Earlier this week, Bob Iger returned to Burbank for the first time since being reinstated as the chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company. Not surprisingly, he was greeted with a hero’s welcome—the sort of praise lavished on a C.E.O. who 5x-ed his company’s market cap during his fifteen year tenure, and whose reinstatement nearly singlehandedly overturned a sell-off prompted by his predecessor’s earnings call fiasco. Dressed in a Mr. Rogersesque cardigan and open-collared white shirt, Iger acknowledged the “challenging times” ahead, the need to take decisive action, and the importance of restoring responsibility and accountability to the creative business.
He fielded some questions and offered some candid assessments on the state of the media, including the inexorable decline of linear television. Then, upon finishing, was treated to a standing ovation. “Disney employees seemed overjoyed to see Mr. Iger,” Brooks Barnes reported in the Times.
Iger’s Odysseus-style homecoming is more than a little anachronistic these days. Without belaboring the classics metaphor, I have noted before that tech and media executives are like Greek gods, dramatis personae from another realm who wield power over how we experience the world, but those currently commanding our attention have recently taken their extended turn in the barrel. Of course, Bob Chapek’s own brief stint on Mount Olympus was rife with controversy and error, from his ill-advised corporate reorg to the mishandling of the “Don’t Say Gay” debacle to that final disastrous earnings call. Elon Musk has been live tweeting his interior monologues and picking public fights throughout his chaotic overhaul of Twitter. Sam Bankman-Fried is just the latest in a long line of young wunderkind entrepreneurs brought down by crises of their own making. Andrew Ross Sorkin’s effortlessly brilliant interrogation of him this afternoon at the Dealbook conference suggests that S.B.F. wasn’t emotionally prepared to run a lemonade stand, much less a multi-billion dollar, multinational financial trading apparatus and hedge fund.