Book Review: To Pixar and Beyond – My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History by Lawrence Levy

Why do I choose this book?

The first movie from Pixar I watched was Finding Nemo, a fantastic journey of a clownfish to find his son. Then I started to watch other films, like Toys Story, Cars (my favourite one), Ratatouille. I wonder how a company can be successful and famous for their characters of cars, clown fishes, toys, monsters, a cooking rat or a robot that know how to love. One day, when I looked up a book to read during my study week off, I spotted this book. A bit of research on who the author is, I found out that he was a former CFO and directors of Pixar. It interested me immediately because it could be a story from an internal person of Pixar, a person who knows and understands Pixar. I decided to go with it.

What is this book about?

Lawrence Levy was the former CFO, a member of the Office of the President of Pixar. He was also a director of Pixar for half a decade. He was hired by Steve Job in 1994 to prepare for the IPO of Pixar, to build a business road map for the development of this small company. This story was about the journey of Lawrence with Steve and Pixar turn Pixar from a nearly-failed company of Steve Job into a giant in the entertainment and film industries. We can learn what made the success of the company.

What is my First Impression?

Before I started, I wondered if this book would be similar to other success stories. Going through the introduction section, I realized that this book could be different. The author opened the book with his conversation with Steve in 2005, ten years after the successful IPO Pixar. A short discussion between them described ha brief on the friendship between these two men, and how they care about the company.

Lawrence said he would tell the story from different angles. He mentioned that he would see Pixar in a broader context through The Middle Way—a Buddhist philosophy. Therefore, I expected to have a different experience from reading articles on the Internet about the success of Pixar.

What do I think about this book?

When I read the book, I had the feeling that I was involved in a movie. The story led me to critical events: the first day when Lawrence received the offer from Steve Job; his first experience of watching the short film at Pixar; the first trading date of Pixar; and the moment Lawrence left Pixar after a successful acquisition of Pixar by Disney. They are like scenes in the movies about what made the success of Pixar.

The approach of the author was from inside the company. It could help readers to have a dim view of what difficulties Pixar had to face and how the managers and their staffs together went through it. It might be subjective at first glance, but I realized that the author told the story at a neutral voice. It makes the story more trustworthy and not like a promotion for Pixar.

In the beginning, I thought this book was a story about the development of Pixar. But going deep inside, I found some takeaways that startups in the recent day can learn for their growth. They can be old lessons, but their value still remains. The author explained the difficulties that Pixar had met in their early years. Pixar had the technology, had its culture, had enthusiastic employees who were willing to devote to the success of Pixar. But, Pixar at first could not be successful because of the lack of momentum. Based on what Lawrence wrote in this book, I realized that there will be some lessons that entrepreneurs can learn: the art of storytelling; the role of executives team; the paramount of the culture of a company; failure is the mother of success; and the most appropriate strategy for startups to grow.

I could have a chance to know more about Steve Job, the legend of the Silicon Valley. The story described how ambitious Steve was regarding the IPO of Pixar and the development of Pixar. From the perspective of a person who worked and built the friendship with Steve over more than 10 years, there is another part of Steve Jobs that we never see on the media.  

The book mentioned several professional aspects, like economic, accounting, and legal. But it was not harsh to understand. Lawrence did his best to make the book easy to digest technical and professional notions. In some parts, Lawrence included some finance-related parts in the story: basic knowledge of accounting, of the stock market. But he kept it in the easiest way to understand. It would be easier to digest even for people who know nothing about this sector. For other parts, he explained strategies in business negotiation to make clear how Pixar made a deal with Disney. That is the strength of the book which I love.

Lawrence knows where to give readers some break. He did not provide loads of information at once. He wrote a few chapters in the middle of the book with the gentle flow to keep readers stay but still lead them to the next important events of the story.

What is my Favorite quote(s)?

There is a chapter mentioning how Lawrence thought about putting names of everyone in Pixar in the credit of Pixar movies. That was touching and showed how vital leadership should do to thank the whole team. My favourite quote comes from that chapter:

Even if no one but their own families sat there and watched the credits, at least for them it would be a shining moment, a source of personal and family pride with a lasting glow.

Do I recommend?

If you are an entrepreneur who wants to learn more about how to lead a company to success, I Highly Recommend this book. For people who wants to understand more about the success of one of the most excellent entertainment companies, it is worth reading this book.

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