- Disney CEO and Chairman Bob Iger was just named Time’s “businessperson of the year.”
- Iger is known as one of the most influential and innovative business leaders in Hollywood.
- Starting in a lowly position at ABC, he has spent over 40 years working at what’s now The Walt Disney Company and has been responsible for growing the company’s profit revenue 335%, Business Insider previously reported.
- Iger was also at the helm of the company during Disney’s acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most recently, 21st Century Fox.
- Aside from building up Disney, Iger has also built up a sizeable net worth of $US690 million, making him significantly richer than the current Disney heir, according to Forbes.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
This news also comes on the heels of the announcement that Iger will finally be inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
Since starting his entertainment career in 1974 as a studio supervisor at ABC, Iger has climbed through the show business ranks to become the CEO of one of the most powerful businesses in the world. Iger recounted this journey in his memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime,” released in September, in which he chronicled how he went from making $US150 a week doing “menial labour” on ABC shows to earning over $US60 million a year running The Walt Disney Company.
Business Insider previously reported that since Iger became CEO in 2005, he has raised Disney’s profits 335%. But after 45 years in the entertainment industry, Disney isn’t the only thing Iger has built up – he has also amassed a sizeable personal fortune.
Forbes reported that Iger has a net worth of $US690 million, which is thought to be higher than that of Abigail Disney; the Disney heiress said in July she’s worth about $US120 million. Iger, meanwhile, was compensated $US65.6 million in 2018 – which Forbes notes is 1,424 times what the average Disney employee makes.
The Walt Disney Company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.
Here’s what we know about Iger’s life and rise, including how he made and now spends his multimillion fortune.
Bob Iger is one of the most influential business leaders in the world. He has been the CEO of Disney since 2005 and has a net worth of $US690 million, per Forbes’ estimates.
On December 3, the Television Academy announced that Iger — along with Seth MacFarlane and Cicely Tyson, among several others — would be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
The 25th Hall of Fame Ceremony will take place on January 28 at the Television Academy’s Saban Media Centre, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
He was also named Time’s businessperson of the year for 2019.
“In a year when the tide has shifted against Big Business, Big Media and Big Tech, Iger has transformed his enormous media company into a gargantuan media and tech business while ensuring that the Walt Disney Co.’s products remain widely beloved,”Belinda Luscombe wrote in Time’s profile of him. “But for now, for just this moment, Iger is unassailable. He’s transformed his company from a stuffy media doyen into a sexy cultural force.”
Iger was born Robert Allen Iger in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in the small town of Oceanside, New York.
“I am very lucky,” Iger told Laurene Powell Jobs at The Atlantic Festival in Washington in September. “I was a lower middle class kid or middle class. My father had manic depression so he had trouble holding a job. I started as a $US150-a-week employee at ABC 45 years ago and rose up to be CEO of this company. It is a great story, but it is not necessarily because I was extraordinary.”
He attended Ithaca College where he graduated magna cum lade in 1973 with a degree in Television and Radio.
At Ithaca College, Iger hosted a campus television show called “Campus Probe.” He graduated, originally wanting to be a news anchor, and briefly worked as a local weatherman in Ithaca, New York.
But he quickly realised that being a news anchor was not going to work out for him.
In 1974, Iger joined ABC, working in New York City. He wrote in his memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime” that he did “menial labour” for basically every show ABC produced out of Manhattan at the time.
Iger wrote in his book that he got his first job at ABC because of his uncle, who was in the hospital for eye surgery. His uncle was in the room next to someone who claimed to be a top executive at ABC, who said he would give the younger Iger a job.
Iger took the “top executive” up on his offer, though he quickly realised that the person was not a “top executive” but instead a lower-level one. Still, the person ran a small department at ABC known as Production Services and was able to secure Iger an interview with the department.
But after a confrontation with his boss, Iger was almost fired and forced to look for a new job. Soon after, he moved over to a position at ABC Sports.
Iger has said that one of his bosses accused Iger of spreading rumours about him, causing the young Iger to almost be fired.
“He called me in and accused me of spreading rumours about him,”Iger recalled at the UCLA Awards Gala in 2013, “when I knew the rumours happened to be based in fact. He told me I wasn’t promotable and I had two weeks to find another job somewhere in the company or I was gone. Fortunately, I was able to find another job in the company. They didn’t think I wasn’t promotable, I guess.”
