Disney Shocker: Bob Iger Returning as CEO, Bob Chapek Exits

Disney Shocker: Bob Iger Returning as CEO, Bob Chapek Exits

The Walt Disney Co. announced that Bob Chapek will resign as CEO and Bob Iger will return to lead the company.

The decision was made by Disney’s board on Sunday night.

“We thank Bob Chapek” for his long service to Disney, which included navigating the company through the unprecedented difficulties of the pandemic, stated Susan Arnold, chair of the board. “The Board concluded that Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the Company through an increasingly complex period in industry transformation as Disney embarks upon this pivotal period.

Chapek had just signed a multiyear contract in June. This was after Peter Rice’s resignation earlier that month. The board issued a notable public statement supporting the CEO.

In an email to Disney employees on Sunday, Iger acknowledged that he was returning with an “incredible sense of gratitude, humility — and, I must confess, a little amazement

Although Iger will be back in his old role, the board made it clear that his new term would be temporary.

The board stated that Iger had agreed to serve as Disney CEO for two years. He was given a mandate by the Board to establish the strategic direction for renewed growth, and to work closely alongside the Board in the development of a successor to the Company’s leadership. Given that many of the executives who were speculated about in the past decade were either dismissed or resigned, the question “Who will be Iger’s successor?” will be hotly debated.

Iger stepped aside as CEO in February 2020, handing the reins to Chapek, who previously led the company’s theme parks and consumer products division. Iger continued to serve as executive chairman of the company, stepping down from that position just 11 months ago. (Since that time, he found a part-time gig at a venture capital firm, Thrive Capital, as a partner and had been working on a follow-up book to his 2019 tome Ride of a Lifetime. )

Arnold made it clear that the novel coronavirus epidemic took a toll on the company. It shut down its cruise ships and theme parks, and stopped almost all film and TV productions. It also, however, turbocharged streaming growth, with Chapek leaning into streaming by reorganizing the company to focus on digital.

His tenure has been fraught with controversies, distractions and missteps. Chapek’s brief tenure at the top of the company has seen him deal with a variety of public problems, including the hostile campaign against Marvel’s Scarlett Johansson. This settlement was made for pay for Black Widow ,. Disney’s response ( or lack thereof ) to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

In addition to the public controversy, Disney’s business has also been struggling in recent quarters.

Chapek announced on Nov. 11 that the company would freeze hiring and stop all non-essential travel, with layoffs likely to follow as his executive team sought to trim costs.

And while Disney gains subscriptions at a rapid clip — some 235 million across Disney , ESPN and Hulu — the company’s streaming losses have continued to grow, to nearly $1.5 billion in its most recent quarter, making it that much more challenging to hit its profitability target.

Iger, a company man since joining ABC in 1974, led the network after Disney acquired it in 1995 and was elevated to CEO of Disney in 2005, succeeding Michael Eisner. While his elevation within the company was due to his business acumen, he developed a reputation for having an elevated sense of taste and creative vision, skills he continued to put to use after stepping aside as CEO in 2020.

Iger grew Disney to new heights by acquiring Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006, Marvel for $4 billion in 2009 and Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, creating a powerhouse that in 2019 saw the company pass $10 billion in global box office sales. The same year, Disney closed the unprecedented, $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox — including 20th Century Fox studio, Fox Searchlight, FX Networks and National Geographic — creating a global content powerhouse.

While Iger built a reputation as talent-friendly, Chapek’s reputation amongst creatives took a hit in July 2021 when the dispute with Johansson over the day-and-date streaming release of Black Widow went public. The lawsuit was filed by the star claiming that Disney was sacrificing its box-office potential to juice Disney .

The two Bobs had a very different style and approach which led to a kind of oil-and-water relationship. As THR’s Kim Masters reported last year, at what was to be his last formal Disney board retreat with the company, Iger implored everyone in the room to focus on the virtues of creativity and talent.

Disney’s market cap was roughly $55 billion when Iger took over in 2005, rose to $260 billion in January 2020, and has fallen to $167 billion as of Friday.

Iger stated that he was optimistic about the future of the company and was honored to be asked by its Board to return to the role of CEO. “Disney and its iconic brands and franchises have a special place in many people’s hearts around the world, especially among our employees, whose devotion to the company and its mission is inspiring.

I am honored to be asked to lead this team again. We have a clear mission to inspire generations through creative excellence and bold storytelling.

In a note to employees, Iger stated that he would address the company Monday with other senior leaders.

“I am aware that this company has asked you so many of you over the past three years and these times remain very challenging. But, as you have heard, I am an optimist and if there is one thing I have learned from my years at Disney it is that even when there is uncertainty, perhaps especially in the face, our employees and Cast members achieve the impossible,” he wrote.

Aaron Couch helped to create this report.

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