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DIsney’s old, then new once again CEO Bob Iger arrived early for all of his meetings throughout the day, including the 2023 TIME100 cover photo on a staging at the studio complex. Like he does with all of Disney’s intellectual assets, from Thor to Mickey, he carefully controlled the photo shoot, making sure he knew what photographer Paola Kudacki intended while also making sure it matched his own goals of not seeming weird.

That was possibly even more impressive considering that Iger, 72, is already in the uncomfortable position of taking over again as CEO of the firm after his hand-picked successor, Bob Chapek, only served for a little over three years. Following a meeting in which Chapek failed to strike the right tone to inform shareholders that Disney had lost billions more than anticipated on its new streaming service, he was fired. Also, it followed a political dispute in Florida and a commotion inside the studio over the distribution of power.

Iger had just finished a string of wins on the day of the shoot. When he regained control as CEO of Disney, the company’s stock price has increased 9% after declining 44% in the previous 12 months. Ike Perlmutter, the executive who sold him Marvel, one of his most valuable assets, but who had recently turned into a pain in his side, was among those he had cut in a series of cuts. And Disney was in the news for outwitting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who had been attempting to curtail the media behemoth’s influence in his state by appointing new officials to a local council that Disney had previously led. However, DeSantis discovered the council had previously divested itself of all authority after Disney had run the council. And it wasn’t even nine in the morning.

In an interview, Iger discussed how he is leading Disney through this very different chapter of its history, where he gets guidance, and whether he feels influential.

How astonished are you to be back in charge of Disney?
astonished to the core. It wasn’t anything I had planned to do. Yet I must say that I’m glad to be here.

What do you currently regard as your main duty at the company?
I was returned for a purpose. A global epidemic had made a challenging time for the corporation even worse. More than anything else, the business need consistency and the capacity to identify objectives and pay attention to them. The only way to achieve success is to identify the chances and then set up your team and business to take advantage of them.

Many media organisations are currently going through resource reallocation processes that are similarly tumultuous to Disney’s. Do you think someone is keeping an eye on you to see how you manage them?
Indeed, I do. In this business, there is no such thing as being unobserved. And even though I am aware of that, it doesn’t really change the way I lead or act.

Are you looking for somebody who has carried out a similar action?
Steve Jobs is the person I admire most because I had the chance to pay close attention to him. His return to the business he started was under quite different conditions. Yet when I did chat with him and consider his experiences, I learned a lot from it. One is that you must accept your return with unbridled enthusiasm and without a shred of hesitancy when you are brought back. Then, you must rapidly understand what you are expected to accomplish and what you are capable of accomplishing. then attack it with unwavering resolve, unwavering zeal, and unwavering energy.

Was “yes” your first response when asked?
I wasn’t thinking about it at the time. I had been absent for about 11 months of the year. A conversation with me was scheduled by Disney’s board chairman. My wife Willow Bay quickly inquired about the nature of the call when I told her about it. They’re probably not going to ask you back, she replied, I believe. I then responded, “Well, what if they do?” And she gave an instant “Yes” in response. I have such admiration for her instincts that when the chairman of our board called and asked me to return, I said yes without a second thought. There are some things I felt I wanted to specify. Yet, it was a hasty choice.

How much of how you’re handling these challenges right now comes from instinct and how much from experience?
Without a doubt, both. I served as the business’s CEO for fifteen years and executive chairman for two. I also spent five years as [COO]. I’m also well aware of how different the environment is now. Even during the year I was away, circumstances have changed. You must be able to adjust fast, which is a skill you develop over time as a leader.

You have to reduce Disney’s annual budget by $5.5 billion, among other things. Is there any opportunity for creativity during that process?
We came up with the $5.5 billion figure because we believed it to be not only attainable but essential to the company’s financial success. Although though cutting expenses isn’t everyone’s favourite task, it is frequently required, especially as circumstances change. Yet in many ways, it does require discipline, attention, and perhaps a sense of urgency, which I believe can lead to resourcefulness and a focus on what is possible and required rather than necessarily innovation.

In keeping with your distinctive management approach, you reorganised the company such that creators had a lot more control. Why do you think creative people are adept at determining things like advertising revenue and distribution channels?
Nothing makes me more certain than the choice we took and the necessity of linking accountability—and to some extent, control—over the operational part of our organisation with the creative side. If you are the manager of creativity, you must be fully responsible for the outcomes of the creativity you are managing, not just in terms of revenue generation but also in terms of how much you spend on the things you create and how much it costs to market them—not just in terms of distribution costs but also marketing costs. A very well defined and very concrete feedback loop is among the things that are most crucial for those managing creativity.

You recently made headlines by letting go of key executives, including Ike Perlmutter, the salesman for Marvel. Do you personally handle those?
Both at times and other others, I don’t take it personally. I’d prefer not to go into further depth on this one. This was an essential step in our process of becoming a more effective business. Redundancy existed that was unique to the way Marvel was run.

So there was no influence from Perlmutter’s campaign to get [activist shareholder] Nelson Peltz on the board?
In any case, this choice would have been made.

The future of Hulu and if Disney will acquire it are two of the most important decisions you must make. A deadline is drawing near. What factors are you taking into account as you make that choice?
Around two thirds of Hulu is owned by us, and the other one-third is owned by Comcast, who has the legal right to sell their portion to us and compel us to buy them out. We will be forced to buy them out if they want to do it.