He worked his way up the ABC Sports ladder, working closely with Roone Arledge, “a relentless perfectionist” who was the head of ABC Sports at the time.
Iger wrote in his book that Arledge was the one who taught him the mantra which would follow Iger for the rest of his life: “Innovate or die.”
Iger went on to become the vice president of ABC Sports. ABC was later sold to Capital Cities Communications for $US3.5 billion, in a deal finalised in 1986.
Shortly after, Tom Murphy and Dan Burke — the heads of Capital Cities/ABC — tapped Iger to become the head of ABC Entertainment, and Iger moved to Los Angeles, California.
Iger wrote in his memoir that the constant travelling put strain on his first marriage, to Kathleen Susan. Eventually, the two divorced. They have two daughters.
While at the helm of ABC Entertainment, Iger was the one who took a chance and put David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” on air.
The critically-acclaimed series was cancelled after two seasons, but Iger wrote in his book that the risk he took putting it on television caught the attention of other famed directors such as Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Iger and Lucas then developed a show based on the Indiana Jones franchise, which was cancelled after two seasons. But, Iger wrote in his book, Lucas never forgot the risk Iger took on his show, and he remembered it years later when he decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney.
In 1993, Iger became president of ABC Network’s Television Group. When Burke retired, Iger was tapped to replace him as president and chief operating officer of Capital Cities/ABC.
In 1995, Iger married journalist Willow Bay who, at the time, was a stand-in weekend news anchor on Good Morning America, and was poised to take over for then-full time host Joan Lunden.
At that time, he wrote in his memoir, he had been commuting weekly to Los Angeles to meet his new Disney colleagues. He knew that after the acquisition was approved, he and Bay would not have much time to honeymoon. So, they quickly married later that same year.
“Willow and I also knew we’d have no chance for a honeymoon once the deal closed,” he wrote. “We radically shortened our engagement and got married in early October 1995.”
They are still married, living in Brentwood, California, and have two children together.
In 1996, The Walt Disney Company bought Capital Cities/ABC for $US19 billion, and renamed it ABC, Inc.
Iger wrote in his memoir that he heavily considered walking away from Disney at this point. But as part of the Disney-ABC merger, Iger agreed to run a media division at Disney for five years.
In 1999, Iger became the president of Disney International, the business division overseeing Disney’s global operations. A year later, he was tapped to become the chief operating officer of Disney, working directly under then-CEO Michael Eisner.
Forbes reported that between 1994 and 1999, Eisner made $US631 million. In the year 1997 alone, Eisner reportedly made more than $US550 million. Over the years, Eisner invested his Disney money and became a billionaire by 2008 – perhaps predicting the financial path Iger is well on his way to following.
In the early 2000s, tensions began to brew between Eisner and Roy E. Disney, the heir of Disney. After Eisner stepped down, Iger became the CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 2005.
Iger wrote in his book that, despite being the COO and thereby second in command behind Eisner, his promotion to CEO was not a guarantee. If anything, he wrote, many had associated him with the turbulence of Eisner’s era and wanted an outsider for the job. Iger said he campaigned for months until he was officially named CEO in 2005.
Forbes reported in 2019 that in his first year as CEO, Iger made $US22 million, a salary which did not include the stock options worth $US2.9 million.
One of Iger’s first major moves as CEO was to rebuild Disney’s relationship with Pixar. At the time, the relationship between Disney and Pixar was strained, and Iger felt the future of Disney Animation relied on repairing it.
Before he officially became the CEO of Disney, he called to let Steve Jobs – who was the majority shareholder in Pixar – know he was being appointed CEO and shared his hope they could discuss working together in the future. From there, the two began to slowly work on repairing the fraught relationship between the two companies.
Iger wrote in his memoir that he felt Disney needed Pixar to help enter the future of animation. Pixar at the time was using technologies to produce content that had never been seen before, Iger wrote in his book.
Iger wanted Disney to be in on it – not just as a distributor for the films, as their previous agreement had stated, but to actually own what Pixar was bringing to the table.
Luckily, the two companies found a way to come together, and in 2006, Disney announced that it would acquire Pixar for $US7.4 billion, making Jobs, the majority shareholder in Pixar at the time, the majority shareholder in Disney.
Iger wrote in his book that the two companies were able to come together after he reached out to Jobs to forge a friendship and address any issues between the two companies.
