Disney’s Bob Iger receives UCLA John Wooden Leadership Award

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger accepts the 2013 John Wooden Global Leadership Award during a ceremony hosted by the UCLA Anderson School of Management at the Beverly Hilton hotel.
(Michael Tullberg / Getty Images)

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger was honored with the UCLA Anderson School of Management John Wooden Global Leadership Award during an evening that celebrated impressive records.

At the UCLA gala Thursday night at the Beverly Hilton, Iger’s won-loss record was compared to that of the legendary UCLA basketball coach, who posted a 620-147 record in his 27 years at the helm.

Since Iger took the reins of the Burbank entertainment giant in 2005, the value of Disney’s stock has tripled. And the company has positioned itself for the future with key acquisitions.


Disney has spent nearly $15 billion to buy three major brands: Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and, most recently, Lucas Films. The purchases have transformed the company, which this week marked the 85th birthday of Mickey Mouse.

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“We’re not supposed to reveal his age, as he is supposed to be ageless,” Iger said. “But Mickey turned 85 on Monday.”

Teamwork, hard work and the pursuit of perfection -- hallmarks of Wooden’s philosophy -- are guiding principals for the entertainment chief, who famously rises at 4:30 a.m. each day to exercise and process his thoughts before the demands of the day take hold.

Iger’s ability to exceed expectations was a central theme.

This summer, Iger agreed to remain chief executive 15 months longer than initially planned, until June 2016. The Disney board indicated it was not prepared to lose Iger and needed more time to identify a successor.

Thursday night’s audience was delighted by a retelling of one of Iger’s favorite stories: how, at age 22, a supervisor at ABC television in New York told him that he was “not promotable.”


Iger, who started his career as a TV weatherman, was told he would have to find another job within the company -- or leave.

“That man is no longer around, but I wish he would have lasted long enough to see my success,” Iger said during a question-and-answer session with ABC News correspondent Cecilia Vega.

“I was told many years later the same thing [not being fit for promotion] but that’s another story,” Iger said, alluding to an infamous remark allegedly uttered by his predecessor, Michael Eisner, when Iger served as Eisner’s lieutenant and second-in-command at the company.

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The subject of risk-taking and risk adversion was also explored, with Iger acknowledging that it can be difficult for a huge company to take huge risks -- because so much is at stake.

“With size and scale comes bureaucracy,” Iger said. “But you have to work at not allowing success to get in the way of creating more of it.”


He acknowledged one embarrassing mistake made while running ABC Entertainment back in the early 1990s: ordering a prime-time musical about police detectives called “Cop Rock,” which lasted just 11 weeks.

The crowd roared in delight.

“This was way before ‘Smash,’ ” Iger said, a poke at rival NBC’s costly flop last year about the making of a Broadway musical.

Iger accepted the leadership award from UCLA Anderson School of Management Dean Judy Olian to wrap up the evening. A larger-than-life statue of Wooden was prominently positioned on stage.

“I hope that you understand and realize how humbling this is to be included in the same line, on the same night and on the same stage as John Wooden,” Iger told the audience. “Just imagine how the world would be better if we all did it the Wooden way.”


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