In a stunning turn of events, The Walt Disney Co. says Bob Chapek will step down as CEO, with Bob Iger returning to lead the company.
Disney’s board of directors announced the decision Sunday evening.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney throughout his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, chairman of the board, in a statement. “The Board concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is in a unique position to lead the company through this pivotal period.”
Chapek had just signed a new multi-year deal in June, after speculation following the ouster of TV chief Peter Rice earlier that month prompted the board to issue a noted public statement supporting the CEO after the move.
Iger even acknowledged in an email to Disney employees Sunday that he’s returning “with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I have to admit, a little amazement.”
While Iger will return to his old role, the board has also made it clear that his new tenure will be temporary.
Iger “agreed to serve as CEO of Disney for two years, with a mandate from the board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the board to develop a successor to lead the company at the end of his term”. said the council. The revival of “who will succeed Iger?” the question is certainly hotly debated, given that much of the previous decade saw a surge in executives speculated as a possibility, only to walk out or be ignored.
Iger stepped down as CEO in February 2020, handing the reins to Chapek, who previously led the company’s theme parks and consumer products division. He continued to serve as the company’s executive chairman, stepping down from that position just 11 months ago. (Since then, he has taken a part-time job at a venture capital firm, Thrive Capital, as a partner and has been working on a follow-up book to his 2019 tome Tour of a lifetime.)
Of course, as Arnold noted in his statement, the novel coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted the company, shutting down its theme parks and cruise ships and halting nearly all film and television production. However, it also boosted streaming growth, with Chapek leaning into streaming while retooling the company to focus on digital.
But his tenure was also difficult, marked by controversy and distraction. From the aggressive campaign against Marvel star Scarlett Johansson that resulted in a pay deal Black Widowto Disney’s response (or lack thereof) to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Chapek faced a wide variety of public bankruptcies during his relatively short tenure at the top of the company.
But in addition to the public controversy, Disney’s business has also begun to falter in recent quarters.
Chapek announced Nov. 11 that the company would freeze hiring and halt all nonessential travel, with likely layoffs as its executive team tries to cut costs.
And while Disney is gaining subscriptions at a rapid pace — about 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 much more difficult to achieve its profitability target.
Iger, a businessman since joining ABC in 1974, led the network after Disney acquired it in 1995 and was elevated to Disney CEO in 2005, succeeding Michael Eisner. While his elevation within the company was due to his business savvy, he developed a reputation for having a keen sense of taste and creative vision, skills he continued to put to use after he stepped down from his position. of CEOs in 2020.
Iger took 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 surpass $10 billion in global box office sales. The same year, Disney closed an unprecedented $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox, including studio 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, FX Networks and National Geographic, creating a global content powerhouse.
While Iger has built a reputation as talent-friendly, Chapek’s reputation among creatives took a hit in July 2021 when the dispute with Johansson over the day and date streaming release of Black Widow has gone public. The star filed a lawsuit claiming the studio was sacrificing her potential at the box office to squeeze Disney+.
Their different styles and approaches have led to something of an oil and water relationship between the two Bobs. How DAY‘s Kim Masters reported last year, in what was to be her 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 about $55 billion when Iger took over in 2005, rose to $260 billion in January 2020, and fell to $167 billion as of Friday.
“I am extremely optimistic about the future of this great company and excited to be invited by the board to return as CEO,” Iger said in a statement. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the world, especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is inspiring. I am deeply honored to be called upon to once again lead this extraordinary team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through bold and unparalleled storytelling.”
Iger told employees in his memo that he will speak to the company on Monday, with other top executives.
“I know this company has asked so much of you over the past three years, and these times certainly remain quite challenging, but as you’ve heard me say before, I’m optimistic and if I’ve learned one thing from my years at Disney, it’s that even when faced with to uncertainty, perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty, our employees and cast members achieve the impossible,” he wrote.
Aaron Couch contributed to this report.