Bob Iger Returns as Disney’s CEO

 The Walt Disney Company turns 100 in less than a year. Businesses only last that long if they’re stable and perennially well-run. 

Alas, Disney’s past three years have been among the most turbulent in the company’s storied history. For this reason, Disney’s Board of Directors has done the unimaginable. Disney has a new CEO, but it’s an old one as well. Here’s what just happened. 

Chapek Exits Disney While Iger Returns as CEO

In news of the unimaginable, Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO for the last 33 months, has lost his job. As of Sunday, November 20th, he is no longer a Disney employee. 

Meanwhile, Bob Iger, who announced his retirement from Disney precisely 999 days ago, has returned to the company. Notably, Iger’s retirement lasted less than a year, as he quit on New Year’s Eve 2021. 

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As a reminder, Iger worked as Disney’s Chairman of the Board until that time, meaning that his opinion factored heavily into the choice for his replacement. Iger and the rest of Disney’s Board vetted and ultimately selected Chapek as CEO in February 2020. 

More recently, Iger’s successor as Chairperson of the Board, Susan Arnold, extended Chapek’s CEO contract by three years. He expected to hold the gig until July 2025. And I should mention that Disney’s Board unanimously voted for that multi-year extension.

So, you probably have questions. I’ll be honest that I do as well, and none of us is likely to gain answers for a while. 

By way of explanation, Arnold stated the following for this dramatic change at the top of Disney’s corporate ladder:

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. 

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.”

Iger Has Already Rallied the Troops

For his part, Iger wasted no time retaking the reins at Disney. Here’s a message he sent to the staff. 

Iger starts with this comment: 

“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.”

If Iger is amazed, I cannot imagine how Chapek feels. He was reportedly ready to go on stage to introduce Elton John for a Disney+ concert special when the news broke that he was out.

So, we can definitely describe this turn of events as a bombshell. Just last month, Chapek performed an interview with the Wall Street Journal wherein he finally appeared comfortable as CEO. 

Barely three weeks later, Chapek is out of a job. You’re likely wondering what happened, and the answer comes down to money. 

Disney’s Projected Rough 2023 Leads to a Change

On November 8th, Disney reported its fiscal earnings for the fourth quarter of 2022 and the fiscal year as a whole. While Disney claimed record revenue, it also listed losses of nearly $1.5 billion in three months for its streaming business. That’s almost $500 million per month Disney is losing on its streaming content. 

Meanwhile, the company estimated its 2023 revenue as growing in the high single digits. Many Wall Street analysts had projected at least $20+ billion more in growth in 2023 than Disney stated during that call. 

Suddenly, Chapek came under fire for underachieving as Disney’s CEO. Immediately after the report, CNBC’s Jim Cramer called for Chapek’s firing, which seemed ludicrous at the time. 

However, Disney officials recognized that Chapek has become a public relations problem with Wall Street and Hollywood executives alike. Conversely, those same parties revere Iger, whom some have described as the greatest CEO ever. 

Chapek had just announced a frustrating combination of job freezes, layoffs, and park price increases. Now, Iger can come in and try to reverse the company’s fortunes. 

What Happens Next with Disney?

Will Disney still perform the layoffs? Any answer here would be blind speculation. What I can say is that Chapek had recently announced a special layoffs task force of three people, including himself. So, that task force probably just closed permanently. 

To a larger point, many recognizable Disney Vacation Club names like Jeff Vahle, Ken Potrock, and Josh D’Amaro gained high-profile gigs due to their close working relationships with Chapek. Those individuals lead Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, and the entire Disney theme park empire, respectively. Don’t be surprised if Iger makes a change or two. 

Of course, what we’re all wondering is whether Iger rolls back some of Chapek’s price increases and park policies. During his tenure, Iger repeatedly stated a desire for Disney parks to remain affordable for all. Similarly, Magical Express debuted four months after Iger became Disney’s CEO (the first time). Could it return?

We don’t know any of these answers yet. Still, I think it’s fair to expect a calmer, better 2023 for Disney fans, especially DVC members. At a minimum, we won’t have to worry about what inexplicable mistake Chapek will make next. 

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