Bob Iger Describes His Hardest Day as CEO of Walt Disney Co.

Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Iger has been called one of the most successful CEOs in America, but his time may soon be coming to an end. Iger says he’ll leave Disney in 2021, but before then, he is opening up about his journey in a new memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime.” He joins Christiane to discuss Disney and his own personal struggles in his rise to the top.

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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: You start your book unexpectedly. It’s with an enormous punch to the solar plexus about your hardest day at Disney. It’s such a tragic day, and it’s when you learned about the death of a little boy, 2-year-old boy —


AMANPOUR: — at Disney World in Orlando by an alligator. He was killed. Just walk us through what you remember from that day and why you started the book like that.

IGER: Well, I was in Shanghai to open Shanghai Disneyland, something that I had been working on for 18 years and I had traveled to China over 40 times. It was a very high time in my life and my career, and then that happened. And I wanted to start out that way because I wanted to point out to people who would be reading a book by the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, which must be one of the greatest jobs in the world, that not every day is easy, that not every day is fun. But, in fact, things can happen that are totally beyond your control and unforeseen, unpredictable.

AMANPOUR: And you talked about crying so hard that your contact lenses fell out.

IGER: Yes. What happened was hours before we were to open the park, I made a decision that I should speak to the parents of the young child that was killed by the alligator, because I thought that the company could not just be an impersonal big corporation to this family that suffered such a loss but it had to be a very personal communication. The only way to express sorrow, grief, to them to do it personally. So, I made a decision to call them. I did not know whether I would be able to reach them, but I did.

AMANPOUR: Or whether they wanted to talk to you.

IGER: Correct. And I spoke with them. I got them on the phone, again, just hours before I was supposed to cut a ribbon with the government officials from China to participate in what was supposed to be the wonderful moment for the company and for me personally. And it was an unbelievably gut-wrenching experience. Now, obviously harder for the family than for me. But the difficulty of speaking to two parents who had not only lost their child but had witnessed it on property that was ours while they were there to do nothing but have fun was extraordinary and it was something from an emotional perspective that hit me even harder than I expected that it would. And so, I got off the phone and my wife, Willow, came into the room. We were staying at a hotel. And I told her that I had just had the most difficult conversation I’d ever had in my life. And I started to cry. It was — there was — I had kind of nothing left in me emotionally after having spoken with them.

About This Episode EXPAND

Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Iger joins Christiane Amanpour to discuss his new memoir “The Ride of a Lifetime,” and art historian Martin Kemp sits down with Walter Isaacson to explain how his book “Leonardo by Leonardo” unpacks the meaning behind da Vinci’s paintings.