Bob Iger Stepping Down as Disney CEO, Effective Immediately

The Walt Disney Company just announced that Bob Iger is stepping down as Disney CEO, and will assume the role of Executive Chairman. Bob Chapek, who was Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences & Products up until now, has been named the new Chief Executive Officer by TWDC’s Board of Directors.

Per Disney, Bob Iger will direct creative endeavors, lead the Board of Directors, provide the full benefit of his experience, and work towards ensuring a smooth and successful transition for the next two years–through the end of his contract on December 31, 2021.

This is nothing short of stunning news. In this post, we’ll share the Walt Disney Company’s press release about new CEO Bob Chapek and the transition between outgoing CEO Bob Iger and Chapek. Finally, we’ll offer commentary about this bombshell (scroll down to “Our Commentary” if you don’t care about or have already read the details), including how this could impact Walt Disney World and Disneyland…

In Mr. Chapek’s new role as CEO, he will directly oversee all of the Company’s business segments and corporate functions. Mr. Chapek will report to the Executive Chairman, Mr. Iger, and the Board of Directors. He will be appointed to the Walt Disney Company’s Board of Directors at a later date.

A new head of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products will also be named at a future time. Mr. Chapek served as Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products since the segment’s creation. Prior to that, Mr. Chapek was Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

In offering statements about the change, Bob Iger said that “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.”

Mr. 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.”

“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,” Mr. Chapek said. “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 2 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, said, “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.”

As Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Mr. Chapek oversaw the Company’s largest business segment, with operations around the globe and more than 170,000 employees worldwide. The segment includes Disney’s iconic travel and leisure businesses, encompassing six resort destinations in the United States, Europe and Asia, a top-rated cruise line, a popular vacation ownership program, and an award-winning guided family adventure business.

Disney’s global consumer products operations include the world’s leading licensing business across toys, apparel, home goods, digital games and apps, the world’s largest children’s print publisher, Disney store locations around the world, and the shopDisney e-commerce platform.

During his tenure at the Parks segment, Mr. Chapek oversaw the opening of Disney’s first theme park and resort in mainland China, Shanghai Disney Resort; the addition of numerous guest offerings across Disney’s six resort destinations in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including the creation of the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World and the addition of Marvel-inspired attractions around the globe; and the expansion of Disney Cruise Line with the announced construction of three new ships.

From 2011 to 2015, Mr. Chapek was President of the former Disney Consumer Products segment, where he drove the technology-led transformation of the Company’s consumer products, retail and publishing operations. Prior to that, he served as 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.

Commentary

There are two aspects of this news: Bob Iger abruptly stepping down as Walt Disney Company’s CEO and Bob Chapek as his successor. We’ll start with the Bob Iger aspect of the news. Suffice to say, it strikes us as odd. There’s almost certainly more to this story than what has been revealed.

After extending his tenure on a couple of occasions, we anticipated that Bob Iger would groom a replacement and slowly reveal that individual, perhaps with carefully-placed “rumors” in trade publications. Disney would set the stage for that person as Iger’s clear successor even before an official announcement. With that, we expected that there’d be an announcement that said successor would take the helm at a future date a year or so down the road upon Iger’s exit, with a smooth transition coming first.

While the press release uses the word transition (and the same word was just used on the investor call a lot), stepping down immediately certainly doesn’t suggest that this is going to be a smooth and seamless process. Nor does elevating Bob Chapek without naming a new Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

It’s possible that Bob Iger’s new role as Executive Chairman will actually serve to ensure a smooth transition. However, that could just as easily be an honorary or superficial title to make it appear that this change isn’t abrupt. Disney has a history of creating and filling meaningless positions for high-profile executives who are leaving to “spend more time with family.”

As for the motivation, your speculation is as good as ours. There are all of the obvious assumptions when this type of thing happens, but we’re not going to engage in rumor mongering. We do question whether there’s more to this story, and what subsequent developments will occur. Quite simply, the explanation that the time was right does not pass the smell test. This looks and feels very sudden and odd.

As for our thoughts on Bob Chapek as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, we’ll share similar sentiment to what we did in the commentary to our recent Walt Disney World Investing Millions of Dollars on Cast Morale article.

We don’t normally offer commentary about executive leadership at the Walt Disney Company because it’s tough to do so from the outside looking in. Quite simply, fans see what we want to see. We view things in reductionist terms, and can be manipulated by agendas both internal and external to the company. Consequently, it’s easy to paint leadership in the familiar terms of Disney fairytales.

There’s always a villain–the one blamed for the gratuitous injection of IP in attractions. There’s also usually an underdog hero–the one who “gets” Disney and would save the parks and restore Epcot’s original vision if they just had a little more power. There’s perhaps a kernel of truth to some of this, but just as much is attributable to media savvy (or lack thereof) and how executives present themselves and mold their own public image.

With all of that said, our outsider’s perspective on Bob Chapek is not exactly glowing. As is the case with many Disney theme park fans, we’re skeptical of his consumer products background. There are plenty of anecdotes about him that suggest he doesn’t “get” theme parks, and his own words in publicly-available interviews reinforce how he views the parks and Disney brand as a whole.

However, we’ve never even met Bob Chapek and obviously have no firsthand experience of his leadership. Our view is largely uninformed and biased towards parks. Obviously, his new role as CEO encompasses far more than just theme parks, and perhaps he’s well-suited for such a position.

There’s also the matter of what this means for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and the international theme parks. Per the Walt Disney Company, the role vacated by Bob Chapek will be filled at a later date. It’s a pretty significant position to simply leave vacant, and we’d expect it to be filled sooner rather than later.

In the past, when the Parks & Resorts division has received a new leader, they’ve acted quickly to make their mark. Perhaps most notably, Tom Staggs changed the scope of New Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom shortly after his arrival, transforming plans for a slew of meet & greets into Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Other examples of such changes abound as leaders aim to leave their fingerprints on the parks and have a say in future developments.

This isn’t necessarily cause for concern–we wouldn’t expect any plans to be put on hold, especially anything that’s already in-progress construction. However, the scope and scale of previously-announced projects could change, especially those where little-to-no physical work has begun. This could also impact concepts that are in various stages of development but have not yet been greenlit. (Basically, we’re talking about Walt Disney World and Disneyland projects on the horizon for 2022 or beyond. Little if anything before then should be impacted.) We’ll continue monitoring this news, and will share whatever else develops as this transition takes shape…

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of Bob Iger stepping down as the Walt Disney Company’s CEO? Do you think the time is right, or agree that this seems very abrupt and odd? Thoughts on Bob Chapek being named new CEO? Who would you like to see be the next Chairman of Parks, Resorts & Experiences? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!


69 Responses to “Bob Iger Stepping Down as Disney CEO, Effective Immediately”
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