Bob Iger: the legacy of Disney’s daring dealmaker

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One of the key measures of a CEO’s success is their dealmaking prowess. So when big names step down, DD likes to take a look at their M&A record. 

We did this two years ago when Ian Read, the Scottish-born accountant turned businessman, announced his plans to step down as chief executive of pharmaceuticals group Pfizer. Our verdict then: Not so good.

For Bob Iger, pictured left, Disney’s longtime CEO, it’s a different story. 

Iger took over a business that was known for its magical theme parks and animated family films, and turned it into the world’s largest media company. That is no small feat. 

Here’s a timeline of Iger’s most important deals in his 15 years as chief executive and how they helped to shape Disney. 

  • Disney’s 2006 deal to buy Pixar for $7.4bn was transformative. It helped revive the company’s animation department and brought on board important figures like Steve Jobs, co-founder Ed Catmull and the creative guru John Lasseter, who was later ousted following sexual harassment complaints. The deal satisfied one of Iger’s grand ambitions for Disney: to restore it to its former glory as the pre-eminent Hollywood animation studio.

  • Next up was a $4bn bid for Marvel Entertainment in 2009, bringing together Iron Man and Spider-Man with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Iger wanted to distribute Marvel movies, which have since become some of the most profitable franchises in the business, generating billions in box office revenues. 

  • In 2012, Iger added Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to the mix with a $4bn deal to acquire Lucasfilm. A key appeal for Disney was Lucasfilm’s licensing and merchandise potential — particularly in international markets. The deal also made strategic sense since Pixar had started out as a unit within Lucasfilm.

  • Then came the pièce de résistance — a $71.3bn deal to buy Twenty-First Century Fox from the Murdochs. The tie-up was central to Iger’s strategy to bring Disney into the streaming fold and take on well-funded rivals like Netflix and Amazon. It was perhaps Iger’s most challenging deal, since Comcast gatecrashed with its own offer, but it has helped Disney gear up for the streaming wars. 

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Disney shareholders will be sad to see Iger go. Since he took over in 2005, the company’s stock price has increased close to 400 per cent. Its market cap has gone from $56bn to $231bn — which isn’t bad, if you’re into making money. 

Iger’s retirement, announced abruptly on Tuesday while he still has nearly two years left on his contract, took Wall Street by surprise. It didn’t take long for people to speculate that Iger could be throwing his hat into the presidential ring. 

The rumours were fuelled by an interview Iger did with Bill Simmons for his The Ringer podcast just two weeks before his retirement was announced. 

Asked by Simmons whether Iger is more likely to buy a sports team or run for president after retiring, Iger opted for the former but said he had considered a run for office so we probably shouldn’t rule that out. “They’re both expensive,” he quipped. 

Needless to say, the new big cheese at Disney, Bob Chapek, pictured above, right, has big shoes to fill. Check out Anna Nicolaou’s piece here on the response to Chapek’s appointment and Iger’s defence that he has chosen the right man. As with Iger’s bold dealmaking decisions, only time will tell. 

LSE/Refinitiv: good things come to those who wait?

London Stock Exchange and Refinitiv could be in for a long wait to see their $27bn deal approved by Brussels. 

Both sides are hoping to get their deal over the line with EU regulators by the end of 2020 but there is increasing scepticism it will get the stamp of approval this year, the FT’s Javier Espinoza explains

What’s going on? To begin with, the companies have not yet formally started the clock on an official probe in Brussels, which is making the timing tight. They were supposed to notify the competition regulator of the deal at the beginning of February but that didn’t happen because of unexpected scrutiny at the so-called pre-notification phase. 

Even once the ball starts rolling, regulators can — and often do — stop the clock at any time to ask for more information or documents when they do not feel answers have satisfied them. 

It’s more than just a question of process. There are concerns over whether the deal will reduce competition and whether regulators will ask the companies to dispose of any units before clearing the deal. 

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It’s far from game over. The LSE and Refinitiv said they were still hopeful of getting the transaction approved by the end of the year.

Who will run the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund?

The board overseeing Norway’s $1.2tn oil fund has a tough job on its hands: finding someone to fill the country’s “most important job”. 

Applications for chief executive of Norges Bank Investment Management — aka running the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund — closed on Friday (sorry DD readers). 

Incumbent Yngve Slyngstad is stepping down after more than a decade at a crucial juncture for the fund, so what’s needed is someone with steady hands who can steer NBIM through a critical period. 

After quadrupling in size over the past decade by surfing the global bull market in stocks, questions over its investment strategy and how it should wield its influence in its sometimes thorny relationship with Norway’s politicians are becoming more urgent.

One of the key problems facing the new CEO will be how to invest the vast amounts of money Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has accumulated. It might seem like a nice problem to have but getting governments to resist the temptation to spend the pot of money or meddle in its management is a tough gig. As they say in Norwegian: “La den beste kandidaten vinne”.

Job moves

  • Barbara Novick, a co-founder of BlackRock, is stepping down from her role as vice-chair of the world’s largest asset manager after more than three decades at the company. She will become a senior adviser to the group once her replacement has been found. Full tale here.

  • NMC Health, the beleaguered FTSE 100 healthcare provider, has fired its chief executive Prasanth Manghat, suspended a member of its treasury team and granted “extended sick leave” to its chief financial officer after finding discrepancies in its bank statements. More here.

  • White & Case has hired Will Smith as a partner in the firm’s global tax practice in London. Smith joins from Sidley Austin. It has also hired Jean-Luc Champy and Amaury de Feydeau as partners in its global project development and finance practice in Paris. They both join from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe

  • Alvarez & Marsal has hired David Moss as a managing director in its turnround and restructuring team. Moss has previously worked at Skype and at a software company owned by buyout group Carlyle

  • Ropes & Gray has added Egan Cammack and Laura Hirst to the law firm’s asset management practice in Boston. Cammack was previously at Convexity Capital Management while Hirst joins from Sidley Austin

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Smart reads 

Unravelling Gupta’s empire Through a dazzling run of acquisitions around the world, Sanjeev Gupta has gone from a little-known commodities trader to the captain of an industrial powerhouse with $20bn in annual turnover and 35,000 employees, in little more than five years. He has rescued failed or unwanted factories stretching from Scotland to South Australia but there are problems brewing at GFG Alliance, his family’s business empire. (FT)

China conspiracies Ben Meng, the man who oversees California’s $400bn state pension, has found himself at the centre of a debate over immigration, national security and what is defined (by some) as being a “real American”. A US citizen who grew up in China, Meng has been publicly accused by a Republican lawmaker of being a tool for the Chinese government to funnel American money into Chinese hands. (BBG)

Flush with cash Executives who made it big in the tech boom are exploring new frontiers in search of investments to park their enormous wealth. In an industry that has turned recent university graduates into young multibillionaires, wealth advisers say most people in the technology sector are unprepared for the changes that come with riches. But they’re adapting fast and they have an insatiable appetite for risk. (FT)

News round-up

Blackstone to buy UK student flats from Goldman for £4.7bn (FT)

Investors cast doubt on benefits of Prudential split (FT)

Walmart in talks over sale of Asda stake (FT)

Nokia to weigh strategic options as profit pressure mounts (BBG)

Trump campaign sues New York Times for libel (FT)

Lloyds and Direct Line to cut hundreds of UK jobs (FT)

Best of Lex Midweek: Moneyball, the Astros and Mike Milken (FT Lex)



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