Shocking news came out of the Disney Company late Sunday as reports surfaced that Bob Iger would be returning as the company’s CEO, replacing Bob Chapek. This was after Chapek took over for Iger in 2020, as Iger retired. Below is a statement from the Walt Disney Company followed by a little bit of our own commentary.
“The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) announced today that Robert A. Iger is returning to lead Disney as Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. Mr. Iger, who spent more than four decades at the Company, including 15 years as its CEO, has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, with a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term. Mr. Iger succeeds Bob Chapek, who has stepped down from his position.
‘We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,’ said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. ‘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.’
‘Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide–all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,’ she said.
The position of Chairman of the Board remains unchanged, with Ms. Arnold serving in that capacity.
‘I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,’ Mr. Iger said. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe—most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration. I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.
During his 15 years as CEO, from 2005 to 2020, Mr. Iger helped build Disney into one of the world’s most successful and admired media and entertainment companies with a strategic vision focused on creative excellence, technological innovation and international growth. He expanded on Disney’s legacy of unparalleled storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company’s market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO. Mr. Iger continued to direct Disney’s creative endeavors until his departure as Executive Chairman last December, and the Company’s robust pipeline of content is a testament to his leadership and vision.”
I’m going to stray from commenting on this from a business perspective. There are better places to find out how this will effect the Disney company from a financial standpoint. Frankly, that doesn’t matter as much to me outside of the very basic premise that if the company is doing well then they usually are more willing to invest into the theme parks.
Like most Disney fans, Cast Members and anyone else associated with the company, this was welcome news. From a very basic point of view, I don’t think any aspect of the company has improved under Chapek’s watch. Again, that’s coming from a creative standpoint. Some of that is not his fault. Most of his reign over the company was during an unprecedented pandemic. If those were the only issues then I think there may have been more patience shown.
What made Chapek a frustrating figure for Parks fans were his disparaging comments and money-focused decisions inside of Disneyland and Walt Disney World. While the park reservation system was a necessary step coming out of the pandemic, it is still in place and as frustrating as ever. Annual Passholders have been alienated in many different ways. The most loyal of fans have had their patience tested, even being called an “unfavorable attendance mix” by Chapek himself.
Among those problems, there were also questionable political stances (or lack thereof) and unflinching move towards everything needing to be about the money. Yes, it’s a business but there was seemingly never a thought about the customer experience, which has slipped dramatically over the last few years.
Just because Chapek is gone doesn’t mean that all of this will be solved. Genie+ and its high price tag is here to stay. Ticket prices will keep increasing until the demand isn’t there. No outward changes will be evident for months, maybe even more. Instead what we should be hoping for is a change in tone followed by actions that show the customer experience is important.
There are multiple ways to show this, whether it be Passholder events, investing in the theme parks and actually listening to feedback from the guest experience. Things weren’t perfect under Iger and, frankly, they won’t be perfect under anyone. But I do think a move away from a CEO who only looked at the company as dollars and data will be beneficial.
What I’m most excited for is hopefully a change in culture in how the CEO treats Imagineers and Cast Members. Several former Imagineers have spoke out, saying Chapek didn’t make any effort in getting to know them. Likewise, seeing him inside of the theme parks and talking to Cast Members just didn’t happen. That was far different from any CEO before him. I’m hopeful that changes and a better work environment comes out of that.
Overall, I’m very happy with this news. While I’m not sure any outside effects will be felt anytime soon, this should steady the company and push it forward into a place that respects the tradition of the theme parks.
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