Bob Iger Back as CEO, Bob Chapek Out; Board Cites ‘Complex Industry Transformation’ for Shocking C-Suite Shuffle

Bob Iger has replaced Bob Chapek as Disney’s CEO, a shocking turn of events for the world’s largest media company that has been in turmoil ever since Iger stepped down as CEO in February 2020.

The shakeup that caught the entertainment industry and Wall Street mostly by surprise was confirmed by Disney’s board of directors late Sunday. There had been rumblings of a shakeup in the C-suite but the prospect of Iger returning to the CEO job still seemed far-fetched. The turnabout recalls a situation a generation ago at Apple when Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded after 12 years in the wilderness. Iger was out of power as CEO for a little under three years.

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“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 Disney’s board of directors. “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.”

Chapek’s ouster comes on the heels of a third-quarter earnings report that spooked Wall Street as spending on content and marketing for Disney’s direct-to-consumer platforms hit its projected peak of $1.5 billion in fiscal 2022. Even though the Disney had previously guided Wall Street to losses of that scale, and even as Disney+ posted subscriber growth for the quarter, the river of red-ink still took a toll on Disney’s stock price. Shares fell well below the $100 mark, to $90, on Nov. 9, the day after Disney’s after-market earnings report.

Iger’s stealthy return to the top adds a dramatic finish to the soap opera that has captivated Hollywood for the past few years. Iger, given his storied 15-year run that transformed Disney through acquisitions and great ambition, would invariably cast a large shadow over his successor. But in this case, there were reports of Iger vs. Chapek tussles almost from day one.

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said in a statement. “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.”

Chapek could not immediately be reached for comment. The 30-year Disney executive who had experience running theme parks, consumer products, home entertainment and distribution was seen as the perfect insider to keep Disney’s complex global operations humming. But Chapek hit some early missteps amid unprecedented pandemic times. He also inherited a strategy of betting the farm on the growth potential of Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu. As the growth potential global streaming sector has clearly come down to earth, Chapek’s regime had the unenviable task of delivering numbers to Wall Street. Last week, Jim Cramer called for Chapek’s replacement, citing Disney’s “balance sheet from hell.”

In September, Chapek presided over Disney’s D23 fan event that demonstrated the breadth of content under Disney’s roof, from Marvel and Lucasfilm to National Geographic, Pixar, ESPN and ABC.

“The Disney of the next 100 years will be more expansive than the Disney of the first 100 years,” Chapek told Variety on Sept. 10. “The brand’s elasticity is amazing – the capital D Disney. Each of the components of our company — whether it’s Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar, ESPN, ABC — they have their own identity. But they all play into a much more expansive view of what Disney is. And the ultimate arbiter of what Disney can and can’t be is the fan, the viewer, the guest. They are the ultimate arbiter.”

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