The Ride of a Lifetime – Robert Iger

Title: The Ride of a Lifetime
Author: Robert Iger
Publication Date: 2019
Recommendation Score: 4.5/5

Robert Iger had been the CEO of the Walt Disney Company for 15 years. In his book “The Ride of a Lifetime”, Iger tells his story from humble beginnings to global fame. In hindsight, the author tries to extract some lessons for successful leadership. The book is pleasant to read. Its storytelling is enjoyable. It gives you insights into how the life of a CEO looks like.

I recommend it: enjoy the story and take the lessons with a grain of salt.

Book Review

Leadership is not an exact science, and most books dealing with it are a waste of time. The best thing about “The Ride of a Lifetime” is the no-nonsense approach to leadership; the author tells you what has worked for him and what has not. There are no references to (HBS) academic theories, nor pseudo-scientific studies. When I finished reading the book, the impression I had was that leadership is all about being trustworthy, emotionally aware, and able to take bold risks.

The author starts the first chapter by “This book is not a memoir”, as he wants it to be a book of lessons. I disagree. Iger is trying to connect the dots backward and to make sense of past events. This process is very risky, especially when based on one person’s perspective. It is prone to the hindsight bias; when we try to find causality between correlated events where there might be none. The author admits the role of chance at the end of the book, but convey the message that the traits that served him well are the reason for his achievements. This is why I think that the lessons should be taken with a grain of salt. Some problems have no unique solution. Again, leadership is not an exact science.

The Story and the Lessons

Robert Iger’s started his career as a weatherman and feature news reporter at a local TV station. After a year “toiling in obscurity”, he joined ABC in 1974, as a studio supervisor, where we will spend the rest of his career (Disney acquired ABC in 1995). From these humble beginnings, Iger climbed the organization ladder up to the top, when he became the CEO of Disney in 2005.

The author tells the story of this journey, focusing on the role of good and bad leaders he worked for in building his own leadership style. He reflects on some events and tries to draw lessons from them. Making career decisions is often difficult, Iger tells in his book how he took some of those decisions, how he balanced between the private and the professional. He talks about company politics, about the stress he had undergone to get the CEO position.

As the CEO of Disney, Iger led some of the largest acquisitions such as 21st Century Fox, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm. Every one of them has its own story and its place in Iger’s vision to transform Disney. This made Disney survive in a fast-changing industry disrupted by new technologies. Among the most interesting stories is his friendship with Steve Jobs and the acquisition of Pixar.

Here are some lessons I find interesting:

  • Innovate or die. Don’t be in the business of playing it safe.
  • To tell great stories, you need great talent.
  • Take responsibility when you screw up.
  • Excellence and fairness don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
  • Value ability more than experience.

Ten Principles for True Leadership

Looking back at a career that spread over 45 years at the same company (22 at ABC, then 23 at Disney after Disney acquired ABC), the author states the following principles that served him as a leader:

  1. Optimism: to motivate and energize people.
  2. Courage: for risk-taking, innovation, and any disruption.
  3. Focus: to allocate resources on the most important.
  4. Decisiveness: to keep morale. This requires a diversity of opinions.
  5. Curiosity: to discover new people, places, and ideas. To innovate.
  6. Fairness: empathy, respect, and honesty.
  7. Thoughtfulness: to develop informed opinions.
  8. Authenticity: to be genuine, to build trust.
  9. The relentless pursuit of perfection: not to accept mediocrity or “good enough”.
  10. Integrity: to have high ethical standards for all things.

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