Disney’s Bob Iger made the company an empire, for better and worse

By no means should we idolize CEOs of major corporations, but departing Disney chief Bob Iger is certainly leaving a worthy legacy after transforming the brand from children- and family-focused to one that appeals to a much larger age range.

While there is uncertainty ahead for Disney, what Iger did with Disney+ was what his predecessor Michael Eisner couldn’t — capture the hearts of millennials and Gen Z as children and keep them engaged with the brand as they aged and had their own kids 

In terms of traditional markers of business success, Iger measures up as well. Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox, which includes National Geographic and 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox), so even if you aren’t a fan of Disney as we usually think of it, you are almost certainly a fan of some brand within the current Disney sphere. That’s an impressive feat given the range of cinematic universes and storytelling techniques those brands represent.

Acquiring all that intellectual property paid off. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Disney films grossed an unprecedented $13 billion at the global box office, including seven blockbusters that hit the $1 billion mark.” And, that was just in 2019. 

Perhaps Iger’s most brilliant move was acquiring a streaming tech provider in 2017, which led to the most adorable social phenomenon in recent memory: Baby Yoda. The Mandolorian, a Star Wars spinoff series featuring the adorable green wielder of The Force, became an instant hit on the Disney+ streaming service, which is growing internationally and has attracted around 29 million subscribers since its November 2019 launch. 

Before you place him on a pedestal, though, we have to think about if it is really ideal to have one company control — and profit from — everything from ESPN to ABC to theme parks to branded stores. Disney has basically become an entertainment monopoly. The philosophy of “there’s something for everyone” is great in theory. But looking at it in terms of consumer choice, the capacity for abuses by corporations that large, and the changing attitudes of society about representation and subject matter in entertainment content, we have to ask ourselves if what Iger has done with the Disney empire is really a good idea in the long term. 

Iger also raked in an obscene $47.5 million last year, less than the more than $65 million the year prior. He’s not going to be looking for handouts once he leaves Disney, that’s for sure. One would hope he at least puts all that money to good use, maybe even by helping the children Disney has entertained for so long.

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