In a surprising move this afternoon, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that he is stepping down as chief executive. He has also handpicked chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products Bob Chapek to take over as CEO. This is effectively immediately.
“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,” Iger said in a statement. “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 will continue to be employed by the company until his contract ends in December 31, 2021 and serve as executive chairman focusing on the creative direction of each of the company’s businesses. Iger says that by passing on the day-to-day responsibilities to Chapek, it will allow him to focus on what new products and services will take Disney into the future further.
This transitions comes on the heels of an elongated succession period, with Iger extending his contract multiple times on recommendation by Disney’s board of directors in year’s past. Before that, he positioned then chief financial officer of the company, Tom Staggs, as chief operating officer before the decision was knocked down due to “a lack in confidence” in Staggs’ future as the seventh CEO.
Like Staggs, however, Chapek served in multiple roles across many of Disney’s businesses before catching the eye of Iger as a likely successor. He has worked at Disney for 27 years in roles like leading Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Disney Consumer Products, and most recently Disney’s theme parks and resorts. Through each of those consumer-centric roles, Chapek has implemented strategies and innovations that have brought increased brand interest and consumer spending, as well as keeping costs down.
That cost-cutting mentality hasn’t boded well with those inside and outside the company, however. For example, many Disney parks fans were upset when news came saying that Chapek was responsible to cutting the experiential entertainment in Galaxy’s Edge, including roaming droids, character shows, and a premium dinner experience.
There’s no word on who will be taking over leading Disney’s theme parks as Chapek vacates the role, but you can bet that he will have a say on what goes and what doesn’t moving forward. It will be put in check, however, as these next 22 months as CEO will be done in tandem with Iger at his side as well as his co-leaders who oversee the other segments. “I also know that businesses that I haven’t managed like direct-to-consumer (e.g. Disney+) have visionary and results-driven leaders. I trust them,” Chapek said in a phone conference after the announcement.
Chapek, who was identified as a candidate a few years ago, continued, “My priority as CEO is simple: to continue the growth and stewardship of this great brand, while preserving its rich legacy.”
It will be interesting, then, to see how the company changes after the 22-month transition period. As Iger dreams, Chapek will be expected to do. And after Iger leaves, he’ll be expected to do both. No one can mimic Iger’s successful 15-year tenure, but it certainly now sets a standard that Chapek would be wise to meet and exceed in his own way.
“Bob has my and the full board’s confidence, Iger said as he sat next to Chapek during the announcement conference call. “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.”
Here’s a quick overview of Chapek’s time at Disney, provided by Disney:
Mr. Chapek served as Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products since the segment’s creation in 2018, and prior to that was Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since 2015.
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. 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, Mr. Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Company and in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.
Mr. Chapek earned a B.S. in Microbiology at Indiana University Bloomington and an MBA from Michigan State University.