Iger became Disney’s CEO in 2005, following a rough five years for the company that included a hostile takeover attempt, a shareholder revolt, and a battle with two prominent board members. High on his agenda was ending the internal warfare and winning back employees’ enthusiasm and admiration. He also needed to help the company see technology as an opportunity rather than a threat and to strike the right balance between tradition and innovation. It was time, for example, to move on to computer-generated animation—and even to update the bland Mickey Mouse, who was originally meant to be impish and irreverent. (Donald Duck filled that role after Mickey became a corporate symbol and a role model for kids.)
Iger is a strong believer in taking big risks, in being accessible, and in paying attention to one’s instincts. He’s driven by challenges, as an early experience shows: At the age of 23 he was told by his boss that he wasn’t promotable. He believes that a CEO’s role involves determining strategy; establishing ethics for the company, its employees, and its products; and hiring and motivating great people.
In this edited interview with HBR’s editor in chief, Iger talks about executive compensation, the changing nature of stock ownership, Disney’s use of social media, and the company’s new theme park in Shanghai.