When you have the opportunity to get an intimate peek into the minds of business leaders like Michael Eisner, Steve Jobs, and Robert Iger in one compelling read—that’s a difficult book to put down.

With its acquisitions of ABC, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox, Disney is now an unparalleled creative and content behemoth. Except for the ABC deal, these difficult acquisitions were closed under Robert Iger’s personal initiative.

Robert Iger tracks his 45 years to the helm of The Walt Disney Company in this story-rich, revelatory autobiographical narrative. The master dealmaker describes how he navigated the sunset era of traditional media to lead Disney into the digital age.

During the reading I stumbled upon a few contrarian management thoughts, some overt and others predicated by my own bias.

1. Micromanagement is underrated – Michael Eisner

Eisner was considered a micromanager by some.

Yet, from 1984-1994 he turned around the waning fortunes of Disney. Eisner led the Disney acquisition of ABC. He quadrupled the annual profits of the company. Under his leadership, the Disney stock price increased 1300%, during that same decade.

The management echo-chamber of today constantly derides micromanagement at the risk of encouraging under-management. This is not to state that micromanagement is a good thing. More on this in the next point.

2. Sweat the small stuff

Walter Isaacson’s autobiography of Steve Jobs consistently messages Job’s attention to detail. Similarly, Iger talks about how he learned about obsessing over details from Eisner. As Iger summarizes and both Jobs and Eisner knew—great stuff is a collection of the small stuff. 

Putting the above two viewpoints together, it is clear they overlap. I guess it all comes down to balance. A good leader ought to know the difference between micromanagement and ‘abdication management’.

Iger provides an actionable insight in striving for that balance. Since an obsession with perfection is what often leads to micromanagement, he advises facilitating an environment where mediocrity is unacceptable, instead of focusing on perfection.

3. Good leaders are not perfect

I’ve previously read that we love to build our leaders and then tear them down. I guess the increased scrutiny comes with any leadership territory and Eisner was not immune to it. His many achievements were not sufficient to prevent his ouster from Disney.

The book illustrates how paranoia, pessimism, and insecurities can interrupt even the most successful careers. Reinforcing the fact that change is the only certainty, no matter where you are in life. In the end, the battle is in your head.

Growth is the journey and the reward.

4. Trust your gut, not just numbers

This, I think, many of us struggle with. Especially those among us who increasingly rely on data to make business decisions. While I find data reliance to generally be a good strategy, it does come with its limits. And Robert Iger drives home this message with a couple of surprising business examples during the course of his telling. And opines that even with the best data and analytics, there is never 100% certainty.

The most interesting parts of the book are the very human stories involving the larger than life personalities that populate the pages. Passages about multi-billion dollar business acquisitions hinging on relationships, George Lucas’ concerns about his legacy, Michael Eisner’s rise and fall at Disney, and Iger’s close relationship with a physically deteriorating Steve Jobs all overlap to weave a humanly rich and engaging narrative.

Iger implies, with good reason that empathy is a crucial factor even in billion-dollar business acquisition plays.

Ride of a Lifetime - Excerpt

Early on in my career as an aspiring animator, I looked up to the nine old men of Disney. In fact, I still hold The Illusion of Life as part of a cherished corpus on animation and Disney-isms.

When I moved on to the world of broadcast media and then to working for a CGI animation pioneer, I was forever inspired by the work of the storytelling geniuses at Pixar and the SFX pioneers at George Lucas’ ILM.

Things seem to have come full circle and I’m now a senior marketing executive helping to build a leading subscription billing SaaS business. It seems apt to check off this book as an insightful and worthy business read coming from perhaps the most effective CEO of The Walt Disney Company.

So much so that it prompted me to end an extended writing hiatus on this blog.

The Disney influence lives on.

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