Book review #Twelve of 2021: Robert Iger – The ride of a Lifetime

Lessons in creative leadership from the CEO of Walt Disney company

The book reads like an autobiography of Robert Iger – one of the most successful CEOs in the world.  Robert Iger deserves a lot of respect given he has been successful in steering a company of the size and legacy of Disney. The Media sector has seen unprecedented disruption in terms of delivery of content and Disney has been able to successfully disrupt its own traditional distribution to pave way for Disney+ and be a valid alternative to Netflix, prime, etc.

The story of Robert’s rise is fascinating. While the success rate of acquisitions is generally poor, he was able to execute multiple high-ticket acquisitions like Pixar, Miramax, and Lucas films and the latest being 21st-century fox.  The book details the path Disney took and how he was able to execute and integrate multiple acquisitions.

Disney and Ronnie – A failed bet

Disney in India however, I think made a colossal mistake by investing in UTV of Ronnie Screwvala at astronomical valuations. While the acquisition of Hungama channel made sense, the acquisition of UTV was more of its own inability to build an Indian film studio. What Disney India did not realize was that Ronnie was a craftsman in creating new business and disposing of them at rich valuations based on potential despite low profitability.  Many Disney employees would openly share with me later, that everybody realizes UTV investment was a big mistake, but nobody talks about it. Ronnie Screwvala was a master at telling stories and would try multiple things to woo analysts for research coverage. This included fully paid trips to Japan for understanding video gaming. I am not sure anybody remembers the mobile gaming division of UTV.

Star India – Disney’s Best bet for India

The acquisition of 21st Century FOX, however, has given Disney a formidable position in India with Star India and Hotstar.  Also, Disney has been smart in recognizing the true value potential of STAR India and the talent at star India and elevated Uday Shankar to the role of president of Walt Disney Asia.  Uday Shankar’s journey has been that of the meteoric rise and off risk-taking which defined the way of Star India. Many seniors team at star India would regularly tell me that it’s a crime at star India to not fail/take risks.  

3 Key thoughts from Robert’s career:

  • Be relentless in pursuit of perfection. 
  • Take risks and fail rather than not fail at all. Fear of failure destroys creativity.


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