Bob Iger has been with Disney for over three decades, and has been CEO for more than 14 years. During that time, he's accomplished quite a bit, including growing one of the world's largest and most respected media companies. Seriously, think about it. Under Iger, who is only the company's sixth chief executive, Disney added Pixar (in 2006), Marvel (2009), Star Wars (well, technically, Lucasfilm in 2012), and 21st Century Fox (2019).
Oh, and in November the company launched its popular Disney+ streaming service, which, in a few short months, has signed up over 28 million subscribers, and happens to have the show with 2019's favorite new character (hello, Baby Yoda). That's a pretty impressive run.
But, effective Tuesday, he's done. Technically, he plans to stay on as executive chairman until his contract expires in 2021, when he had originally planned to step down from both roles. That makes the announcement a bit of a surprise, though in many ways his reasoning makes this a brilliant move that shows self-awareness and leadership.
"With the successful launch of Disney's direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of 21st Century Fox well under way, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO," Iger said in a statement. He went on to add that he plans to support the company's new CEO, Bob Chapek, as well as "continue to focus on the company's creative endeavors."
First, let's just acknowledge that very few people leave on top. In fact, most people aren't self-aware enough to really know when it's time to step back and make room for a successor.
Many leaders believe that the success they've had in the past will continue indefinitely. As a result, most leaders stick around far longer than they should and end up being forced out after their performance falters. In fact, for many companies, figuring out who will lead a company next is one of the greatest risks to future success.
That's what makes Iger's move a good lesson for every entrepreneur. There comes a point when a good leader recognizes that they've accomplished what they set out to do and it's time to transition to whatever is next--for themselves and their company.
Iger has done what he set out to do. He set a vision for Disney and led the company there. By the way, I also love that he's handing over day-to-day control of the operations of the company so that he can focus more on the creative work. It takes a pretty large dose of self-awareness to recognize that the thing you can contribute best doesn't require you to run the entire show.
Plus, let's be honest, it's hard to imagine what could top the past few years. When that's true, and when you have someone ready to step in and lead, it makes no sense to stick around just for the sake of keeping a title.
In that sense, it's really not surprising at all that a good leader would do what good leaders do. And, as Iger just showed us, sometimes the best way to lead for the future is to leave well.