Iger and Jobs would go on to have a long friendship until Jobs passed away in 2011. A month after Jobs died, Iger joined the Apple Board, where he remained until he stepped down in 2019 ahead of launching Disney+.
In 2009, Iger led Disney’s acquisition of Marvel for $US4 billion. This gave Disney access to the Marvel comic book library, which was the beginning of the now multibillion-dollar, box office record-breaking Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Iger wrote that part of the reason Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter was willing to sell the company was because Jobs called Perlmutter to “vouch for” Iger and praised how Iger had handled the Disney-Pixar merger.
Still looking to help Disney expand into the future, in 2012, Iger led Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm for $US4.05 billion. This gave Disney control of not just the Star Wars franchise, but also the Indiana Jones franchise.
Iger said that he knew Lucas was nervous to sell Lucasfim to Disney – mostly because the “Star Wars” creator knew he would be selling his legacy along with it. But eventually, Lucas warmed up to the idea.
Lucas enlisted Kathleen Kennedy to lead Lucasfilm right before the company was sold to Disney. The first Star Wars film made without Lucas was released a few years later, in 2015 – “The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J Abrams.
The company’s acquisition spree continued in 2018, when Disney agreed to buy 21st Century Fox. Fox at the time was owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch who, after the sale, became one of the largest shareholders in Disney.
Forbes reported in March that, if Murdoch were to cash in all stock available to him from the Disney deal, he owns about $US10.5 billion worth of Disney stock. In addition, Variety reported that collectively, the Murdoch family members are now “the largest individual shareholders in Disney.”
Iger wrote in his memoir that Murdoch selling the company he had built from scratch was an indicator that the “disruption” which was threatening the entertainment industry was now inevitable.
“As [Rupert Murdoch] pondered the future of his company in such a disrupted world, he concluded the smartest thing to do was to sell and give his shareholders and his family a chance to convert its 21st Century Fox stock into Disney stock, believing we were better positioned to withstand the change and, combined, we’d be even stronger,” Iger wrote in his book.
In March, the merger between 21st Century Fox and Disney was completed, with a price tag of $US71.3 billion. This move made Disney the second largest media company in the world, Forbes reported.
Iger is known among peers for being a very kind leader and has been praised by his contemporaries for the way he has handled the mergers of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.
In the past 14 years, he has grown Disney’s profits 335% to $US260 billion, Business Insider reported.
Forbes also reports that under Iger, Disney has created more than 70,000 new jobs.
“Literally, I have never heard one person say a bad thing about him and I have never seen him be mean,” billionaire David Geffen told The New York Times in a profile on Iger. “To be honorable, decent, smart, successful, and a terrific guy is unusual anywhere. But it is most unusual in the entertainment business. He’s in a category of one.”
Iger’s own increasing fortune has paralleled the rise in Disney’s value over the years he’s been at the helm.
Forbes reports that Iger’s net worth is now a staggering $US690 million, making him richer than the current Disney heir, Abigail Disney, who has said she’s worth about $US120 million.
Forbes reported that that Iger’s fortune is split between his Disney shares “and cash or other investment from sales of Disney shares over the decades.”
According to Forbes, Iger was compensated $US65.6 million in 2018, which is 1,424 times the average Disney employee’s salary. He had been given another $US26.3 million in stock after he successfully closed the Disney-Fox merger and for agreeing to extend his contract until 2021. His initial compensation last year was $US39.3 million (not including stock rewards).
“I’m not arguing that Iger and others do not deserve bonuses. They do,” Disney wrote. “They have led the company brilliantly. I am saying that the people who contribute to its success also deserve a share of the profits they have helped make happen.”
As Iger is a very private person, not much is known about his spending. He lives in a $US19 million home in Brentwood, California, with his wife and their two children.
They bought their Brentwood home in 2006 from actress Michelle Pfeiffer for about $US19 million, the Orlando Sentinel reported that year.
The home is 7,500 square feet and has five bedrooms with nine bathrooms, with a guest house, a tennis court, and a pool. As of a 2018 interview with Vogue, Iger was still living in Brentwood.
The Igers also previously owned an apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City. The property sold in 2018 for $US18.75 million, Business Insider reported.
The Igers’ former home has a library, living room views of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park, and four bedrooms, including one master suite with two bathrooms and a walk-in closet.
