The Ride of a Lifetime

2 mins

Robert Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime gives us a rare insight into what it means to head up the “happiest place on Earth”—as CEO of the Walt Disney Company for 15 years between 2005 to 2020.

Iger’s book is a memoir of his professional career, split up in two parts—learning (where he works up from the bottom rung) and leading.

He shares various lessons from his long and successful career (at least from a shareholder’s perspective). We start with Iger at the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and then Walt Disney, which acquired ABC. Like a fly on the wall, you get to observe the inner workings of complex organisations and their decisions.

Iger is the classic example of an intrapreneur who thrives in complexity. Some of his more interesting stories touch on the following themes:

  • How to be persuasive in showing that you’re the best person for the job, especially when you’ve spent a great deal of time under someone else’s shadow.
  • What is value and how do you price it? This features in the many stories of the Walt Disney Company acquiring company after company, starting with Pixar. This would be of interest to anyone (particularly M&A lawyers) who want to understand the business strategy side of things, what acquirers think about when acquiring, and so on.
  • Effective leadership involves empathy, decisiveness, fairness (and a long list which Iger provides).

It’s immediately obvious that Iger is passionate about what he does from the get-go. He alludes to a punishing work schedule, which includes getting into the office before most people. One of his more outlandish days involved participating in a triathlon which involved waking up at 4am. If that wasn’t enough, he later headed to a high-stakes interview with the Board that would decide on whether he would become the next Walt Disney CEO. If this book had another title, it would probably be called “Memoirs of a Workaholic”.

Less emphasis is placed on the cost of success within an intensely competitive environment. They include time spent away from family on business trips, personal sacrifices, and panic attacks. I wish Iger had spent a bit more time talking about some of these personal sacrifices. Unfortunately, the second half of the book felt like living in a perpetual M&A zone.

The Ride of a Lifetime is ultimately a story from one person’s perspective of events. On the upside, Iger has a bigger dose of empathy than most other large-organisation types. On the whole, many of the examples in Iger’s book were not something that I found entirely inspiring—given its dogged focus on the acquisition and corporatisation of value rather than fostering creativity from the ground up, and the general sentiment that overworking = good. This aside, there is still something for everyone. Some of the leadership / management lessons in Iger’s neat, handy list is something you might want to pick up this book for.

Personally, I preferred Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull about the Pixar journey or Shoe Dog by Phil Knight on the twists and turns of founding Nike.