On Monday morning Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger addressed employees at the company in a town hall for the first time since his sudden return a week earlier. KABC anchor Leslie Sykes moderated the town hall.
Iger said that while the ask “was a surprise,” he also “had some inkling that the call could come that day,” so he prepared for the possibility by asking his wife Willow Bay if he should return to Disney if asked.
“Her reaction was, ‘If you are asked, you have to do it,’” he said, adding that while he was “emotionally distant, purposefully” from the company after he left, he was “never fully detached” given his affection for Disney.
Facing a wide range of questions from employees, some in the room and some remote, some on the record and some anonymous, Iger addressed everything from potential dealmaking, his desire to have employees back in the office, to the company’s relationship with the state of Florida, and whether it should wade into political controversies.
But he also noted that the hiring freeze that his predecessor Bob Chapek put in place will continue, calling it a wise move given the sector’s challenges, and as he figures out how to rationalize Disney’s cost structure. “We need to work quickly, but we also should be smart about it,” he said.
On M&A, Iger dismissed the idea that Apple could buy Disney as “pure speculation,” and said that he does not expect the company to make any significant acquisitions during his second turn as CEO.
“We have a great set of assets here,” while noting that every acquisition also included people who have been critical to Disney’s success. “Nothing is forever, but I am very, very comfortable with each of the assets that we have.”
And he suggested that he wants Disney employees to be working together.
“I happen to believe that in creative businesses, there is tremendous value in working from the same place,” Iger told Disney employees. “It creates an energy, it is very enabling to creativity… I am not making any proclamations but I think that is extremely important.”
He added, however, that Disney, and most companies, should be more flexible with how employees manage their personal and professional lives.
He was also asked about Disney’s tense relationship with the state of Florida, which has sought to revoke the Reedy Creek Improvement District that houses Walt Disney World after the company’s hamhanded response to the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“I had no idea what its ramifications are in terms of the business itself,” Iger said of the move to shutter Reedy Creek, adding that he needs to learn more. “The state of Florida has been very important to us for a long time, and we have been very important to the state of Florida.”
When it comes to Disney’s stance on taking political stances, Iger gave a nuanced, statesmanlike response.
“I think there’s a misperception here about what politics is,” Iger said. “Some of the subjects that have been proven to be controversial as it relates to Disney have been branded political, and I don’t think they are.”
“Do I like the company being embroiled in controversy? Of course not,” he added, noting that “to the extent that I can quiet things down,” he will try to do so.
And Iger also addressed how the company will respond and adapt to changing technologies.
“Nothing is going to stop technological advancement,” he said, adding that Disney has typically embraced new technology to tell better stories.
To that end, Iger mentioned drawings and videos generated by artificial intelligence programs as being “kind of interesting” and “something that at some point in the future the company will embrace.”
He added, however, that such a move is likely “a long way off.”