Bob Iger replaced Bob Chapek as the CEO of Disney. It’s a shocking turnaround for the world’s largest media company, which has been in turmoil since Iger stepped down as CEO in February 2020.
In a shakeup that gripped the entertainment industry and Wall Street, Disney’s board of directors confirmed the surprise late Sunday.
There were rumblings at Series C, but Iger’s return to the CEO role still seemed a long way off. The translation recalls the situation at Apple a generation ago when Steve Jobs returned to the company, whose founder had been in the desert for 12 years. Iger has been CEO for three years.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his long career of service to Disney, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Disney President Susan Arnold. “The board concluded that as Disney enters an increasingly complex phase of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this critical period.”
Chapek’s ouster comes after a third-quarter earnings report that spooked Wall Street, as content and marketing spending on Disney’s direct-to-consumer platforms were forecast to peak at $1.5 billion in 2022. Although Disney had previously managed losses of this magnitude on Wall Street and posted subscriber growth in the quarter, the river of red ink weighed on the company’s stock price. Shares fell below $100 to $90 on November 9, the day after Disney’s aftermarket earnings report.
Iger’s murky return to the top adds a dramatic end to the soap opera that has taken Hollywood by storm in recent years. Given his 15-year history of transforming Disney through acquisitions and ambitions, Iger will always cast a large shadow over his successor. But in this case, almost from the start, there were reports of the Iger vs. about Chapek battles.
“I am extremely optimistic about the future of this great company, and I am delighted that the board is asking me to return as CEO,” Iger said in a statement. “Disney and its incredible 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 the company and its mission is an inspiration.”
I am honored to be asked once again to lead this remarkable team, whose clear mission focuses on creative excellence to inspire generations through unparalleled and bold storytelling.
Chapek could not immediately be reached for comment. The 30-year-old Disney executive with experience in theme parks, consumer products, home entertainment, and distribution was seen as the perfect insider to keep Disney’s complex global operations afloat. But Chapek made some early mistakes during the unprecedented pandemic.
He also inherited a strategy to bet the farm on the growth potential of Disney, ESPN, and Hulu. With the growth potential of the global streaming industry definitely on the ground, Chapek’s management had the unenviable task of delivering the numbers to Wall Street. Last week, Jim Cramer called for Chapek’s replacement, citing Disney’s “hellish balance sheet.”
In September, Chapek hosted Disney’s D23 fan event, showcasing the breadth of Disney’s content, from Marvel and Lucasfilm to National Geographic and Pixar, ESPN, and ABC.
“This year’s Disney Next 100 is bigger than the first 100 years of Disney,” Capek told sources on September 10. “The flexibility of the brand is amazing—capital D Disney.” Every part of our company—whether it’s Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ESPN, or ABC—has its own identity. But they all get a much bigger picture of what Disney does. And the ultimate arbiter of what is and is not Disney is the fan, viewer, or visitor. “They are the final judge.”