Disney’s attempt to make the most of its resources includes making its franchises last longer. How can the goose that lays the golden egg not be killed?
The real solution is to keep feeding it with fantastic innovation, especially storytelling, and to truly not underinvest in those. Also, it is important to honour the past while simultaneously fully being able and willing to modernise in some way. This reflects the knowledge that, although some stories endure the test of time, some don’t. To preserve brand, character, and franchise relevance, you must be exceptionally skilled at being able to “read the room,” as it were, or the world.

You’re still talking about ambitious spending on creativity during a time when spending needs to be reduced.
If you look at the cuts we’re making, you’ll see that they’re intended to put the correct amount of money into exceptional ideas. The more money you can spend on what is most essential, the more effective your business management skills are. It’s quality and innovation in this scenario.

What factors inform the way you select Disney’s output?
Even if we want to keep producing shows that don’t necessarily align with one of our primary brands, we should definitely produce fewer of them. Curation, in my opinion, is a good thing because it likely makes us more disciplined in terms of quality. Usually, the more you produce, the lower the quality will be. And we want to go the other way.

Therefore, fewer larger things?
not always more substantial. Better: fewer.

Both Disney and TIME have been in business for 100 years. You’ve spent a lot of time working for Disney. Do you think people will still have the option of doing business as usual in the future, or are things changing?
My realisation that I’ve been employed by this organisation for half of its life has caused me to pause for a moment. I was extraordinarily fortunate to begin working for a firm and in an industry that, over the span of the five decades I was there, underwent incredible growth and expansion. I didn’t need to change jobs or even switch industries in order to have more options. The question, in my opinion, is not whether a person plans to stay for a long time or not, but rather whether the organisation they work for and the industry they are in offer them the prospects they anticipated for their own selves and for their lives.

Can a business be changed while maintaining its values?
In my opinion, if you looked at successful businesses over time and tried to understand why some endured while others did not, you would rapidly come to the conclusion that the majority of businesses failed because their founding principles had been abandoned. They separate themselves from the core of who they were in order to remain relevant. There is a method to fully uphold the same principles while communicating them to the public, your clients, and your staff in significantly more effective ways.

Speaking of values, I find it interesting that although Disney decided to remove Marvel characters from poker machines, ESPN spent $250 million in sports betting company DraftKings. Is Disney interested in making investments in the gaming industry?
Actually, no. ESPN is interested in finding a means to allow its customers to partake in sports betting while watching sports on television, mobile devices, or other platforms without having to stop watching entirely. In essence, it aims to enhance involvement.

You don’t seem really ecstatic about it.
I think for a long time I was more on the cautious side with this. But I’ve changed because I believe that sports betting has become much more accepted. And I want to make sure that the business keeps providing excellent customer service without us actually, I believe, separating ourselves from values because we aren’t the ones placing the bets. Just providing links to businesses that do that is all we’re doing. It’s not a problem, in my opinion.

How did you spend your initial paycheck?
You must realise that I began in 1974. I received checks every two weeks for my salary, which was, I believe, $150 per week. I received the equivalent of a $300 check. My monthly rent in New York City was $300. Thus, I always paid my rent using one of my checks. I was required to live there. I don’t remember what I did with it, other than the fact that I had to spend every single dollar I earned in order to survive.

What would you have them do if you could persuade only one individual to accomplish something?
I would make an effort to persuade myself to unwind a little more.

Without questioning you about the situation in Florida, I simply cannot let this conversation come to a close. Do you have Ron DeSantis’ checkmate?
Just over 50 years ago, Disney World first opened. The transformation of swampland in Central Florida into an enterprise that employs over 75,000 people, receives tens of millions of visitors each year, is a major tourist destination in the United States and for the state of Florida, and generates enormous value for our company, its employees, and for the state of Florida itself was Walt Disney’s vision and dream. It was likely the most ambitious thing he ever did. In Florida, producing that value for all of those groups is our one objective. All we want is a connection to the state that lets us keep doing it. We have the resources and the motivation to continue making investments there in order to expand that business so that we can recruit more staff, boost attendance, and, in general, create more value for the Walt Disney Company and the state of Florida. It’s that easy.

You tend to be lot more of a let’s sit down and work through our differences and much less of a let’s go to the mattresses person. Is it impossible to arrange a meeting with the governor?
I don’t think we should be throwing in the towel right now. Of course, I would be happy to meet with the governor of Florida to talk about all of this. There is no reason why I wouldn’t respect our elected leaders and the authority they possess; after all, I’ve always done that.

The search for a new Disney CEO is one of your current tasks. What will be changed about the search?
It’s not just one of my tasks, though; the board has made it its top priority. They often get together to discuss the attributes we should be searching for and potential candidates. It is not only a priority in light of the recent events, but it will also receive more time, attention, and emphasis than it did in the past. We’ve always considered it to be a significant choice. But because I won’t be around indefinitely and because we’ve had some problems lately, it’s garnering more attention than in the past.

Addendum: April 13

One of Bob Iger’s positions during his time at Disney was incorrect in the original version of this story. For five years, he was COO rather than CFO.