Time Magazine has selected Bob Iger as its 2019 businessperson of the year, citing not only the Disney CEO's years of massive success but also a galaxy-sized win that unfolded just one month ago: Baby Yoda.
Labeling the big-eyed, small-bodied creature "Disney's newest bankable piece of intellectual property," Time's Belinda Luscombe says that upon first seeing renderings of the character, Iger had a familiar, but rare, gut reaction: "He likens the feeling to when he was running ABC’s prime-time TV division and 16-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio showed up on 'Growing Pains.'"
Since the Nov. 12 debut of Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, "The Mandalorian" and its little green guy (whose as-yet-undisclosed real name is almost certainly not Baby Yoda, nor is he actually Yoda as a baby) have become two of the most talked-about, tweeted-about, and Googled-about subjects of the year. Although obtaining and marketing intellectual property has been at the forefront of Iger's business strategy, Baby Yoda is one of just a handful of completely new, globally-permeating characters to emerge in recent years — or even decades.
Iger has repeatedly made big gambles on major acquisitions: "In 2006, he made a $7.4 billion deal to buy Pixar from a guy who hated Disney," Time notes in its profile. He then purchased Marvel, which at the time had a relatively limited and overwhelmingly male following, and Lucasfilm "when the 'Star Wars' stories seemed burned out." The acquisitions gave Disney access to troves of existing characters, including countless comic book heroes and villains.
Even without the hyper-speed success of the 2019 "Star Wars" series, Time's selection of Iger would have gone unquestioned. Since Iger became CEO in 2005, Disney has seen its profits increase 335%, according to Business Insider.
The Disney CEO shed some light on his business negotiation strategies in October during an appearance on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." The interview came not long after Disney and Sony came to an agreement on the Spider-Man franchise, drawing more than a month of fan outrage to a close. A deal was reportedly off the table and negotiations were initially fraught.
"I made a couple of phone calls ... and then decided to call the head of Sony and said, 'We've gotta find a way to get this done,'" Iger said. "You know what happens is, sometimes companies, when they're negotiating — or people when they're negotiating — with one another, they kind of forget there are other folks out there that actually matter."
Iger, 68, plans to retire from his position in 2021, which has sparked speculation about potential future endeavors. He's brushed off rumors of a possible 2020 presidential run despite a glowing endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential people in the world. Earlier this year, Winfrey declared that Iger's "guidance and decency is exactly what the country needs right now," noting that she'd be "knocking on doors" to campaign if he were in the race.
Read Time's full profile of Bob Iger, its 2019 businessperson of the year, here.