When two entertainment industry giants sat down on the same stage Wednesday, one of the first subjects they talked about was a third: Producer Brian Grazer's opening question for Disney CEO Bob Iger led almost immediately to Iger's memories of Steve Jobs.
Iger talked about his experiences with the Apple co-founder in a talk in which he also discussed his high tolerance for risk and what he said was his only real fear about Disney: That the company may one day stop innovating creatively.
Grazer moderated the Hollywood Radio and Television Society panel with Iger, who discussed Jobs as he recalled Disney's 2006 acquisition of Pixar, the animation company of which Jobs was the major shareholder, soon after Iger became Disney's CEO. The $7.4 billion all-stock deal revived Disney's animation, made Jobs the largest shareholder in Disney, and set the stage for later Disney acquisitions of Marvel and Lucasfilm.
But it almost didn't happen because of past disagreements between Jobs and previous Disney CEO Michael Eisner. When Iger learned that he was to be named CEO, one of the first things he did was call Jobs.
"I don't even remember it being totally premeditated," Iger said. "I just decided to call my parents and my grown daughters in New York and a couple of good friends and Steve."
He asked Jobs if they could get together to see if the companies' relationship could be "salvaged," Iger said.
"To his credit, he said, 'Okay. I think you're just more of the same…'" but he still agreed to talk, Iger said.
He also credited Jobs with being "relentlessly" honest and candid, even calling him on Saturdays to say if a Disney movie he saw the night before had "sucked."
Iger said that directness was infectious. He was candid with Jobs, he said, about Disney's need to acquire Pixar to improve Disney's animation offerings.
Later, reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, he learned that Jobs had been impressed by his honesty. He joked that that "probably saved us probably a couple hundred-thousand dollars" in the $7.4 billion-dollar deal.
Iger remembered his dealings with Jobs on a good day for Disney and a bad one for Apple. Even as Disney stock hit an all-time high of $53.95 per share, Apple stock plummeted in after-hours trading after the company reported disappointing iPhone sales. (Iger serves on Apple's board of directors.)
Among the lessons Iger said he has learned as a CEO is the importance of accepting risk.
"I've learned over the years that while you can't be dismissive of risk, particularly in the corporate world… if you are too focused on it you don't do anything," Iger said. "You don't get anything done. CEOs of companies that need to grow and need to evolve cannot be risk-averse."
He added: "So while I'm always aware that there's risk involved in some of these big decisions, I focus far more on opportunites. And it was the opportunity that Pixar presented to Disney that I spent much of my time on, in weighing whether we should step up and buy Pixar."
Glazer concluded the talk by asking Iger if anything keeps him awake at night.
"No," Iger said. "I'm not that fearful a person. ... In terms of the company, the only thing that I ever really worry about is just how really to sustain creative success. Nothing bothers me more than walking out of a screening or seeing something that we've done and we all look at each other and kind of know -- I like honesty, by the way, when it comes to criticism -- we all know it could have been better so we look at it and say, boy, that could have been better, and kind of share in the disappointment a bit. I hate that."