The day Steve Jobs told Bob Iger he was dying

Of course he did it 30 minutes before they were scheduled to announce Disney’s acquisition of Pixar. 

From Bob Iger’s “We Could Say Anything to Each Other” ($) in Vanity Fair.

In January 2006, I joined Steve Jobs in Emeryville, California, to announce Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, the acclaimed animation studio chaired by Steve. I had become CEO of Disney just three months prior, and the deal represented an enormous opportunity—and risk—for the company and me personally. The plan that day was to release the announcement after the stock market closed at 1 p.m. PT, then hold a press conference and a town hall meeting with Pixar’s employees.

Just after noon, Steve pulled me aside. “Let’s take a walk,” he said. I knew Steve liked to go on long walks, frequently with friends or colleagues, but I was surprised at the timing and suspicious about his request. I wondered whether he wanted to back out of the deal or renegotiate its terms.

I looked at my watch. It was 12:15. We walked for a while and then sat on a bench in the middle of Pixar’s beautiful, manicured grounds. Steve put his arm behind me, which was a nice, unexpected gesture. He said, “I’m going to tell you something that only Laurene”—his wife—“and my doctors know.” He asked me for complete confidentiality, and then he told me that his cancer had returned.

 “Steve,” I said, “why are you telling me this now?” “I am about to become your biggest shareholder and a member of your board,” he said. “And I think I owe you the right, given this knowledge, to back out of the deal.”

It was 12:30, only 30 minutes before we were to announce. I wasn’t sure how to respond, and I was struggling to process what I’d just been told, which included asking myself whether what I now knew would trigger any disclosure obligations. He wanted complete confidentiality, so it would be impossible to do anything except accept his offer and back away from a deal I wanted badly, and we needed badly. Finally I said, “Steve, in less than 30 minutes we are set to announce a seven-plus billion-dollar deal. What would I tell our board, that I got cold feet?” He told me to blame him. I then asked, “Is there more that I need to know about this? Help me make this decision.”

He told me the cancer was now in his liver and he talked about the odds of beating it. He was going to do whatever it took to be at his son Reed’s high school graduation, he said. When he told me that was four years away, I felt devastated. It was impossible to be having these two conversations—about Steve facing his impending death and about the deal we were supposed to be closing in minutes—at the same time.

I decided to reject his offer…

Adapted from The Ride of A Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger, published September 23, 2019 by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Robert Iger.

My take: A good story, well-told. Full excerpt available on Apple News+.

7 Comments

  1. Steven Noyes said:

    There has been lots written about Steven Jobs. Some of it flattering much of it not.

    What I think most fail to capture well is that Mr. Jobs had extremely high level of expectations and within that framework he acted accordingly. I think this story captures this very well.

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    September 19, 2019
    • Jerry W Doyle said:

      @Steven Noyes: Right on target! Very good observation noted in the article by you and also very discerning understanding of the man, Steve Jobs.

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      September 19, 2019
  2. Gregg Thurman said:

    Thinking about SJ’s death still stings a bit. I really miss his keynotes.

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    September 19, 2019
  3. Jerry W Doyle said:

    A characteristic of Apple’s greatness of which we now all know, but that emanated from these two great CEOs (Jobs & Iger) and exists still within Apple’s current CEO, is the intersection between great content and great technology.

    Another great trait is to have confidence in staffs abilities to execute and not get in the way. Iger and Jobs recognized the powerful need to retain the greatness, the culture, the independent identity, the integrity of Pixar so that such an acquisition by Disney would not stifle Pixar’s staffs to nurture their creative talents. Connecting the art and the technology! Steve (and today Tim C) often said (and say) “That’s what our culture is all about.”

    So, Iger did an acquisition of Pixar with Jobs, but essentially it was a “reversed” acquisition that made the deal successful and Jobs and Iger were cognizant fully that the deal essentially was a “reversed” acquisition. Catmull would head Disney animation and Lassiter it’s chief creative officer AND, that entity remained geographically where it existed! Very little changed, if anything!

    The other noteworthy comment is how all of this fell congruently in Steve’s operational mindset that he often touted publicly: “… My goal always has been not only to make great products, but to build great companies.” Apple is a great company. Pixar was a great company. And the way Jobs and Iger did the acquisition allowed Walt Disney to remain a great company. What a legacy left behind by Steve Jobs!

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    September 19, 2019
  4. Gregg Thurman said:

    OT: After watching AAPL decline for the past 60 minutes or so, I sold my $215 Calls and made just a couple bucks profit.

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    September 19, 2019
    • Gregg Thurman said:

      Truth-in-Lending:

      I lost $5.15 on the above trade. However, selling when I did prevented a further loss. I may get back in, but don’t know at the moment.

      My Call Spread remains in-the-money and profitable.

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      September 19, 2019

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