Just as the pandemic was preparing to pull the world apart in February 2020, Hollywood was delivered a shocking blow as 15-year Disney CEO Iger stepped down, appointing Chapek as his successor. Chapek's reign has since been met with a slew of controversy that has now brought it to an abrupt end.
Disney CEO Replaced In Shock Twist
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has stepped down from his position after just under three years. He will be replaced by his predecessor Bob Iger, who held the position from March 2005 to February 2020.
Chapek previously had his contract extended for the next three years - which would have kept him in his job at the House of Mouse until at least 2025 - however, Iger will now replace him effective immediately.
Iger's return as CEO of the House of Mouse comes as part of a temporary two-year deal that, as stated by the board, will see him develop a "strategic direction for renewed growth" and assist in "developing a successor:"
"[Iger] has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, with a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term."
The incoming CEO acknowledged his comeback in an email to Disney employees on Sunday in which he noted he returns “with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement.” His full email to the staff - as shared by The Ankler - can be seen below:
"Dear Fellow Employees and Cast Members,
It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility-and, I must admit, a bit of amazement-that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer.
When I look at the creative success of our teams across our Studios, Disney General Entertainment, ESPN and International, the rapid growth of our streaming services, the phenomenal reimagining and rebound of our Parks, the continued great work of ABC News, and so many other achievements across our businesses, I am in awe of your accomplishments and I am excited to embark with you on many new endeavors. I know this company has asked so much of you during the past three years, and these times certainly remain quite challenging, but as you have heard me say before, I am an optimist, and if I learned one thing from my years at Disney, it is that even in the face of uncertainty-perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty-our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible.
You will be hearing more from me and your leaders tomorrow and in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, allow me to express my deep gratitude for all that you do. Disney holds a special place in the hearts of people around the globe thanks to you, and your dedication to this company and its mission to bring joy to people through great storytelling is an inspiration to me every single day.
Disney also issued a memo acknowledging the change in leadership, which described Iger as "uniquely situated to lead the company through this pivotal period" and noted some of the reasons behind his appointment. The full memo from the House of Mouse can be read below:
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. “The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period.”
“Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide–all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,” she said.
The position of Chairman of the Board remains unchanged, with Ms. Arnold serving in that capacity.
“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Mr. Iger said. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe—most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration. I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.”
During his 15 years as CEO, from 2005 to 2020, Mr. Iger helped build Disney into one of the world’s most successful and admired media and entertainment companies with a strategic vision focused on creative excellence, technological innovation and international growth. He expanded on Disney’s legacy of unparalleled storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company’s market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO. Mr. Iger continued to direct Disney’s creative endeavors until his departure as Executive Chairman last December, and the Company’s robust pipeline of content is a testament to his leadership and vision.
Why Bob Chapek Was Replaced As Disney CEO
Based on the statement issued by Disney, Bob Chapek appears to have been fired by the board from his CEO position. With the House of Mouse having turned to Bob Iger for a short-term deal that will even see him prepare his own successor, it appears there was a desire to remove the incumbent CEO quickly.
This would imply that the board was of the opinion that Chapek was causing direct harm to the company, perhaps due to some of his recent decisions. Just weeks ago the now-former CEO instituted a hiring freeze, layoffs, and strict cost cuts that even included business meetings limited to virtual calls.
After Chapek replaced him, Iger initially stayed on as board chairman until the end of 2021, during which time they reportedly failed to get along or agree on many key decisions. This was despite Iger having originally said when Chapek took over that he couldn't “think of a better person to succeed [him]."
Put bluntly, Chapek was never liked in much of the public eye - he was even booed by crowds at his own D23 Expo presentation - and all signs suggest the same was thought within the company. Granted, the pandemic meant he was never going to have an easy start to his tenure, but his blunders step far beyond that.
Bob Chapek's Worst Moves as Disney CEO
For one, Chapek decided to relocate the company from California to Florida, due to reduced real-estate costs, and in turn, expected thousands of employees to move with the mouse. This plan to move around 2000 employees was expected to be complete by early 2023, at the latest, however, had to be delayed until 2026.
Amid that plan, Disney omitted a lack of response to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill that sought to ban public schools from mentioning gender identity or sexual orientation. This even led to a walkout from many employees, and while Chapek stayed quiet, Iger spoke out against him calling it a matter of "right and wrong."
There was also the Scarlett Johansson debacle that saw the Black Widow actress sue Disney over the movie's streaming release during the pandemic - which would have cost her millions due to the box office cut she was expected to receive. This was eventually settled with a deal that saw the actress receive a settlement.
The statements to come out of Disney through the suit included calling it a "PR campaign," and threw around brutal terms such as "callous disregard" and "sad and distressing" This raised significant questions regarding the company's treatment of talent in order to prioritise the bottom line.
Many believe Chapek's move to place Black Widow on Disney+ was part of a desperate effort to raise subscriber numbers as the pandemic led to other losses. Just recently, Disney+ lost $1.5B in the last quarter, doubling its loss of $630M in the same quarter last year - it is not expected to become profitable until 2024.
Disney's new CEO appointment comes as the House of Mouse prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary on October 16, 2023 - an event it will undoubtedly want to be a worldwide celebration not plagued by divisive management.