Disney CEO Bob Iger talks career highlights, retirement ahead of memoir release

PHOTO: Nightline€ co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book "The Ride of a Lifetime," his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing.PlayJeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
WATCH Bob Iger on his defining moments as Disney CEO

In the nearly 14 years since he became CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger has transformed the company into a $239 billion empire through landmark deals that have produced blockbusters like "Avengers: Endgame" and "Toy Story 4."

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In his new memoir, "The Ride of a Lifetime," Iger talks about the core values that he has carried with him as he navigated his way through the ranks of corporate media. After briefly trying his hand as a weatherman for a local TV station in Ithaca, New York, Iger got his big break in 1974 at age 23, when he was hired as a studio supervisor making only $150 a week for ABC.

ABC's offices opened at 8 a.m., Iger said.

"I showed up at 7 [a.m.] and I sat on a park bench ... waiting for people to show up for work," he said. "I did not have a particularly unique background, intelligence — whatever — but I worked hard, and in some cases, I could outwork everybody else."

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC and ABC News.

PHOTO: Nightlines co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book The Ride of a Lifetime, his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing. Jeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
Nightline's co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book "The Ride of a Lifetime," his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing.

In one chapter, titled "Innovate or Die," Iger speaks about the importance of taking risks. "It begins with being bold," he said. "This world today is so unpredictable and moving so fast — baby steps don't work."

Under Iger's leadership, Disney has acquired several high-profile companies, including Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and, most recently, 21st Century Fox. With the launch of Disney+ in November, the company is now taking a bold step into the streaming marketplace.

In some ways, Iger credits his upbringing, during which his father struggled with manic depression, for allowing him to learn empathy.

"There was a lot of unpredictability at home. Never any time that I felt endangered in any way, but [I] was clearly aware of him being in a very, very dark place — a tough mood — and having trouble really communicating with us because of that," Iger said. "I think managing people starts with the ability to put yourself in their shoes and being empathetic."

PHOTO: Nightlines co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book The Ride of a Lifetime, his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing. Jeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
"Nightline's co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book "The Ride of a Lifetime," his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing.

As he moved up within ABC, Iger was behind some of the network's biggest shows, like "NYPD Blue," "America's Funniest Home Videos" and the cult classic, "Twin Peaks."

When he became CEO in 2005, his first goal was to save Disney's ailing animation division. He worked to acquire the computer animation company Pixar, but first had to repair Disney's relationship with the late Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who had also bought Pixar in 1986. Iger was successful in this endeavor, acquiring Pixar in 2006.

"[Jobs] must have just seen something that he liked and was different," Iger said. "He trusted that Pixar would be in good hands at Disney."

Jobs died in 2011 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, but Iger said that if he were still alive, there could have possibly been a merger between Disney and Apple.

"He used to say that the intersection of liberal arts and technology made made his heart sing," Iger said. "So, my musing in the book is that he would have ultimately concluded that. Apple getting more into the creative business would have been a good thing, and I think the first person and company he would have turned to would have been Disney."

Although these plans never panned out, Iger's relationship with Jobs showed other companies that Iger could pull off high-profile acquisitions successfully, and in the following years, he would secure other deals. In 2009, Disney acquired comics giant Marvel Entertainment for $7.4 billion; in 2012, it acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion; and in 2018, it finalized its acquisition of 21st Century Fox.

Nightline?� co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book The Ride of a Lifetime,?� his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing. Jeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
"Nightline"?� co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book "The Ride of a Lifetime,"?� his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing.

Iger has had many proud moments with Disney — which has seen a 400% increase in net income since he started as CEO — as he has worked to build up the company. On the record-breaking film "Black Panther," he said there are a "handful of days that I will remember for the rest of my life."

"I knew that we had something really special here, not just as a quality film and story, but something that actually could change the world," Iger said. "There was a skepticism about a movie like that, particularly with a predominantly black cast resonating around the world. Yet, it did."

"I think too many people rely on history and experience," he added. "It's much more exhilarating and much more important to believe what you believe is right and actually follow those instincts — follow your heart and gut."

He also spoke about criticism over his nearly $66 million a year salary.

"We obviously have to care deeply about our employees because it all starts from them," he said. "They create the value for the company and for the customer. We've created a lot of [opportunities] for the people who work for us, and we also compensate them well in the form of just annual compensation and other benefits."

Iger said he's also tried to create a work environment for employees where they can feel comfortable in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and spoke about his own experience during which he said a co-worker crossed the line earlier in his career.

PHOTO: Nightline€ co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book The Ride of a Lifetime, his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing. Jeff Neira/Walt Disney Television
Nightline€ co-anchor Juju Chang and Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Robert Iger discuss his book "The Ride of a Lifetime," his career at The Walt Disney Company and his personal upbringing.

"I was a very low-level production person on the evening news and I had to go into a control room to ask whether we had to shoot parts of the show again, and there was a producer," he said. "I think I asked him, 'How does it look?' And he unzipped his pants. He said, 'I don't know. You tell me how it looks.'"

"It is telling in the sense that if it could happen to me … that it has happened way too often, and you have to create an environment where ... it is thoroughly unacceptable to behave that way."

Now 68 years old and with three of his four kids away at college, Iger said he plans to officially retire in December 2021. He said he hopes his legacy will be leaving the company in "good hands" and "to just bring the world happiness and entertainment, and a sense of well-being that I think it truly needs."