Will Steve Jobs Become Disney's Chairman? I'm Betting No

From where he sits, as CEO of both Pixar and Apple, [Jobs] can focus on shaping the future of media--rather than figure out a way out of its messy present.
Peter Burrows

I've got a running debate with a BW colleague on one of longest-running rumors in Hollywood: that Disney will buy Pixar, and make Steve Jobs its chairman. And that rumor is red-hot once again, as Disney and Pixar are negotiating an extension of their partnership that was supposedly going to be finalized by the end of 2005. In fact, Pixar shares are up 9% so far in this young year, to $57-plus, on the speculation.

Now, that's more than $300 million of extra pocket change for Jobs, who owns half of Pixar. Not bad for five days' work. But my guess is that Jobs isn't gunning for authority over the Magic Kingdom (It seems John Frost at The Disney Blog agrees with me).

For starters, Jobs has always maintained that he likes Pixar just the way it is: independant. It's located in a beautiful campus in Emeryville, Calif. that he helped design, sequestered far from the exigencies of Hollywood. There's no one to tell Pixar how to run its business--for example, to push it to make more movies each year, even at the expense of sacrificing the quality that's enabled Pixar to crank out an unblemished run of blockbusters. And there's no troubled TV networks or theme parks or live action movie studios to run. From where he sits, as CEO of both Pixar and Apple, he can focus on shaping the future of media--rather than figure out a way out of its messy present.

And then there's the practicalities. Think about it. On this particular day, he's likely negotiating the Disney deal, sheparding Apple's transition to Intel on the Mac and the creation of other new products, cutting video deals to get more content on iTunes, and keeping an eye on an investigation into digital music pricing by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, while also preparing for his annual Macworld keynote--which, as this article suggests, is a big job in itself. And heck, he's got enough leverage over Disney as it is to influence its future direction.

Plus, I don't think Jobs is in need of the prestige that would come with presiding over the board of one more of the world's most famous companies. As tempting as that would be for most, Jobs does not strike me as a guy that's particularly interested in prestige of that sort. Other than Apple-related events, he actually doesn't seek out much notoriety--far less than he could, for sure. For example, he spends far less time on the speaking or conference circuit than most CEOs.

Indeed, if this discussion of a Pixar buyout is even being discussed, I'd bet what's happening is this: that Disney is trying to come up with a package Jobs couldn't refuse without doing a disservice to Pixar's other shareholders, to get him to both sell Pixar and join Disney's board.

Personally, I doubt they'll succeed.

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