This week, we speak with Lawrence Levy, former CFO of Pixar hired by Steve Jobs to help turn the company around. he is the author of “To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey With Steve Jobs.”
Levy tells the story of how Steve Jobs recruited him to run Pixar, accompany that was mostly unknown at the time in Silicon Valley. Jobs was on one of the worst runs of his life, having run through a series of hardware failures (Mac, Lisa, Next, Pixar) and having been famously thrown out of Apple (1994).
We now know how wildly successful Pixar became, but at the time, its prospects looked like anything but. Levy had to figure out what Pixar’s business model actually should be —the company had 4 business lines, none of which could be depended upon to scale. Three of those four – making commercials, creating software, or doing short films – had limited potential. The only scalable and potentially profitable business line was their commercial entertainment films.
Only Pixar had never released a full length commercial animated film. Even worse, Levy discovered the company had agreed to a terrible deal with Disney. To succeed, all Pixar needed to do was create 5 to 10 of the biggest box office animated films of all time — in a row.
The entire company’s prospects ended up being highly dependent upon their first release, Toy Story. The huge and stunning success of first computer animated mainstream film helped set up an IPO, renegotiate their deal with Disney, tee up the company for a unending line of incredibly successful film releases over the next 20 years — before Disney ultimately buys Pixar for $7.4 billion dollars.
We learn that it was Pixar’s IPO, and not Apple, that made Jobs a billionaire.
All of Levy’s book recommendations are found here.
Next week, we speak with Ruchir Sharma, Chief Global Strategist and head of the Emerging Markets at Morgan Stanley.