In Washington at The Atlantic Festival, Iger was asked by Laurene Powell Jobs what his message would be if he were running.
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“I think that America is gravely in need of optimism, of looking at the future and believing that so many things are going to be all right, or that we as a nation can attack some of the most critical problems of our day,” he said.
“And that could be the environment, that could be income disparity, that could be the technology’s impact on the world from a disruption perspective. It could be the cost of education, availability of affordable housing, healthcare. You name it. and I don’t think there’s a collective belief in America today that we will be successful in addressing those issues.”
Iger is promoting his new book The Ride of a Lifetime, which was published Tuesday. He writes that he consulted with former members of the Obama administration, some members of Congress, pollsters and fundraisers, and staff from previous campaigns. He even studied “like crazy” on a variety of pressing issues, and read past great presidential speeches. But he wrote that he was “far from committing to doing it.”
“In actuality, I was skeptical of the Democratic Party’s willingness and ability to support a successful business person,” Iger wrote.
At The Atlantic event, Iger said, “I am very lucky. I was a lower middle class kid or middle class. My father had manic depression so he had trouble holding a job. I started as a $150-a-week employee at ABC 45 years ago and rose up to be CEO of this company. It is a great story, but it is not necessarily because I was extraordinary.”
Iger said that he was “disturbed” that the next generations won’t have the same sense of opportunity, either for the same kind of success that he has had or to fulfill some other kind of dream, “even if the dream is just leading a life that feels safe and comfortable, where the air can breathed. Those sorts of things.”
Jobs did not ask Iger specifically about the state of the 2020 race or President Donald Trump, but he did say that the Walt Disney Company doesn’t “really turn to government entities to deal with these issues anymore.”
“The lack of collaboration, the lack of communication, the lack of trust that exists in our federal government is appalling,” he said. “I have some hope for local governments, because I don’t think you can get anything done on a national level.”
He said that one thing he didn’t expect when taking his job as CEO is that employees would be turning to the company to address issues like immigration, the environment, affordable housing, transportation and education. Last year, the company started a new program to pay for the tuition costs of hourly employees with “no strings attached.”
“They are expecting, and maybe rightfully so…their company to step up,” Iger said.
One presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has criticized Disney for what the company has paid its theme park workers.
“What would be truly heroic is if Disney used its profits from Avengers to pay all of its workers a middle class wage, instead of paying its CEO Bob Iger $65.6 million – over 1,400 times as much as the average worker at Disney makes,” Sanders tweeted in April.
Iger didn’t name Sanders specifically, but said that “one of the things that politicians don’t understand” is the obligation to shareholders on a quarterly basis.
Iger said that there is a “delicate balance” that companies have to make to shareholders, customers, employees and the community. He also added that there is more corporate focus recently on the need to balance those interests.
“I think businesses for too long were focused too much on shareholders,” he said.