Book Recommendation: “Ride of a Lifetime” by Bob Iger

by Johanna Crawford

Robert (Bob) Iger was the CEO of Disney for 15 years, succeeding Michael Eisner in the position in 2005. He’s overseen Disney’s revenue growth from $48.4 billion to $257 billion in 13 years, and he was responsible for Disney’s most famous acquisitions, including Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars, aka Lucasfilm LTD. Still, Iger’s departure in 2020, with no warning, was jarring to Disney employees and the public, and injurious to Disney stock. An article from the Hollywood Reporter breaks down the strange events happening at the House of Mouse in more detail here.

Like any CEO, Iger has been the subject of criticism. He was not the most popular choice for role of CEO when the board voted him in, and he has faced a lot of backlash for many of the acquisitions that, now, have wound up spiking Disney’s value. Still, despite the naysayers, Bob is undeniably one of the most influential figures in entertainment and business today and his words hold great merit for anyone trying to be successful.

In 2019, Iger released a memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years As CEO of the Walt Disney Company. The book was published by Random House, and Audible released an audiobook read by Jim Frangione with the prologue and epilogue read by Iger himself.

I got the audiobook as I was beginning to start my own business. I knew that reading was essential to success and I wanted to learn from the greats, so I started searching for books by people I admired. I was in a unique position: a combination of media/entertainment and business. While starting my own film studio/media firm, I knew the creative aspects of how to make a film and I was proficient in business already, but combining the two was where I faltered. With that in mind, what better entertainment and business powerhouse to turn to than Disney? I searched for books about Disney, found Iger’s book, listened to a sample, and downloaded it immediately. I tore through the whole book in a few days, and I highly recommend it for a few reasons.

First, the book is a great read. It flows very well, even though it is non-chronological. The language is easy to understand and is accessible even to people who have no experience in either entertainment or business.

Second, the book is multi-faceted in its benefits. It can be a fun read if you’re curious about Iger, or the Disney brand in general. There are also very detailed sections of the book recalling Iger’s relationships with Steve Jobs and George Lucas, which, for me, were spine-tingling to read. But it’s also is rich in lessons for anyone who wants to be successful in any way, as well people in authority positions in a company, or looking to start their own businesses.

Third, Iger’s writing, while simplistic, invokes strong emotions. You truly follow this great corporate man all the way from being young with big dreams, to being the CEO of one of the biggest Fortune 500 companies in the world. You metaphorically watch Iger grow from a boy to a man. The book made me laugh, not just as someone who knows the ins and outs of media production, and understood the crazy scenarios that Iger recalls, but as a human in general. It also made me cry; I can even tell you the exact moment when. Iger recalled a walk that he and Steve Jobs took together just moments before the merger of Pixar and Disney was announced. On that walk, Jobs told Iger that he had cancer and the odds were not in favor of his making it. Iger recalled that after the acquisition announcement was made, an announcement that would regenerate Disney animation forever, he went home and told his wife what Jobs had said. Iger wrote, “Instead of rejoicing over the day’s success, we cried together over the news.” At that moment, I realized that I was crying and a large tear had fallen onto my phone screen.

Fourth, Ride of a Lifetime is not just a memoir. Iger makes this clear in the prologue, stating that he wanted to share the lessons he learned at Disney about being successful, and being a good leader. While the book recalls times of Iger’s life and career, each chapter has certain lessons, especially in leadership, that Iger demonstrates through real life examples. Even better, Iger not only recalls his successes, but also his mistakes and what he would have done differently.

Finally, the book does not sugarcoat anything or glamorize the CEO position. Iger is very open about the stress of the job and that it’s not for everybody. The cars, vacations, suits, and success all come at a high price. Iger covers the demise of his first marriage, and how difficult it was for him to maintain relationships with his second wife and children. He recalls all the moving the family had to do, and expresses immense gratitude for his wife putting her career behind his, time and time again. The book pulls no punches that success comes with consequences, usually of an intensely personal nature.

The book has a lot of merits, as a casual read and as a personal development guide. I read it as the latter, and it changed the way I looked at my industry, and myself as a leader and a person. It struck a particularly personal chord for me, too. Iger’s journey up the corporate ladder in film production, from working what felt like dead-end jobs on talk shows, to joining the sports departments, and on and on, bore huge resemblance to my own professional career. It was immensely comforting, reassuring, and exhilarating that someone of such success went through an almost identical journey as me. It gave me a lot of hope, something I needed at the time, and it helped me centralize my vision for my own career and push forward, even when times were not easy.