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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Bob Iger’s ‘Frozen’ Gusher

OK. I’ll admit it. I haven’t seen “Frozen,” the 2013 mega hit from the Mouse House. And while I don’t have a young daughter, I still feel a bit guilty for dereliction of duty considering Walt Disney Co. is by far the largest public company in the Business Journal’s coverage area. In fact, I walked out on the movie after inadvertently walking in when it was still playing in theaters. Those first 10 minutes struck me as typical Disney animation – not my taste – but who cares what I think? I’m not the target audience. A take on Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” the film was a massive critical and box office hit, raking in Academy Awards, and nearly $1.3 billion at the box office. I was reminded of the animated feature last week when I noticed Disney planned to offer “Frozen”-themed cruises this summer on its Disney Magic and Disney Wonder ships. The company is promising to transform the cruise ships into Winter Wonderlands resembling the Kingdom of Arendelle depicted in the movie, replete with hanging icicles, giant snowflakes and snow-covered rocks on deck. A stage production will present songs from the film and costumed characters will be available for a meet-and-greet. I can only say this. If you have a young girl and don’t think being surrounded by “Frozen” 24/7 is your idea of paradise, lock your child in her room, rip out the Internet and sign up for home schooling. That’s about the only way to avoid being nagged to death. Who thinks up this stuff at Disney? I’m not really sure and it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the diversified media and entertainment giant that counts ESPN and ABC among its subsidiaries continues to develop core creative content that it can extend from lunchboxes to theme parks to cruise lines. And the biggest kudos must go to the man at the top, Chief Executive Robert Iger, who in a recent Fortune profile is said to be a hands-off manager. That may be so, but whatever his style, it works. And he accordingly is being rewarded very handsomely. A few weeks ago in a regulatory filing, Disney alerted investors that it gave Iger a 35.5 percent increase in his total 2014 compensation, which amounted to $46.5 million in salary, stock options and incentive-plan compensation. It’s certain to make him one of the highest compensated executives in the country for the year. “Mr. Iger’s leadership in articulating and implementing the company’s long-term strategy was a substantial driver of the extraordinary results in fiscal 2014 and continued to position the company for future growth,” was the filing’s prosaic explanation for the princely sum. Let’s put it in Hollywood terms: “Frozen” wasn’t his only smash hit. He also did the deal to buy leading YouTube video network Maker Studios for $500 million. All this while shepherding the development of the Shanghai Disney Resort, the company’s $4 billion plus foray into mainland China. I think we all get it. Iger is an extraordinary executive. At a time when Jeffrey Katzenberg has approved underperforming movie after underperforming movie at DreamWorks Animation, a far smaller operation down the street in Glendale, the hits keep coming at Disney. During his tenure at Disney, which started in 2005, Iger has had a remarkable run. Not only has the stock price more than tripled, but he revitalized the studio creatively, largely by bringing in outside creative talent. He acquired animation partner Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006. Then it was on to Marvel for $4 billion in 2009 and LucasFilm for $4 billion in 2011. What a run – the studios behind the “Toy Story,” “The Avengers” and “Star Wars” franchises all in Disney’s fold. Talk about seeing the big picture, taking risks and reaping the rewards. Critics of executive pay in corporate America will certainly point to Iger’s compensation as excessive, and I couldn’t argue. It’s a pile of money – and in an era of stagnant wages for working and middle-class employees, it’s certainly painful to many. But then again there probably isn’t a better example of an executive with a better claim to such – let’s call it what it is – excessive compensation than Bob Iger.

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