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Disney CEO Bob Iger announces immediate resignation, parks chief Chapek to step up

Bob Iger, the 69-year old CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is stepping down from his post with immediate effect. He will be succeeded by the company’s chairman for parks, experiences and products, 27-year Disney veteran Bob Chapek.

The CEO previously had announced he would leave the role at the end of his contract on December 31, 2021, with this immediate exchange of power on a Tuesday afternoon coming as a shocking surprise. Iger will serve as executive chairman until the end of his contract.

Announcing his departure, Iger said: “With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of 21st 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’s legacy

Iger has served as CEO since 2005, taking over from Michael Eisner. Iger’s 15 year tenure started with seeing the company out of the dire situation left behind by Eisner, with its studios and parks divisions both faltering as well as being in a poor financial state off the back of the US$19 billion purchase of ABC.

From that point, Iger radically transformed the company through a strategy of acquisitions and expansion. Most noteworthy were the US$7.4 billion purchase of animation studio Pixar in 2006, the US$4 billion buy of comic company Marvel Entertainment in 2009, Lucasfilm for US$4 billion in 2012, and the US$71 billion acquisition of the bulk of 21st Century Fox last year.

From a creative perspective, Iger heavily invested in revitalising Disney’s animation studios. Following commercial and critical flops like Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Iger shifted the company to slow down production and focus on bringing animated features back to the fore. This strategy bore fruit, and films such as The Princess and The Frog, Tangled and Frozen allowed Disney to reclaim its place at the top of the animation tree.

Iger also placed a renewed focus on Disney’s theme parks. While Eisner’s Euro Disney Resort (Now Disneyland Paris) was largely considered an expensive failure, Iger’s efforts were spent on refreshing the existing resorts – most recently with the US$1 billion Star Wars-themed lands in Anaheim’s Disneyland and Florida’s Walt Disney World – and further expanding into the east with new resorts in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and opening a new park in Tokyo.

The final jewel in Iger’s crown is the November launch of streaming service Disney+, which has already reached 28.6 million subscribers in its first four months.

Chapek’s time

With parks, experiences and products being the company’s largest business segment, it is fitting then that the new big cheese will be Bob Chapek.

Chapek has served as the chairman of the division since the division’s creation in 2018, and was chairman of Walt Disney parks and resorts before that since 2015. The now-CEO also was the president of consumer products from 2011-15, and before that was president of distribution for The Walt Disney Studios. Chapek also spent time as the president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, with a release from the company noting that he was responsible for Disney’s infamous ‘vault’ release strategy.

Chapek said: “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.”

Of the new CEO, Iger said: “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.”

Describing Iger as “one of the world’s most esteemed and successful business leaders,” Disney board independent lead director Susan Arnold said that the company “has been actively engaged in succession planning for the past several years.” She added that Chapek was “unanimously elected” and that he has “shown outstanding leadership and a proven ability to deliver strong results across a wide array of businesses.

Arnold concluded: “[Chapek’s] 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.”