In a surprise announcement that has stunned Hollywood, Walt Disney Company CEO Robert A. Iger, 69, stepped down from his post today, nearly two years before his contract was due to expire. The company’s board of directors announced Bob Chapek, 60, formerly chairman of Disney Parks, experiences and products, is the new CEO effective immediately.
Iger will assume the role of executive chairman where he will “direct the company’s creative endeavors, while leading the board and providing the full benefit of his experience, leadership and guidance.” He will stay with the company until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021.
“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.”
According to Disney’s board, the decision to elect Chapek as CEO was unanimous, and was made after considering internal and external candidates. They believe that Chapek shows “outstanding leadership and a proven ability to deliver strong results across a wide array of businesses, and his tremendous understanding of the breadth and depth of the Company and appreciation for the special connection between Disney and its consumers makes him the perfect choice as the next CEO.”
Chapek issued the following statement about his new role:
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees. Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team. I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”
News of Chapek assuming the role of CEO has come with a wide range of reactions. Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner (1984-2005) applauded the decision on Twitter:
Congratulations to @RobertIger for 15 amazing years as CEO of the @WaltDisneyCo! Fantastic job protecting the #Disney brand, expanding the breadth of the overall company, and orchestrating super growth. And he still has his hand on the creative rudder for almost two more years.
— Michael Eisner (@Michael_Eisner) February 25, 2020
Market analysts were more confused than anything. “The market had no warning,” Richard Greenfield, partner of Lightshed Partners, told the L.A. Times. “The big question remains: What happens with Kevin Mayer [chairman of Walt Disney direct-to-consumer & international]? … It was Kevin Mayer’s job to lose.”
Also speaking to the LAT, Laura Martin, a media industry analyst at Needham & Co., said, “Why is the CEO changing today? What is the urgency?”
For the record, in a conference call this afternoon with reporters and analysts, Iger said that the CEO switcheroo “was not accelerated for any particular reason other than I felt the need was now to make this change.” Iger also added that he’d identified Chapek as his successor “quite some time ago.”
A former Disney employee who claims to have worked with Chapek issued this stark warning to fans of the company:
I warned people about this years ago. Chapek has been groomed for CEO since before 2010.
He's an awful leader. Worked under him for many years, and he ruined nearly everything he touched. Cheapest fucking bastard too.
Have fun with 1/5th your current budget for any project. https://t.co/YAv4UJPZOr
— Freelance Beach Bum (@FamishedDragon) February 25, 2020
The most vocally concerned group of people at the moment are Disney theme park fans, who have long blamed Chapek for a decline in the customer experience at the company’s parks. Here’s a sampling of their reactions:
This is accurate.
Bob Chapek is often blamed for the decline in guest experiences at the Disney Parks.
Now he's in charge of the WHOLE. DAMNED. THING. https://t.co/PSWLguoDY9
— Kneon (@Kneon) February 25, 2020
A lot of people don’t realize that Chapek is actually worse than Iger. He values IP over original ideas and has made countless budget cuts to the parks. Not to mention he refuses to pay cast members higher wages. Dark days are ahead for Disney.
— Aaron (@aaronfraggle) February 25, 2020
BOB CHAPEK BECOMING DISNEY'S CEO IS LITERALLY A NIGHTMARE I HAD A WEEK AGO. AN ACTUAL NIGHTMARE.
— Just Jason I Guess+ (@Disn3yDude) February 25, 2020
"and mr. chapek, what are your future plans for the walt disney company and how will you decide further operations and content strategy as the marketplace of entertainment gets more complex?" pic.twitter.com/XiaUFM0TwH
— Hastin (@hastin) February 25, 2020
For people outside of Distwitter: Chapek is notoriously known for always choosing budget cuts over artistic leeway. He would rather get out something faster then to spend more on a creative project. The best stuff Disney has done, like GE, was in the works before him
— Andrew J. Salazar (@AndrewJ626) February 25, 2020
Disney’s highlighting Galaxy’s Edge as one of Chapek’s big accomplishments, but it’s important to remember he came in after that project was already greenlit and well into development. If anything, his biggest contribution was cutting virtually all its planned entertainment.
— David Daut (@DavidMDaut) February 26, 2020
For now, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Chapek will perform in his new role as CEO or in what direction he will take the entertainment behemoth. The only thing we can do at this point is to try and understand who he is and what his vision is for the company. In that spirit, we are reprinting in full his corporate biography that shares his past accomplishments at the Disney Company:
Bob Chapek is Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company, one of the world’s largest media and entertainment companies and home to some of the most respected and beloved brands around the globe, including Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, ESPN and National Geographic.
Mr. Chapek assumed the role of CEO on February 25, 2020 and reports to the Company’s Executive Chairman, Robert A. Iger, and the Board of Directors.
Mr. Chapek’s nearly three decades at Disney have been marked by growth and transformation. A visionary leader, he has championed using creativity and cutting-edge technology to drive expansion and improve the guest and consumer experience, developed and successfully implemented groundbreaking business models, and identified new revenue streams to achieve business objectives and sustain long-term growth.
Before becoming the 7th CEO in Disney’s nearly 100-year history, Mr. Chapek served as Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products since the segment’s creation in 2018, and prior to that he was Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since 2015. The Parks, Experiences and Products segment includes Disney’s iconic travel and leisure businesses, which include 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, Disney Parks saw the largest investment and expansion in its sixty-year history, including the successful opening of Shanghai Disney Resort; nearly doubling the Disney Cruise Line fleet; introducing the most technologically advanced and immersive lands in the parks’ history, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort; the growth of Marvel-inspired attractions across the globe; and one of the most ambitious development projects at Disneyland Paris since the park first opened.
Mr. Chapek’s guest-centric approach focuses on ensuring that every aspect of an experience is uniquely Disney and exceeds guest expectations. At Disney Parks, he implemented innovative strategies to improve the guest experience by balancing demand at the parks, integrating new franchises at locations around the world, and introducing beloved and iconic experiences to new generations of Disney fans. As head of Disney Consumer Products he led a period of transformation in the worlds of play, storytelling, and learning.
Mr. Chapek also served as president of Distribution for The Walt Disney Studios, where he managed the Company’s film content distribution strategy across multiple platforms, and later as president of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, where he led the organization to record-setting performances and played a key role in the commercialization of the Studio’s film business.
Throughout, Mr. Chapek has made enhancing the employee experience a top priority, and he’s driven initiatives and programs related to education, healthcare, childcare, diversity and inclusion, veteran and active duty military appreciation, and workforce development. Mr. Chapek has also developed a close relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where he currently serves as a Board Member and helps the organization leverage the power of Disney to make a difference in the lives of children with critical illnesses and their families.
Prior to joining the company [in 1993], Mr. Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Company, and in advertising at J. Walter Thompson. He has a degree in microbiology  from Indiana University Bloomington, and received his MBA from Michigan State University [in 1984].