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The Ride of a Lifetime – Bob Iger Memoir Book Review

It’s an interesting time to be writing a review of Bob Iger’s memoir The Ride of a Lifetime. For the last 15 years Iger has led The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer and latter adding the title of Chairman of the Board to his business cards (do you think Iger still has business cards??? Like at what level do you need to stop carrying those around?). But last week in an abrupt announcement Disney announced that Iger would be stepping down from the CEO position…immediately. While he will remain with the company as Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board through 2021, the Iger era is coming to an end. This post will explore what I think are some of the best elements of her memoir. So read on for our The Ride of a Lifetime book review. 

The Best Prologue I’ve Ever Read

I’ll try to keep this review relatively spoiler free but this part will be pretty specific. It needs to be though, because I think this is the best prologue I’ve ever read. We’ve talked about a lot of great Disney books before but I think this books opening takes the cake.

So often you want to skip right over the prologue or foreword sections and get right into the meat of the book. When it comes to The Ride of a Lifetime you do not want to skip this section! It’s a tough few pages to get through because of the content it discusses but it paints an incredible picture. 

Two of the worst tragedies that have ever occurred to Walt Disney World and the Walt Disney World community happened within days of each other. On Sunday, June 12, 2016 there was a mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Just 15 miles from Walt Disney World. The victims included a part-time Disney World employee and several other employees were friends or relatives of victims. Later, Disney would discover that the shooter had visited the Magic Kingdom the weekend before and had even been at Disney Springs the night of the massacre. 

The shooter had every intention of committing their violent acts at Disney Springs. But that night there was a concert going on at The House of Blues. This required more security and additional units of local Police Officers to be present. These additional security measures scared the shooter away and later that night he would use his phone to search for the nearby nightclub to commit his act. 

Bob Iger was in Shanghai preparing for the opening of the Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney theme park in mainland China. It was set to open just a few days later on June 16 and Iger and his team were preparing for the opening when they received the news. 

Three days later on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 tragedy struck again. This time it took place on Walt Disney World property. Two-year old Lane Graves was playing in the sand near the water of the Seven Seas Lagoon. His family was on the beach at the Grand Floridian with him. As Lane was playing an alligator attacked and dragged the boy into the water. Lane did not survive the horrific event. Iger was leading a VIP tour when his team told him what had occurred. 

I don’t tell you these stories to start this review off on a somber note. I tell them to put you in Iger’s mindset. Here he is halfway across the world in China. He is days, really hours, away from opening the theme park that he’s worked on for the last 18 years. Working on it first as COO and then as CEO of the company. This was going to be his greatest accomplishment and a moment that would cement his legacy. It was supposed to be a joyous and exciting week. Yet all he could think about were the Pulse victims, their family and friends and Lane and the Graves family. 

I strongly encourage anyone to read this book just for this section alone. In it you’ll discover how Iger handled the situation and how even as the CEO of the company that “manufactures magic”, as Iger likes to say, you’re still susceptible to tragedy and failure. But you’re not defined by those actions. You are defined by how you respond to them. In my eyes Iger’s response and the way he tells the story of those days provides an educational account on how to deal with stress, tragedy, grief and things that are overwhelming beyond belief. 

Mr. Cool 

Being the CEO of The Walt Disney Company is of course an incredibly cool job. Iger is Mr. Cool not just in his job but in the way he handles himself. 

This is a company that is constantly under the microscope. It’s always being analyzed by investors, millions of fans around the world and hundreds of thousands of Cast Members employed by the company. The stories Iger tells show you of the incredible pressures he was under on a daily basis. Yet, he handled it all with poise and an incredibly stoic demeanor. 

Yes, I know he wrote this book so he can of course paint the best picture of himself that he wants. But if you see him in interviews and on shareholder calls and wherever he’s giving speeches, you know he exudes confidence. And there’s a lot to learn from him. 

He talks of mergers, both being bought by a company and purchasing other companies and the complexities revolving around such actions. He shares stories of working with difficult superiors or how firing is never an easy task. But along the way he tries to share nuggets of wisdom with the reader. He has his “rules to lead by” in the beginning of the book and in the back of the book he consolidates all of his important stories into a unique and easily digestible appendix. There’s plenty of wisdom and great advice to be devoured in this book. 

The Importance of Steve Jobs

Many don’t know this but not only was Steve Jobs the legendary co-founder of Apple he was also the largest owner of Pixar when the company first began. Pixar was a place where he could flex his creative muscles but also apply his love of new technology to storytelling. He was incredibly proud of Pixar and what he and his partners, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, were able to create. 

When Pixar first started releasing feature films Disney was their distributor. Disney also had the licensing rights for a percentage of merchandise and for the theme park rights of the Pixar characters and franchises. The original deal was that Disney was going to release the first several Pixar films and then the contract would be renegotiated. 

As Iger was about to become CEO talks of a contract extension had come to a halt and it seemed that Pixar was going out on their own. Michael Eisner, the Disney CEO at the time, had upset Jobs one too many times. Jobs vowed to never work with the organization again. 

One day Iger was in Hong Kong Disneyland and he noticed that as the parade went by not a single Disney character that had been created in the past 10 years had been represented on a float. The characters were either classic Disney characters from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s or they were Pixar characters. After seeing this, Iger knew he had to start the conversations with Pixar again. 

What occurred is a masterclass in relationship building and mending fences. Iger was able to get Jobs back to the table. Talks progressed by it wasn’t just about a new distribution deal. It was now about Disney buying Pixar out right. 

The Pixar deal was important for the health of the animation and movie studios at Disney but the deal also brought Jobs onto the Board of Directors. His presence was critical in several of the future Disney acquisitions and you can tell that his partnership with Iger was very meaningful to both of them.

I personally never knew how integral Jobs was in those mergers but Iger’s insights show how much bravado and pull Jobs brought to Disney. And it’s not just Jobs but it’s the stories Iger shares about George Lucas, Rupert Murdoch, Ike Perlmutter (former CEO of Marvel), Michael Eisner and more that show how Iger was willing to take huge risks because people trusted him. Earning trust and taking risks are two important tenants Iger talks about a lot. 

Who’s This Book For?

This book is unique in that only half of it really focuses on Disney. Iger started his professional life at ABC. For many years there was no Disney involvement in the network he worked at. But in 1995 Disney bought ABC/Capital Cities and Iger became part of the House of the Mouse. 

Now, of course this book is still for the diehard Disney fan. The inside stories from the man who’s been in charge of the company for 15 years will make any Disney fan eager to read it. But more importantly I think this book is great for anyone who wants to achieve success as a leader or in business. It’s up to you how you determine success but there’s plenty to be gained from Iger. You don’t get to be CEO of a Fortune 100 company and not achieve some tips that would benefit almost everyone’s life. 

His notes on leadership can be applied to your daily life. But he doesn’t try to say his way is the only way. In fact he outright admits that he doesn’t have all the answers but he trusts his team and he trusts his intuition. In order to achieve great things you must also risk greatly but have the trust that it will work out. 

Get The Ride of a Lifetime, read the great story of Iger’s life and then use the lessons he has learned to improve your own life. 

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