The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Bob Iger: Is he Disney's new Zen master?

September 21, 2009 |  1:48 pm

Variety's Peter Bart has an intriguing post up today about Disney CEO Bob Iger. Instead of trying to explain why Iger booted out Dick Cook last Friday--and after all, no one's figured that mystery out yet--Bart offers a shrewd assessment of how Iger has ruled the Disney roost in the past few years, noting that Iger has brought a zen-like calm to the Disney empire that was sorely missing in the tumultuous Eisner-Katzenberg years.

As Bart puts it: "Iger is clearly a man who understands that, on many levels, he has the best job in town, and he projects the resulting equanimity," adding that since Iger inherited Eisner's job, "the Magic Kingdom seems to have picked up a new vigor and self-confidence along the way." Bart points out that while Eisner was always in the middle of some traumatic, headline-inducing drama--the "bizarre" Michael Ovitz experiment,  the $280 million settlement with Jeffrey Katzenberg, the "incessant intrigues" with Steve Jobs, Roy Disney and Joe Roth, not to mention Iger himself, Iger has made a series of canny deals involving Pixar, Dreamworks and Marvel while "carefully cultivating strong relationships with a range of complex individuals," notably Jobs, John Lasseter, Spielberg and Marvel's Ike Perlmutter, who Bart coyly describes as "quixotic," which is apparently Variety-ese for "difficult."

It's true that most people in town, including the ones I've spoken to about Iger's handling of Cook's abrupt departure, find Iger largely unknowable. He's a quick study, but he plays his cards close to the vest. It's a quality you find in a lot of ambitious modern day corporate chiefs, who seem to have all been trained to keep any uncomfortable thoughts or turbulent emotions buried deep inside their nice suits. It's a big departure from the days of Eisner, Barry Diller, Jonathan Dolgen and Larry Gordon, showbiz lions who all knew how to express their anger and frustration with the loudest of roars. 

As Bart concludes: "If Iger can cause anxiety, what he infuses most of all is calm." But right now anxiety reigns supreme, both inside Disney and out, as everyone wonders what lies in store for the future of the venerable Hollywood studio.