Bob Iger ‘Has the Right Touch’ at Disney, Former Medtronic CEO Says
Bill George joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the state of leadership for Disney following the mass media company’s decision to replace Bob Chapek with former CEO Bob Iger, investor complexities, innovating the franchise, and the outlook for Twitter under Elon Musk’s leadership.
BRIAN SOZZI: Leadership woes are continuing to make headlines today after Disney ousted CEO Bob Chapek and replaced him with former Chairman CEO Bob Iger, who had left at the end of last year. Joining us now to discuss the state of leadership is the author of “True North, the Emerging Leader Edition,” and former Medtronic CEO Bill George. Bill, always great to get some time with you. Now, you put out a tweet here after this announcement. You sound pretty optimistic on what the returning Iger can do. Why is that?
BILL GEORGE: I think Bob Iger is a fantastic leader. And we have to recognize Disney is a national treasure. There’s no consumer franchise that people value more than Disney. Every child wants to go to Disney World or Disneyland.
And I think this is so important to Disney that Iger comes back and resets Disney in the right public view. I don’t think Bob Chapek had a sense of that at all. Iger is a master. And look how he expanded the franchise, bringing in the whole Star Wars franchise with George Lucas, and Marvel, and particularly Pixar. And that has certainly turned around Disney film studios by acquiring Pixar. So I think it’s the right move.
Normally, I’m not excited about people coming back. In this case, absolutely the right move. And I applaud the board for having the courage to step up and do it now and not wait further. In fact, the stock market likes it too, because stocks up to 8% today. So they’re voting with their feet.
BRAD SMITH: What type of change or, at least perhaps, a resumption, you might say, in culture might change as a result of Bob Iger coming back to Disney?
BILL GEORGE: Yeah, I think Bob has a real sense of all his stakeholders. Certainly, he does about his employees. And I’m sure they’ll be cheering that he’s coming back. He certainly does with his very broad customer franchise, which is very important. And he has a good sense for his investors and what they want to see done. It’s an extraordinarily complex company. And it takes a master like Bob Iger to, I think, pull it all together and put it in the right public eye.
JULIE HYMAN: Bill, it’s Julie here. How, as a leader, especially one who is as vaunted as Bob Iger, how do you avoid hubris? How do you avoid blind spots? You know what I mean? I mean, everybody talks about how fantastic he is. You know, and I imagine that that can be a trap that one can fall into.
BILL GEORGE: Oh, it’s a huge trap. And I’ve seen a lot of leaders like Elon Musk fall into this trap and others– Mark Zuckerberg. But I think, in Iger’s case, I remember spending half a day with him at Pixar and how humble he was, how modest. And he has a real sense of delegating to the innovators and the creators. He doesn’t see himself as the creator. He knows how to attract them, bring them in, and give them license to do really creative things and very bold, courageous things.
And that’s where I think he has the right touch. And I don’t think Chapek had that touch at all. And you know, this is a creative industry. And you have to know how to handle the true innovators. Otherwise, people like George Lucas would never have trusted their franchise to him.
BRIAN SOZZI: Bill, are you shocked by the debacle has turned into Twitter here under the leadership of Elon Musk?
BILL GEORGE: No, I’m not surprised. Elon Musk is an incredible inventor– what he did with SpaceX and particularly with Tesla. But that’s an engineering marvel. This is not. And he is kind of making decisions on the fly. He’s lost almost all his team. And I don’t know what’s going to come of it. I’d love to have a digital marketplace too, but it’s got to be done with civility. You can’t just say anything. And I worry a lot about the trolls and people coming on the site now and doing things that are inappropriate.
So I don’t know who’s going to help [Elon]. He needs a team around him. This is an ongoing enterprise. He’s not starting something new. This is an ongoing enterprise. It’s real time every second when people are posting. Millions of people are posting every minute on that site. So I think he’s got a tiger by the tail. He’s a brilliant guy, but I think he’s going to need help. And I would like to see him bring in a CEO, because I’m worried about Tesla too.
Tesla in the last year has lost half its value. You know, that’s over $600 billion. And I think he’s got to get back and worry about Tesla. Tesla has enormous potential. But I think he’s got to go and worry about that. And he’s spending all his time, obviously, on Twitter. And I don’t know if it’s going to produce dividends. But it could cost a lot more on the other side.
JULIE HYMAN: And of course, he still has his defenders, even with regard to Twitter, right, that, you know, him cleaning house, it had to happen, et cetera. What does success look like at Twitter? I mean, besides hiring another CEO to run the place, what does he need to do to get that right?
BILL GEORGE: Well, again, I’d like to see a civilized digital marketplace. I actually thought Agrawal was doing a good job. And he brought in people like Yoel Roth around him to kind of see who’s on the site. And that’s not an easy task. And so he’s going to have to rebuild his whole team right away.
Success looks like a sound site, which is central to all of social media. Facebook is fading. We know that. And making it the central site where people can have good conversations, I think that’s great. I use Twitter for leadership conversations, not personal discussions. But it’s got to be someplace where people make sound comments. And we don’t want a lot of Russian trolls and other people getting into the site and attacking people, which can do tremendous harm to people.
So somebody’s got to be moderating that content all the time. And that’s the tough task. So he’s got to place Roth or somebody who’s really sound. And that what’s success would look like to me, a really good, civil digital marketplace where everyone can participate.
BRIAN SOZZI: Bill, since we last spoke with you, we’ve seen this complete implosion of FTX and a lot of other crypto platforms. But locking in on FTX and Sam Bankman-Fried, what is it about it from a human behavior level? How does someone like that fall into this trap and lead such a downfall of such a prominent company?
BILL GEORGE: Well, let’s put him in a totally different class of people, like Musk and even Bob Chapek or Bob Iger. This is a young guy who really hasn’t created anything. And he charmed a lot of people and he’s buying a lot of failing crypto platforms and putting all this together, operating out of a hotel with his friends and colleagues in the Bahamas.
And you know, I think we just got too caught up. And he got caught up with how great he was. And I don’t think he was ever there. I’ve not seen the performance at all. And boy, the harm that’s been done, I feel very sad if I’m not angry about that, about the harm that’s been done to people that got sucked into this investment.
And, you’ve seen it being called the worst disaster, worse than Enron. They don’t even keep the books about things. So I think, why did we get caught up? He was spending half his time in Washington trying to charm. Later they promised, what, a billion dollars to Democrats? Come on. And of course, he can’t deliver on that. His whole flow of philanthropy sounds good, but he’s not really a philanthropist. He was just charming people with his approach.
And I think the bigger question is not about him, but how do people get sucked into this? Because it can happen again. There’s somebody coming around every year with these kind of approaches. And I think investors have to be careful not to get drawn in, to really look who is the leader. And can you trust the leader? That’s why you can trust a Bob Iger. I assure you. It’s not going to be perfect, but I don’t think he is someone you can trust.
JULIE HYMAN: Yeah, and apparently, by the way, Sam Bankman-Fried’s top deputy was giving a lot of money to Republicans. So they were hedging their bets over there, I guess. Bill George, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
BILL GEORGE: Thank you for having me on the show. I love the discussion. Thank you.
JULIE HYMAN: Thank you. Great to talk to you.
This is a video transcript of this Yahoo Finance interview. The transcript has been edited in parts for clarity.