Just before the end of 2013, Disney named well-known Silicon Valley player Jack Dorsey — he of the perfect selfie – to the board of the entertainment giant.
Dorsey — the chairman and co-founder of social communications company Twitter, and CEO and co-founder of online payments startup Square — was the latest big tech name to join Disney’s board.
Others include Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and former Sybase CEO John Chen, who is now interim CEO of BlackBerry. Dorsey himself replaced Judy Estrin, well-known technologist and former CTO of Cisco, who had been a Disney director for 15 years and hit its term limit.
And, of course, that leaves out the techie board member of all time: The late and great Steve Jobs of Apple, who sold Pixar to Disney and became its biggest individual shareholder.
It has been an interesting mix for Disney, which is one of the faster-forward old media giants in the tech space, although with plenty of bumps along the way. (This dates me, but I covered its acquisition of Infoseek in 1998, which morphed into the disaster that became the Go.com network.)
To get a sense of why and how, I talked last week to Bob Iger, Disney’s surprisingly geeky chairman and CEO. To be clear, he was not on the selection committee for the board.
Here’s our interview, which is from notes I took from a phone conversation (I did not record it):
Re/code: Since you became CEO, Disney has added several high-profile people to your board who are very linked to the tech community and Silicon Valley. Why?
Bob Iger: Well, first with Sheryl and now Jack, these are people who helped create businesses that are incredibly disruptive, ones that changed the order of the world. And, clearly, these are disruptions that have been felt across the businesses we are in.
And, to my mind, that is an incredibly important perspective that is different and that we need here. It’s a disruptor’s perspective. In a world that is swirling with change, it’s hard in a big media company to have that perspective when all you do is feel the impact.
So, I love people who have disrupted to be in our face. It’s a source of unbelievable wisdom for me and the senior management of our company.
What has been the reaction to Dorsey’s appointment?
In this case, I did not share the information with a lot of people inside the company until the news went out. But people seem to be blown away by it and I can feel the excitement and energy and cannot wait to see the impact.
You’ve seen a lot of that already with Steve Jobs.
Yes, he came with the Pixar acquisition and I am on the Apple board. Definitely, and I am applying a lot of the learning I got from him still.
We were obviously influenced by his demand for excellence, but Steve brought a lot more than that to the board. He was also so very forward thinking, especially about the emergence and ultimately mammoth growth in smart mobile devices and that enabled us to get a jump.
With Sheryl, it was about the emergence of digital social media platforms. It was almost an emergency in nature and we had to understand that. I had a sense of urgency that we had to have someone with those insights about consumer interaction, someone who understood the concept of things going viral and sense of community.
Judy Estrin had already set that tone in welcoming the digital perspective. She has a technology mind, the way she analyzed things was a very different way of looking at the world. She had been living and working in the Valley and was a real cheerleader for risk-taking innovation. The tech space is a lot about trial and error and that is something Disney needed to understand — that we should not give up when something did not work. She has been a great board member and a wonderful adviser to me.
John Chen was part of the board that chose me as CEO and it’s really amazing the task he has taken on at BlackBerry. He has such varied and long-term experience, it gives up a range of concepts that were not native to us.
How did you pick Dorsey?
With Judy leaving, we had a search and nominating and governance committee, but it was a board decision, a discussion over multiple meetings. Names were surfaced and resulted in five possible names.
I talked with him and so did members of the committee and we all agreed that he has a totally new perspective and one that Disney must have about sharing information and interacting with their world. And his experience in the payments area is key, since online and mobile payments are an important part of our business and we need his instincts on that.
How hard is it for a big media company to not be scared of tech — you have been a longtime supporter of tech in comparison to others, but it’s unusual.
Well, it was a process that took place over time. I think when we first did the deal with Apple, which preceded the deal with Pixar, I actually did it because I wanted to send a loud signal to the company. And that is that businesses are challenged left and right and if we did not get on board and challenge ourselves, we were going to get swept away. So, we had to swim with the current.
There is so much value over such a long period of time to all the change, even if on the surface it sounds horrible or there is trepidation or paranoia. Instead, I try to focus us on the opportunities created and we want to position ourselves on that instead of focusing on the threats.
What does that mean for the way content Disney creates is changing?
I tend to be intrigued with how things have become so compressed and concise and that what so many different people are consuming is more compressed and concise. In contrast, most of what we make as a company is long form.
I was just saying to someone that yesterday’s short is today’s long. It clearly changes how we do everything and think about everything.
And it’s not a startling observation to say that consumer interactivity with media is moving at an astonishing pace, while the example of places media is showing up are just exploding.
It is easy to look at and know there is a tremendous amount of content that can show up where we have never had the opportunity to reach before.
Of course, anything that is highly disruptive causes concerns. But I’d rather be an optimist than a pessimist.