November 23, 2022
Would everybody please stop dumping on Bob Chapek?
Ever since the surprise Sunday night announcement that Disney’s board, in a knee-jerk reaction to a bad quarter, had sacked Chapek from the CEO spot he had held since February 2020, the return of former CEO Bob Iger to his old job has been heralded as something akin to the Second Coming.
Chapek immediately disappeared from the Disney corporate website; in his place was a heavily photo-shopped mug shot of Iger atop a laudatory bio that praised the returning CEO for his “strategic vision” and track record of “building on Disney’s rich history of unforgettable storytelling.”
Analysts and journalists cheered Iger’s return to the executive suite, while The Wall Street Journal noted that even Disney fans “flocked to social media to celebrate the news.”
Chapek, meanwhile, was bludgeoned for alleged missteps such as getting into a spat with Scarlett Johansson over Black Widow, which she said underperformed in theaters because of its simultaneous release on Disney+; not cracking down hard enough on a controversial Florida law that bans classroom discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity; and a corporate restructuring that saw business executives, not creatives, placed in charge of distribution strategy.
Chapek’s reign, Business Insider opined, “was marked by a series of controversies and questionable moves that raised eyebrows at best and ignited condemnation at worst.”
Other publications tossed similar brickbats at the ousted executive, with the consensus being that from the very beginning, he was the wrong person for the job.
But let’s ask this — Who would have been the right person for the job? Show of hands? Anyone?
That’s what I thought. Chapek assumed the CEO position — at Iger’s behest, by the way — with years of experience in all facets of Disney’s business holdings, and I daresay he wasn’t just the right person at the time, he was the only person who could keep Disney afloat as it faced a series of unprecedented challenges — challenges Iger saw coming, such as the global COVID-19 pandemic, as well as challenges of Iger’s own making, such as the pricey 20th Century Fox purchase and Disney+ launch.
Iger shrewdly doffed his CEO cap three weeks before the World Health Organization declared a global COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered virtually all of Disney’s businesses. The film business was shut down because theaters were closed. Theme parks were shuttered. Cruise ships, which had become human petri dishes, suspended operations. Resort hotels were empty, and Disney’s vaunted ESPN stopped showing live sports because, well, there were no live sports.
On top of that, the 20th Century Fox acquisition left Disney saddled with debt, while the streaming strategy Iger had concocted was half-baked, with virtually no fresh content and too much dependence on India’s Hotstar.
In short, Iger left Chapek with a shitstorm, and then proceeded to snipe at his successor, from the sidelines, every chance he got.
Now that the worst of the storm is over — thanks to Chapek — and Disney is in recovery mode, Iger decided the time was right for his triumphant return.
But while it is true that Disney’s stock price is at its lowest since the start of the pandemic, let’s not forget that on Chapek’s watch the stock by March 2021 had hit a new record of close to $200 a share, at a time when the theatrical business was still not running on all cylinders.
Furthermore, Disney is far from the only big company that has seen its stock price crater. Netflix stock as of this week was trading in the $285 range, from a high of $690 in October 2021. Meta (formerly Facebook) is at $111, down from $378 in September 2021. Even Amazon is at $93, half of what it was trading for a year ago at this time.
Let’s give Bob Chapek some credit: For successfully leading the company out of the pandemic and building its streaming business into a global powerhouse with 164 million subscribers, up 39% from the prior year, according to the latest stats.
Good luck, Mr. Iger. I believe you’re going to find Bob Chapek is a hard act to follow.