Monday, October 03, 2005

Another Cinderella Story? Disney Under Iger

I read the Saturday Wall Street Journal’s piece on Bob Iger, Disney’s new CEO. After seeing some lackluster interviews with him on CNBC in the past year, I was pleasantly surprised to read that he actually has some very novel ideas.

Then again, the interviews were given while Eisner was still in power. Iger was probably justifiably wary of going the way of many next-in-line or newly-minted CEOs who radically change their predecessor’s game plans while the old boss is still too close for comfort.

Iger is doing some much-needed and laudable thinking about tearing up his business model before it is decimated by forces outside his control. It reminds me very much, by contrast, of my first post-grad school employer, AT&T. The latter never really seriously reacted to its business model’s many threats until it was far too late. From my own internal experience in telecom with AT&T, I can vouch for Iger’s instincts. It’s much better to gut your own business first, your way, losing a portion of your revenues, than to see it siphoned off to competitors and lose far more revenues and customers.

It also reminds me of one aspect of the primary research which led me to create my knowledge base of the operating characteristics of consistently superior companies. Applied for both consulting and equity portfolio management, it provides quantitative descriptions of how consistently superior firms, in terms of fundamental operating characteristics and stock price performance, differ from lesser-performing companies.

My initial inquiry dealt with how long a large-cap company could remain consistently superior. Without divulging proprietary findings, I can say that it’s less than a decade. And at a certain point, the odds of maintaining consistently superior performance dwindle quite suddenly. Which means, in the case of Disney, that Eisner’s value to the company ended long, long ago. Thus, the need for such a radical shake-up now by Iger.

One can examine several US large-cap success stories back over time, and typically find some CEO who stayed too long at the party. Sears, GE (twice), IBM, GM. They all required significant changes after one CEO's business model grew decrepit.

I’m looking forward to watching Iger’s next few years. Maybe Disney will be in my portfolio before long after all.

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