In recent months, as Bob Iger has sought to maneuver The Walt Disney Company through the now all-too-familiar gauntlet of challenges both local and systemic—the botched Chapek transition, the proxy fights, the box office woes, the streaming conundrum, the ESPN dilemma, the parks pricing, the actors and writers strikes, and, of course, the greater (gestures broadly at everything) macroeconomic pressures—some of his current and former associates started to suggest, as I reported in August, that the once smooth and self-confident C.E.O. seemed notably and uncharacteristically overwhelmed by the myriad headwinds. On Thursday, as Disney stock cratered below $80 a share, its lowest price in nearly a decade, one such associate offered a more acute assessment: “He must be in a bunker right now.”
Chief executives often live and die by the stock, for better or worse, and in legacy media no executive seems so inextricably linked to the fortunes of his or her company as Iger. The story of Disney in the 21st century is a testament to the Great Man theory of history (thanks in no small part to Iger’s unwillingness to cede the throne). Of course, in his first iteration as C.E.O., Iger derived his greatness not just from his business acumen and acquisitive instincts but also from his legendary ambassadorial strengths.
Indeed, Iger embodied Disney in the Marvel era: a superhero C.E.O. in Tom Ford uniform who arose at 4:30 a.m. to ascend the VersaClimber before setting out to conquer the town and Wall Street with his indelible charm, winning transformative deals with Steve Jobs, George Lucas and Ike Perlmutter that his rivals could never have conceived of; flying to Shanghai to massage communist party leaders and force Disneyland into China; or momentarily convincing Mr. Market that Disney had gone “all in” on streaming and was no longer in the terminally declining linear business. (Turns out: it was.)