Daily Figment 172: Iger’s New Deal

At the beginning of February, shortly after Disney announced less than stellar earnings for the fourth quarter, they announced a new five year deal for CEO Bob Iger. The deal guarantees Iger a cool two million a year with performance-based incentives that could carry the chief over the 20 mill a year mark. After years of excessive packages granted to Eisner, the board gave Iger a smaller guaranteed package and tied the majority of his compensation to company performance. Is it justified? Initially the 20 million a year figure puts lumps in my throat, but dig a little deeper into Iger’s short tenure as Chief Rat and it is clear he has changed the disastrous layout of the company Eisner left in disarray.

A day after Iger was named CEO in March of 2005, uncertainty swirled around the damaged relationship between Disney and Pixar. CNN/Money ran an article about Iger on March 14th saying this about the very public cold war:

It’s not known whether Iger, a veteran of Disney’s ABC television unit, and Jobs have discussed any deal — or whether they even like each other. Both companies have moved forward with post-separation plans.

As it turns out, it was Steve Jobs who championed Iger to a beleaguered Lasseter. Lasseter was worried that Disney would turn Pixar into a straight to video franchise. He openly told Jobs he feared another Cinderella II situation with the characters they had created. A year later, Lasseter gave insight in an interview with Forbes Magazine (May 16, 2007) to the previous years talks with Iger and how Jobs had opened his mind to discussing the merger with Iger:

We wondered if a deal like this would ruin it all. But Steve said to Ed [Catmull, Pixar’s founder and president] and me, “Get to know Bob Iger. That’s all I can say. He’s a good man.”

On his first day as CEO of Disney, Iger called John Lasseter and began healing the open wounds that had festered due to Disney’s refusal to work with Pixar under Eisner. Soon after, he went to John’s house to have dinner with the Lasseter family. It was at that dinner that Lasseter began to see where Iger differed from the previous czar. Iger passionately imparted that animation was Disney’s engine and that the engine was broken. He knew Lasseter could fix it. In an interview with Fortune Magazine in May of 2006, Lasseter recalls how Iger shared his moment of clarity about merging Pixar into Disney:

He told me his epiphany happened when Hong Kong Disneyland opened last fall, and he was there with his young kids watching the opening-day parade. He was watching all the classic Disney characters go by, and it hit him that there was not one character that Disney had created in the past ten years. Not one.
All the new characters were invented by Pixar. That’s when he made the decision.

I was still nervous about how Pixar was going to change if it became a part of Disney. And Bob simply said, “This is going to be very expensive, so it’s in my best interest to do everything I can to keep it the same.” He was so calm and logical. No politics, no hidden meaning.

Before meeting with Lasseter, Iger had already realized Disney’s reputation was suffering due to the rash of sequels that populated discount bins. The quantity over quality mentality of the straight to video market had diluted the brand name by flooding the market with B quality product. After mending fences with Pixar, Iger promised to review the home video division of the studio. It was a quick decision to cut the division, even though it was profitable. The decision to eat short term profits for the sake of the long term value of the brand seemed to many the coronation of Iger as rightful steward of the Disney Company.

With Lasseter now reporting directly to Iger, a bizzaro Eisner/Wells team emerged. Iger was the Wells-like leader who corralled Eisner when necessary and Lasseter was the hyper-creative visionary that balanced Iger, just as Eisner had balanced Wells. How have the super duo done? Cars, Meet the Robinsons, Ratatouille, and the forthcoming WALL-E seem to show the Disney animation engine is purring again.
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8 thoughts on “Daily Figment 172: Iger’s New Deal

  1. Hey guys. I’ve been an occasional lurker for a while. But I’ve been reading more regularly lately. This is a great post today. I’m glad that Iger has been extended. I agree that he has made some great changes. Hopefully his legacy is not like Eisner’s…overlived and dreadful at the end. But I will support him as long as he continues on his current path.

    Keep up the great work.

  2. Craig–

    Thanks for posting a comment. It really means a lot when readers make comments on the blog. Helps us write more articles that you like.

    If you like similar articles, don’t forget to check out Blue Sky Disney. It is ion our Geek-Out section on the right.

    I’ve added you blog to my bloglines account and I look forward to reading your posts!

  3. That reflection by Lasseter might explain my distaste for Pixar… When I see those characters in the parks, my mind immediately thinks “not Disney”. Seeing Buzz and Woody in there would be like seeing Totoro and the Catbus: fine enough on their own, but just not Disney.

  4. Cory,

    I never had the problem you describe. I associate Pixar with Disney and always have. Granted, they weren’t originally a fully-owned subsidiary of Disney but just a partner, but they were distributed by Disney.

    The thing is….Pixar is Disney (now it is).

    As much as I like Star Tours, I was more perplexed by George Lucas themed attractions than Pixar

  5. Cory–

    I have to respectfully disagree.

    John Lasseter, Brad Bird and so many other Pixar folks were born out of Disney animation. So many of these folks are CalArts alumni and many worked for Disney early in their careers. It was these close ties that made Pixar’s original distribution agreement with Disney a good fit. Because of that association and Disney’s subsequent promotion of the characters via theme parks and consumer products, it has always been generally perceived that they are Disney characters.

    To consider characters from Home on the Range, Treasure Planet, etc. born out of the creatively stagnant Andrew Stainton WDFA regime to be “pure Disney” simply because of their pedigree and then categorize the Pixar canon as red-headed stepchildren seems a bit harsh and disingenuous. (I am not saying that you made this statement, but I am assuming you consider those characters “Disney.”)

    When Disney animation languished under corporate mismanagement, it was Pixar that retained and embraced the legacy of Walt Disney and the creative processes he innovated.

    Many also suggest that because Pixar is rooted in CG animation that that is somehow “un-Disney.” Considering that Walt Disney was always about innovation–Technicolor, multiplane camera, stereo sound, etc., I have to feel that CG is something that Walt would have likely embraced, not disdained.

  6. George, thanks for writing about me. I love to see my name in print (and I sure do look darn handsome in that photo if I must say so myself). I think yours is the best blog in the universe! Want a job? – Bob Iger

  7. I think we’re witnessing the start of a new “golden age” for Disney animation and Imagineering.

    IMHO — Animation and Imagineering are the life blood of the Walt Disney Company. Putting Lasseter in a position to exert wide creative influence over these two entities was a master-stroke. I don’t know how much of this was Iger’s personal doing, but it happened during his tenure, and I’m willing to give him *lots* of credit for pulling it off.

    I also agree whole-heartedly with Jeff Pepper’s comments regarding the perception that Pixar is “not Disney”. Pixar perpetuated Walt Disney’s storytelling traditions even when the company that bears his name strayed from those principles.

    – Chris in Apex, NC

  8. Thanks for all of the amazing comments!

    And a special thanks to Bob Iger for posting on our blog. Without his direct support, we would have never been able to come this far.

    Mr. Iger, you’ll notice that Andrew wrote that stellar post about you, not me. So if anyone deserves the job, it is him.

    I shall continue to toil in my anonymity…sorta like Salieri.

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