When Bob Iger became the CEO of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, he had a risky idea: buy Pixar.
At the time, Walt Disney Animation Studios had been “faltering,” Iger said during an interview with Bloomberg’s “The David Rubenstein Show: Peer-to-Peer Conversations” published Wednesday. Pixar and Disney had a joint venture to co-produce Pixar’s films, including blockbusters like “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”
But Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple and Pixar, had said publically in 2004 that the relationship between Pixar and Disney was ending, because the companies couldn’t agree on a distribution deal.
Iger saw that Disney Animation “needed a huge improvement,” he said in the Bloomberg interview. “I thought the fastest way to accomplish that, albeit at the riskiest and the most expensive, was to buy Pixar.”
Before going to Disney’s board, Iger had to convince Jobs.
“When the notion of buying Pixar came to me, I called him up,” Iger said. “I was actually quite nervous.”
Iger thought it would be best to have this conversation with Jobs in-person. “I said, ‘I’ve got a crazy idea, and I come up and talk to you about it?'”
“Anyone that knew Steve would know that, if you said to Steve, ‘I have a crazy idea,’ he would have to hear right away,” Iger said. Indeed, Jobs asked Iger to tell him what his idea was over the phone.
Jobs’ response to the proposition? “Well, it’s not that crazy,” Iger recalled him saying.
The pair met at Apple’s headquarters a few weeks after the phone call to discuss the plan. This included listing the pros and cons on a whiteboard.
“Steve said he loved whiteboard exercises, where an entire vision — all the thoughts and designs and calculations — could be drawn out, at the whim of whoever held the felt pen,” Iger wrote in his autobiography “The Ride of a Lifetime.”
For example, according to Iger, Jobs’ list of cons included: “Disney’s culture will destroy Pixar!”; “DISTRACTION WILL KILL PIXAR’S CREATIVITY” and “Your board will never let you do it.”
At the end of the whiteboard session, Jobs told Iger, “A few solid pros are more powerful than dozens of cons,” he wrote in his autobiography.
The exercise at Apple’s headquarters had a profound effect on Iger.
“What I saw that day left me breathless—the level of talent and creative ambition, the commitment to quality, the storytelling ingenuity, the technology, the leadership structure, and the air of enthusiastic collaboration—even the building, the architecture itself,” Iger wrote in his autobiography. “It was a culture that anyone in a creative business, in any business, would aspire to.”
Jobs’ vision was key to convincing the board, Iger wrote. “It’s hard to imagine a better salesman for something this ambitious.”
Ultimately, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006. Jobs became a member of Disney’s board and the largest shareholder of the company.
When Jobs died of pancreatic cancer in 2011, his wife Laurene Powell Jobs inherited the 138 million Disney shares he owned. In 2017, the trust controlled by Powell Jobs reduced its holdings to 4%.
Iger stepped down as CEO of Disney in February.