After 15 years at the helm of The Walt Disney Company, Bob Iger announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as CEO, effective immediately.
His replacement: Bob Chapek, the head of Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products division who enjoys a controversial reputation among diehard Disney theme park fans.
Iger will stay on as executive chairman through December 2021, when his current contract expires, but he had never before indicated an earlier departure from the CEO role.
“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 press release. “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 told investors on a conference call that he and Disney’s board of directors have seen Chapek as his successor “for some time now.”
Chapek’s own statement praised Iger for building Disney “into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company.”
“I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward,” Chapek said. “Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”
Iger has been a part of Disney since it acquired Capital Cities/ABC in 1996, where he was serving as president at the time. He advanced to the No. 2 role at the company under then-CEO and chairman Michael Eisner in January 2000.
He eventually succeeded Eisner as CEO in 2005, adding the chairman title in 2012.
As for Chapek, his resume since joining Disney in 1993 includes experience in multiple divisions. Chapek previously headed distribution at The Walt Disney Studios, then led the consumer products division from 2011 to 2015. Chapek has been head of the Parks & Resorts division since 2015, adding new responsibilities when it was combined with Disney’s retail and publishing business in 2018.
“Bob is probably the best qualified person in the company to take this job,” Michael Nathanson, senior research analyst at MoffettNathanson, said on CNBC. “His history in all the divisions that really matter really is very supportive of him taking on that role.”
Among diehard Disney parks fans, however, Chapek will be a controversial choice. Chapek has a reputation for focusing on budgets over guest experience at Disney parks, such as repeated live entertainment cuts at the end of Disney’s fiscal year at the same time ticket prices continue to increase, and the decision to open Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge with only one of its two attractions available — a strategy that flopped both in Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Notably, the transition from Iger to Chapek could be considered the first smooth succession in Disney leadership in more than 35 years. Eisner was hired in 1984 after the company survived a series of hostile takeover attempts that led to the ouster of Ron Miller, Walt Disney’s son-in-law. Eisner’s selection was supported by Roy E. Disney, son of company co-founder Roy O. Disney, and the man who 20 years later led the successful campaign among shareholders to force out Eisner.
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