In a surprise announcement, the Walt Disney Company revealed this afternoon Bob Iger will step down immediately as CEO. He will be succeeded by Bob Chapek who previously was the Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Iger, who has been CEO for 15 years, had publicly discussed his desire to step down over the next few years, but this is a much earlier transition than expected.
According to a release from Disney, Iger will assume the role of Executive Chairman and will direct the company’s “creative endeavors” while leading the Board of Directors through the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. The release says this set up will provide “the full benefit of his experience, leadership and guidance to ensure a smooth and successful transition.”
In Mr. Chapek’s new role as CEO, the company says he will directly oversee all of the Company’s business segments and corporate functions. Chapek will report to the Executive Chairman, Mr. Iger, and the Board of Directors. He will be appointed to the Board at a later date and a new head of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products will be named at a future time. It’s an unusual set up clearly meant to slow the transition over the next 18 months.
On a day the Dow Jones closed down a staggering 873 points, the news sent Disney stock even lower in after-hours trading.
Chapek, had been the Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since 2015. From 2011-2015 he had been the head of the then Disney Consumer Products segment. President of Distribution for The Walt Disney Studios and was responsible for overseeing the Studios’ overall content distribution strategy across multiple platforms including theatrical exhibition, home entertainment, pay TV, digital entertainment and new media. He also served as President of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, where he spearheaded the successful “vault strategy” for the Company’s iconic films and transformed the primary format of home entertainment from DVD to Blu-ray. Before joining Disney in 1993, Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Company and in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.
In the release Iger noted, “With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO. I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s creative endeavors.”
Iger added, “Bob will be the seventh CEO in Disney’s nearly 100-year history, and he has proven himself exceptionally qualified to lead the Company into its next century. Throughout his career, Bob has led with integrity and conviction, always respecting Disney’s rich legacy while at the same time taking smart, innovative risks for the future. His success over the past 27 years reflects his visionary leadership and the strong business growth and stellar results he has consistently achieved in his roles at Parks, Consumer Products and the Studio. Under Bob’s leadership as CEO, our portfolio of great businesses and our amazing and talented people will continue to serve the Company and its shareholders well for years to come.”
Chapek stated, “I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees. Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team. I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”
Susan Arnold, independent Lead Director of the Disney Board, noted, “The Board has been actively engaged in succession planning for the past several years, and after consideration of internal and external candidates, we unanimously elected Bob Chapek as the next CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Mr. Chapek has shown outstanding leadership and a proven ability to deliver strong results across a wide array of businesses, and his tremendous understanding of the breadth and depth of the Company and appreciation for the special connection between Disney and its consumers makes him the perfect choice as the next CEO. Mr. Chapek will also benefit from the guidance of one of the world’s most esteemed and successful business leaders, Bob Iger.”
Ms. Arnold continued, “Over the past 15-plus years as CEO, Mr. Iger has transformed The Walt Disney Company, building on the Company’s history of great storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Twenty-First Century Fox and increasing the Company’s market capitalization fivefold. Disney has reached unparalleled financial and creative heights thanks to Mr. Iger’s strong leadership and clear strategic vision. We believe Mr. Chapek’s leadership and commitment to this strategy will ensure that the Company continues to create significant value for our shareholders in the years ahead.”
Chapek was not the only longtime Disney employee who was hunting for the CEO title. Kevin Mayer, the Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer and International, which oversees Disney Plus, and Peter Rice, the chairman of Walt Disney Television and Chair of Disney Media Networks, were rumored for the position.
Unlike Iger, who had decades of experience at ABC, Chapek’s only content background comes as the head of Disney distribution. It’s clear by having Iger stay on in a “creative” capacity, the company’s board wants to make sure he gains the trust of the numerous content entities across the media power.
Iger’s legacy at Disney is simply remarkable. He transformed a successful, but not dominating movie studio into the no. 1 motion picture company on the planet with the aforementioned acquisitions of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. The recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox theatrical and television assets has helped fuel the successful launch of Disney Plus and the complete takeover of streaming player Hulu. Where Chapek decides to take the company into the next decade and perhaps longer remains to be seen.