filmmaking, and promoting the expansion of the company into new markets. During his time at Disney, Iger has overseen the acquisition of Pixar, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox, as well as the launch of the first Disney theme park and resort in mainland China, the Shanghai Disney Resort, in 2016.
“We own a lot of storytelling entities," Iger said. "Technology is enabling the storyteller to tell the story to more than just themselves and their families."
Iger said he started off in the entertainment industry as a weatherman, though his initial dream was to be a television anchor.
When asked how he got from that point to his position as Disney CEO, Iger said he did it “through a combination of working hard and never being fearful of the next opportunity that came [his] way.”
“I essentially worked my way up from job to job to job," Iger said. "I’ve lost track of how many."
Iger worked at ABC Sports for 13 years and later became the president of ABC Entertainment. Before assuming his current role, Iger joined the Disney senior management team in 1996, according to the company's website. During Iger’s tenure, The Walt Disney Company has been named one of the “Most Reputable Companies” in America and the world by Forbes Magazine, one of the “World’s Most Respected Companies” by Barron’s, and one of the “Best Places to Launch a Career” by Businessweek Magazine.
When Grant asked him if he had ever experienced a failure that limited his career, Iger said failure was something that he did not let hold him back.
“I never feared failure, but interestingly enough my first boss at ABC told me that I was not promotable," Iger said. "I was 23 at the time. I’ve always been realistic about my talent and my intelligence, but I’ve never been a self-doubter.”
Iger also spoke about Disney’s efforts to promote diversity, both in terms of characters on screen and people working behind the camera.
“We have done a lot of work in that regard and made a lot of progress, particularly when it comes to women directors," he said. "About 40% of our movies over the next 12 to 18 months are directed by women."
Iger said he believes Disney has done a “very good job” with diversity on camera, but said that “there is much more work to be done in the executive ranks and the creative ranks.”
“I think he’s really humble and is a lot funnier than I expected for someone who is running one of the biggest companies in the world,” Wharton senior Allison McGurk said. “I liked how he spoke about empowering Disney’s acquisitions, encouraging them to be more creative, and giving them what is necessary to succeed rather than trying to make more money for Disney."
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