Iger also spends time — and likely money — maintaining his mental and physical health, about which he’s notoriously rigorous. He told The New York Times that he wakes up at 4:15 every morning and doesn’t touch his phone until he’s finished with his morning exercise routine.
When he’s “off the clock,” he travels. Iger is a regular attendee at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. The media conference is a hub for entertainment and tech moguls, and it attracts titans like Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Variety reports that in 2019, Iger attended the conference along with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Shari Redstone, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, and even former Democratic presidential candidate John Hickenlooper.
Iger also spends some of his fortune on vacations. Beyond their business dealings related to Disney and Pixar, Iger was also close personal friends with Jobs and has said the two would vacation together in nearby resorts in Hawaii.
“We vacationed at adjacent Hawaiian hotels a few times and would meet and take long walks on the beach, talking about our wives and kids, about music, about Apple and Disney and the things we might still do together,” he wrote in his book. “You don’t expect to develop such close friendships late in life, but when I think back on my time as CEO – at the things I’m most grateful for and surprised by – my relationship with Steve is one of them.”
The CEO is also very philanthropic. In December, he and his wife committed $US1 million to launch the Iger-Bay Endowed Scholarship at Iger’s alma mater, Ithaca College. The scholarship aims to boost diversity in the media industry.
The scholarship was funded through the proceeds from Iger’s memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime.”
In his personal life, Iger has a set of A-list friends who have been known to rave about him. One of those friends is media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who has said that if Iger were to run for president, she would not just vote for him but eagerly campaign on his behalf.
“I’ll tell you the truth, this is not really where I intended to be tonight,” Winfrey said at the Centennial Awards, where Iger was being honoured, in October. “I was hoping that by this time in early fall, I would be knocking on doors in Des Moines, wearing an ‘Iger 2020’ t-shirt. Because I really do believe that Bob Iger’s guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now.”
He is also close to Jeffrey Katzenberg, cofounder of Dreamworks and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Katzenberg has a net worth of $US900 million.
After Comcast bought Dreamworks in 2016 for $US3.8 billion, Katzenberg’s net worth rose to $US900 million.
Iger and Katzenberg have been friends for years, and Katzenberg is among the group of people who have been trying to encourage the Disney CEO to run for president.
“No matter how much I begged Bob,” Katzenberg said while presenting the Simon Wiesenthal Centre Humanitarian Award to Iger in April. “He just wasn’t willing to run for president of the United States.”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Iger has also been seen on billionaire David Geffen’s yacht. In August 2017, Iger was seen on the yacht with Winfrey, Diane von Furstenberg, and Diane Sawyer.
Geffen owns a megayacht, known to be a common hang-out spot for celebrities and fellow billionaires (including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos) during the summer months, as seen on his Instagram page.
As previously reported by Business Insider, the yacht is worth $US590 million.
The Hollywood Reporter
Iger possibly running for president isn’t surprising; he’s also spent his free time involved in politics in the past. Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, Iger joined Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum.
Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum was a business council created to hear the perspectives of different leaders on how to improve job growth in the US.
But Iger stepped down in 2017 after Trump announced the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, Variety reported.
Iger announced his resignation from the council in a tweet stating: “As a matter of principle, I’ve resigned from the President’s Council over the #Paris Agreement withdrawal.”
The council, which has now completely disbanded, also included JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, and Stephen A. Schwarzman, the cofounder of private equity firm Blackstone.
Despite many people urging him to run, Iger publicly remains firm that he has no plans to pursue a presidential campaign. One factor currently standing in the way: His current Disney contract doesn’t end until 2021.
Iger admitted in his book that he did once consider running for president, but ultimately decided against it.
“I think the Democratic Party would brand me as just another rich guy who’s out of touch with America who doesn’t have any sense for what’s good for the plight of the people,” he told The New York Times in a September profile.
Still, Iger has backing by some major Hollywood players.
If Iger were to decide to run for president, he certainly has the money to fund a campaign.
And on top of that, Iger has already got some political talking points down.
“America is gravely in need of optimism, of looking at the future and believing that so many things are going to be all right, or that we as a nation can attack some of the most critical problems of our day,” Iger said at The Atlantic Festival in Washington in September. “And that could be the environment, that could be income disparity, that could be the technology’s impact on the world from a disruption perspective. It could be the cost of education, availability of affordable housing, healthcare. You name it.”
Whether Iger’s name will appear on a presidential ballot remains to be seen, but some of his famous friends are refusing to give up hope.
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