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Disney Co. executives Bob Chapek, left, and Bob Iger, right, deliver remarks at Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Florida during an event marking the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World
Bob Chapek (left) is stepping down as Disney CEO, giving the role to Bob IgerImage: Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS/abaca/picture alliance

Shock CEO swap at Disney — Bob Iger returns, Bob Chapek goes

November 21, 2022

The Walt Disney Company has brought back its previous CEO, Bob Iger, at short notice to replace the man who replaced Iger two years ago, Bob Chapek. Disney has struggled to turn a profit on its new streaming juggernaut.

https://p.dw.com/p/4JoQX

The Walt Disney Company announced in a statement late on Sunday that Bob Iger would return to the media giant for at least two years as CEO, as it grapples with falling stock prices and struggles to turn a profit from its streaming service. 

Iger will replace Bob Chapek, the man who took over from him as Disney CEO in February 2020. 

The unexpected change at the world's largest media company was effective immediately, Disney said in its statement. 

"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career," Susan Arnold, chair of Disney's board, said. 

"The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely suited to lead the Company through this pivotal period," Arnold said. 

Chapek on the out just months after contract extension

In June, the board had voted unanimously to extend Chapek's contract by three years after he led Disney through the COVID pandemic, which had a major impact on the company's theme parks.

CEO of Disney Bob Chapek at Disneyland Paris in July 2022
Chapek's steered Disney through the pandemic, but also had clashes with staff and a star during his tenureImage: Franck Castel/abaca/picture alliance

But Disney published a disappointing earnings report this month showing that its streaming media unit that includes Disney+ was growing rapidly, it was not yet profitable. Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu's combined operating losses for the July-September period more than doubled year-on-year to $1.47 billion (roughly €1.45 billion). 

Disney's share price is down by 41% in 2022, albeit as part of a generally declining market. 

The company also became engulfed in an internal culture war during Chapek's watch, when the company leadership faced criticism from staff for failing to speak out on Florida legislation that would limit classroom discussion of sexual orientations and gender identity. Chapek remained silent on the issue until pressure from employees grew.

Chapek's reputation also suffered when a dispute with movie star Scarlett Johansson went public. Johansson filed a lawsuit accusing Chapek of sacrificing the box office potential of the film Black Widow in a bid to boost Disney+; they ultimately settled out of court. 

Iger the executive behind Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm purchases

Iger began his first stint as Disney CEO in 2005, when the company's value was around $55 billion. 

Robert Iger arrives at the world premiere of 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' in December 2019
Iger told employees in a memo that his return had also amazed him a littleImage: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/picture alliance

Under Iger's leadership Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lukasfilm and 20th Century Fox. The Disney+ and ESPN+ streaming services were also launched late in Iger's tenure.

He left with the company valued at roughly $260 billion. 

"I know this company has asked so much of you during the past three years, and these times certainly remain quite challenging, but as you have heard me say before, I am an optimist, and if I learned one thing from my years at Disney, it is that even in the face of uncertainty — perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty — our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible," Iger wrote in a memo to employees.

Iger himself noted that the move had come as something of a surprise, telling staff he was returning "with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement."

msh/dj (AFP, Reuters)

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