Robert Iger: The People’s Choice?

Since the 2016 election, there can’t be a tycoon left in America who doesn’t wake up, look in the mirror and see the 46th President of the United States.

In Hollywood, the name of one CEO has seemed to many such an obvious leader of the free world, that no less an august personage than Oprah, a President in waiting in her own right, reported that she begged him to run.  By her account she “really, really pushed him to run for president, so much so that I said to him, ‘Gee, if you ever decide to run for office, I will go door to door carrying leaflets. I will go sit and have tea with people.’”

It’s easy to see why Hollywood believes the Iger coronation as close to inevitable as politics can get.  A man who could imagineer the acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar and Lucas and lead the company to the most dominant position of any studio in history – and do it with just a handful of releases in 2017 – well, for a man like that the problems of one little nation would be child’s play.

Iger has, of course, pledged to skip the 2020 race, honoring the solemn vow he made to Rupert Murdoch to stay with Disney and oversee the merger until 2021.  With the fate of streaming entertainment hanging in the balance, this is no time to go running off and playing with Congress and armies back east.  But be that as it may, he gives every indication of a man who wants to keep his options open and the Presidency on the table. Should the merger not go through for whatever reason, betting is he’s on the first Greyhound for Des Moines.

Clouding his happy tale, however, out there lies another CEO out there who has the temerity to think he can step in and steal Robert Iger’s rightful Presidency.  The comparison between IP Bob and Starbuck’s Howard Schultz is pretty fascinating in that it shows just what a fantasyland Hollywood lives that they think Our Way of Life would be anything less than a disaster when subject to the light of day on a campaign trail.

Should, defying all common sense, the Democratic Party decide, “We need a super-rich guy too!” they are a likely to have a couple choices, at least. Here’s a little side by side of the CEO’s at hand:

Iger: Through a series of acquisitions grew Disney from a struggling giant into the dominant powerhouse in the film world.

Schultz: The son of a truck driver raised in public housing, eventually becoming the first person in his family to attend college after winning a scholarship to Northern Michigan University; through steady growth grew Starbucks from a neighborhood coffee shop into a globally omnipresent retail giant

Employee Welfare
Iger:  A LA Times article this year focused on Disneyland employees who couldn’t afford to live within decent driving distance of the park and so spend the work week sleeping in their cars.  This is backed up by a recent study by LA’s Economic Roundtable which reported that “More than one out of ten Disneyland Resort employees report having been homeless – or not having a place of their own place to sleep – in the past two years” and “Almost three-quarters say that they do not earn enough money to cover basic expenses every month.”

They’ve also been accused by park workers of withholding tax cut bonuses and in an ongoing labor battle with their Florida employees.

[Editor’s Note: My nomination for correction of the year is appended to this LAT op-ed entitled “Disneyland’s workers are undervalued, disrespected and underpaid.”  The correction reads: “:A previous version of this story put Robert Iger’s compensation at $162.5 billion. It is $162.5 million.”  Let us all be clear on that.]

Schultz: The Atlantic posed the question “Starbucks the Benevolent?” in a recent headline looking at its employee welfare programs, including sponsoring college eduction and housing assistance in some areas. The Atlantic’s answer was a mixed bag, but a mixed bag is light years better than articles park workers living in their cars.

Early Resistance Creds
Iger: Initially signed on to Trump’s business advisory board, before resigning over the administration’s withdrawal from the Paris accords, which had promised to do prior to taking office.

Schultz: Pledged to hire 10,000 refugees to work at Starbucks globally.

Handling Controversy
Iger: After the LAT reported on Disney’s cozy relationship with the city of Anaheim, the company responded by banning the paper’s critics from screenings of the latest Thor, a move which prompted national journalist’s outcry.

Schultz: When the recent outcry erupted over the arrest of two African-American men at a Starbucks store, Schultz quickly responded that he was ashamed and embarrassed by the arrests, and the company announced a company-wide shut down to train their employees in racial bias sensitivity.

Obviously, one can make too much of this comparison. Both men stand astride complex corporate goliaths with plenty of good and bad in both their records.  But the fact is, the route for either one to the Presidency requires securing the nomination of the Democratic Party.  Given that, given the recent mood of the Democratic party, how would you compare the potential appeal of Schultz’s rough edges style with IP Bob’s Mr Smooth, modern corporate titan?

Or let’s consider IP Bob’s recent foray into the hinterlands, to Iowa of all places, to install a new mural at a children’s hospital, paid for, in the nation’s first caucus state, by the Disney corporation; unveiled on a sojourn presumably taken on a Disney jet, at Disney expense.  Now there’s a man of the people giving back!

Or the heartwarming tableau of hardscrabble American, working man’s values presented in the recent Vogue profile of the poohbah at rest.  “In a dark Tom Ford suit with wide lapels and a waistcoat, Iger looked rather like the hero of the Ian Fleming novels he devoured in junior high,” while his wife chats nearby with supermodel Karlie Kloss, “dropping by to get some advice from Bay, who has been mentoring her on the transition out of modeling.”

Or how’s this for man-of-the-people touches:

We walk past Iger’s prolific vegetable gardens, where the first snap peas of the season have popped, and around the citrus trees, from which he has a tendency to pluck fruit prematurely, according to his wife, Willow Bay, the face of Estée Lauder in the 1980s who went on to become a television anchor and is now dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. We descend, finally, to his personal sanctuary, the screening room. If no one knows where Iger is, chances are he is here. The room’s ceiling, a programmable planetarium modeled after one at the offices of Pixar, which Iger acquired in 2006 (he pitched the idea to Disney’s board on only his second day as CEO), may be a Trojan horse in the polite battle for the most glamorously kitted-out home theater on Los Angeles’s West Side. The designers surprised him by asking NASA for a photograph of the night sky in New York City on the day he was born, which is now the planetarium’s default setting. But Iger can program sunrises, shooting stars, and the aurora borealis, and when his grandchildren visit from the East Coast, he can get Pinocchio to scamper across the heavens. “Kitschy, I know,” he says.

I won’t waste too much time considering seriously how all this  would play in the modern Democratic party; I just continued to be dazzled, that even in these tumultuous times, how many in Hollywood feel that their gilded perch is so deserved, the rest of the world can only gaze on and ask, How, pray tell, can we give you more?

Granted, America may one day reach a terrible moment when our government has run out of major brands to build up; when our nation is hungry and crying out for not just characters, but new Universes to sustain us, and when that day comes, the call will go out to a screening room in Brentwood, America needs IP Bob!