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Why Bob Iger mattered: A look at the legacy of Disney’s game-changing CEO

Disney went through a massive change under Bob Iger, and we need to take note.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” in central London, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.
Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere for the film “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” in central London, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.
Vianney Le Caer, Invision/AP

The worlds of media, entertainment and business felt the shockwaves Tuesday afternoon when it was announced Bob Iger would step down from his position as CEO of the Walt Disney Company — a major move that can’t be ignored given his track record.

It’s unlikely we’ll forget Iger’s legacy.

Iger won’t leave Walt Disney immediately. He has agreed to stay on until 2021 to help smooth the transition between himself and Bob Chapek, who will take the CEO position.

The first clues of why Iger decided to step down became apparent in an initial statement he released.

“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” Iger said in a statement.

Iger said he intends “to work closely with Bob (Chapek),” according to The Verge.

“I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the company’s creative endeavors,” Iger said.

Creative endeavors will be an interesting switch for Iger, though it’s no surprise given the plethora of products Disney now owns — like “Star Wars,” Marvel Entertainment and Pixar — because of the way Iger handled the company and oversaw purchases.

“I could not do that if I had to run the company on a day-to-day basis,” Iger said on an analysts call, according to CNN.

Iger took over for CEO Michael Eisner in 2005. He went to work immediately and oversaw the acquisitions of major film and production companies that have fundamentally changed the way Disney operates today. What used to be a company that owned cartoonish and fun products has now became a multimedia juggernaut that produces and owns some of the biggest products today — all under the guidance of Iger.

It started with the purchase of Pixar in 2006 for $7.4 billion. That was before the revival of the “Toy Story” franchise or the launch of “Wall-E,” “Up,” “Coco” and “Brave.”

Three years later, in 2009, he oversaw the purchase of Marvel for $4.28 billion — an odd move considering it was simply a comic book company with a few movies like the 2008 “Iron Man” and other early films. Fast forward to now, and Marvel is sitting on a 23-film saga (increasing to 25 films by the end of this year) that has grossed billions upon billions of dollars. “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avengers: Infinity War” grossed more than $4.8 billion combined — more than what Disney paid for the entire Marvel franchise.

But the biggest turn of events came in 2012 when Disney bought Lucasfilm and the entire “Star Wars” franchise for $4.05 billion. “Star Wars” was no longer a niche product. It soon became one for the masses. We’ve seen five new “Star Wars” films, a slew of new television series, books and comics, and the expansion of an immense product. And don’t forget that he unveiled Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World — a massive immersive “Star Wars” experience that changed the way we experience theme parks.

But Iger’s two most recent moves might leave the most lasting imprint on his legacy, Disney and the pop culture world.

It was last year when Disney bought 21st Century Fox for $71 billion, closing the gap between two huge media empires. Multiple entities owned by Fox suddenly became locked under the Disney label.

But even on a customer level, Iger oversaw the release of Disney Plus, the first streaming service from Disney that was immediately billed as a competitor to Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. With Disney Plus came Baby Yoda from “The Mandalorian” — a “Star Wars” product.

All of that speaks to how Iger reshaped the world under Disney’s image. You’d have to go pretty far to find something enjoyable that doesn’t have ties to the company. And he found a way to bring it closer into your home ... for a price.

His resignation will have a real-world impact. The company’s stock fell 2.8% as a result of the news. But Disney wasn’t necessarily blind with this decision. They had been planning it for “several years,” according to one report. Iger himself said last year that he planned to step down in 2021.

“I’m expecting my contract to expire at the end of 2021,” Iger said last year, according to CNBC. “And I was going to say ‘and this time I mean it,’ but I’ve said it before. I’ve been CEO since October of 2005 and as I’ve said many times, there’s a time for everything and 2021 will be the time for me to finally step down.”

He held off because the company wanted to make a smooth transition. The company wanted the move to feel right even though Iger was already planning to step down from his spot at the head of the Disney kingdom.

His official resignation has officially happened, and it comes at an interesting time. Disney has taken its first step into a larger world with its streaming service and its position as the king of all things entertainment. Iger can leave knowing he guided Disney in that direction. Now Disney will forge ahead with Iger no longer at the helm.

But Iger will head to the creative side where he will further grow his legacy. Maybe that means more work with “Star Wars” or Marvel or any number of properties Disney now owns. It remains unclear. But his goal will be the same as it was as a chief executive — to bring a massive ship like Disney even farther down the river, like a cruising steamboat.