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Juiciest Takeaways From Bob Iger’s NYT Chat: Murdoch Drama, Executive Diversity and Female Directors

Matt Donnelly

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Bob Iger’s forthcoming memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime” is by all means a reflection on the Disney CEO’s long career, but a Sunday interview discussing the project saw him touch on some hot topics surrounding the media company.

A lack of diversity in Disney’s C-suite, complaints over his compensation, Lucasfilm’s track record in hiring women movie directors and Murdoch family drama during the Fox acquisition all came up in a roving chat between Iger and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

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Seemingly conducted over several conversations, held in locales like a chauffeured BMW and behind the scenes at Disneyland’s new Star Wars attraction, here are some top takeaways:

Iger 2020?

The CEO’s mulling of a possible presidential run has been reported on for years. There were two factors in his decision not to pursue the notion, the story purports. First, Iger’s wife Willow Bay — who Dowd goes out of her way to remind readers was an Estee Lauder model, though she currently serves as dean of the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism — “hates the idea,” Iger recalled.

Second, Iger told Dowd, was a feeling that Democrats would not warm to him.

“I think the Democratic Party would brand me as just another rich guy who’s out of touch with America,” Iger said, “who doesn’t have any sense for what’s good for the plight of the people.”

But like any good Disney-owned Marvel Studios film, there’s a post-credits scene in the interview when Dowd asks if he’ll run in 2024.

“I don’t know that I have it in me,” Iger said, vaguely.

Executive Diversity and Inclusion: “I’ll change that before I leave.”

Dowd applauded recent strides that Disney has made in onscreen representation, via Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel,” but noted the majority white and male executive leadership at the company (in fairness, Disney’s board of directors is more diverse than the in-house ranks).

Though Iger defended the hires “one level down” from the C-suite, he admitted his direct reports were “lacking” in gender and racial parity.

“I’ll change that before I leave,” he said, referring to his contract expiration in 2021.

“Shakespearean” Murdoch Drama

Rupert Murdoch and his family creep into Dowd’s piece to tantalizing effect, and not solely in regards to Disney’s historic acquisition of 20th Century Fox this year.

The anecdote about Bay’s distaste for Iger’s presidential run was revealed over a glass of wine at Murdoch’s Bel Air mansion, overlooking the News Corp owner’s private vineyard. Iger said he suspected Murdoch was curious about his political ambitions so he could inform President Trump of a pending threat.

“He barely has poured his glass of Sauvignon Blanc and he asks me the question,” Iger told the NYT. “At that point, I was thinking about it. I didn’t really want to tell him. So I was dismissive.”

When Iger and Dowd did turn to mergers and acquisitions, Iger remembered Murdoch as “crazed” when Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012. At that point, 20th Century Fox film had distributed the Star Wars films, and Iger said Murdoch internally raged at his own stable of executives, asking “Why didn’t you think of this?”

In 2018, when Disney thwarted Comcast by offering over $71 billion for Fox’s film and TV assets, Iger hinted at some interesting interpersonal dynamics between Rupert and sons Lachlan and James. While Iger declined to speak about “the Shakespearean drama” of the family, he suggests that jobs for both Lachlan and James at Disney and their specific relationship to one another came into play, but “never to a point where it got in the way of us doing what we wanted to do and Rupert doing what he wanted to do.” Cue the “Succession” theme song.

Dowd also brought up Disney’s most recent earnings call, which many interpreted as a blow to the newly-ingested Fox entities and the leaders behind, mostly due to the string of film flops Disney inherited.

“It wasn’t a slap-down,” Iger said of the call. “It was an admission that the movies that they had made failed. And I actually gave then a tremendous amount of cover by saying that when companies are bought, processes and decision making can come to a halt.”

The Force is Female?

Dowd grazes a painful point of criticism in the world of Star Wars, that Lucasfilm is seemingly happy to be led by a powerful female producer in Kathleen Kennedy but will not put a woman in the director’s chair on one of the films.

Iger defers to Kennedy, and said she is “trying really hard’” to make it happen.

The Abigail Moment

In April, corporate heiress and philanthropist Abigail Disney dropped a few jaws when she called Iger’s 2018 salary “insane.”

He amassed $65.6 million in base pay and bonuses, helped greatly by the $26.3 million in stock he accepted to extend his contract and help with Fox transition. Abigail Disney took issue with Iger’s pay ratio being over 1,000 times that of an average Disney employee.

“We’re trying really hard to find solutions to the challenges and the problems that our employees are facing today,” Iger said. “We’re going to come up with dozens of more solutions that we’re going to try to help improve their lives, and if they don’t work, we’re going to find dozens more. We have to be better.”

The Iger Cocktail

Memoirs of this caliber, and their subsequent pre-release interviews, usually pack some delicious details that help build the myth of an American business titan. The Dowd piece has plenty.

For starters, his daily uniform is simple but luxurious: Tom Ford suits and shirts (no tie), John Lobb shoes and a Rolex Daytona (which, brand new, retails at around $12,500 to start). He wakes before dawn and retrieves gym clothes laid out the night before, so the light from his closet does not wake Bay. He exercises on a VersaClimb machine.

Iger is described as early for every meeting. His affability is so notorious, Dowd says, she describes it as a “cult of nice.” Moguls like David Geffen and Barry Diller are quoted, in frank disbelief, that no one in Hollywood can find a bad thing to say about him.

He reads Twitter (but is happy Disney didn’t buy it) and Instagram (he follows Geffen and the many candid photos from his yacht Rising Sun, like the rest of us do). Iger also enjoys the occasional drink. He and Dowd had one at a bar, based on the famous Star Wars canteen in Disneyland, called the Jedi Mind Trick.

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