April 13, 2020
With Disney reportedly losing $30 million daily as the coronavirus effectively shutters most of its business units, former CEO Bob Iger is stepping in to assist new CEO Bob Chapek to help navigate the pandemic.
“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!,” Iger wrote in an email to The New York Times, which ran an April 12 story about the executive chairman’s increased public presence.
Iger abruptly stepped down from the CEO position on Feb. 25 just as the pandemic was was expanding its global presence and impacting economies worldwide. Chapek, former head of home entertainment, consumer products and amusement parks, was named the new chief executive — a position he said he was more than ready to handle.
But to say Chapek’s plate is full would be a major understatement, and publicly at least the Disney veteran has expressed willingness to accept any advice from his former boss.
“I do understand the gravity of trying to fill this gentleman’s shoes, but I’m ready for it and look forward to some great years ahead,” Chapek said at Disney’s annual shareholders meeting in March in Raleigh, N.C.
Indeed, Chapek jumped into the deep end at that shareholders meeting fielding questions about ABC News’ perceived bias against President Trump and not giving in to LGBTQ rights at its amusement parks.
“At Disney, we strongly believe that we should reflect in our creative content the diversity that we find in our fan base and with our audience,” Chapek responded.
But with Disney furloughing 43,000 Walt Disney World employees in Florida on April 19, on top of the 30,000 furloughed staffers in California, Chapek finds himself fighting a pandemic on multiple fronts.
Iger, who is under contract through 2021 in a four-year compensation package worth $423 million, assumed a newly created executive chairman position overseeing Disney’s creative measures. So it wasn’t surprising he told the media last week about plans to further postpone some theatrical releases while expediting others to retail channels, including releasing Artemis Fowl exclusively to Disney+.
Iger floated the idea of testing consumers’ temperatures whenever Disney re-opens its amusement parks, adding separately that the pandemic underscores the need to stop holding expensive ad-upfront presentations and producing TV series pilots that never air.
One area Iger has no interest in weighing in on is staffing. During his tenure as CEO, Iger was dogged by a long-running dispute with striking Disneyland hotel workers and allegations Disney underpays its theme park employees.
“The people who walk around all day in Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck costumes, the workers who prepare and deliver the food, the men and women who collect tickets and manage the rides, make wages so low that they are barely surviving,” Bernie Sanders, the former Democrat presidential nominee and Vermont Senator, wrote in an opinion piece for The Guardian in 2018.
Iger, who during the 2016 presidential campaign criticized Sanders as being clueless about matters of running businesses and creating jobs, in his New York Times email was clear to underscore whose job it would be regarding company staffing.
“Any decision about staff reductions will be made by my successor and not me,” he wrote in the email.
Disney shares were down more than 2% in early market trading April 13.