In a stunning twist, Bob Chapek is out as CEO of The Walt Disney Co. and Robert Iger, the man he replaced nearly three years ago, is back in.
Chapek, who ran home entertainment at Disney during the heyday of DVD and later became a vocal champion of Blu-ray Disc, was appointed CEO in February 2020, on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and steered the company through uncertain times. Disney+ was just three months old when Chapek became CEO, and he shifted the company’s resources toward making it a success.
Just this past June, Chapek was given a three-year contract extension, with board chair Susan Arnold saying in a press release, “The board is committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob’s leadership is key to achieving that goal. Bob is the right leader at the right time for The Walt Disney Co., and the board has full confidence in him and his leadership team.”
But now, according to an evening announcement Sunday, Nov. 20, “Iger is returning to lead Disney as chief executive officer, effective immediately. Mr. Iger, who spent more than four decades at the company, including 15 years as its CEO, has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, with a mandate from the board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the board in developing a successor to lead the company at the completion of his term.”
Chapek, according to the board announcement, “has stepped down from his position.”
In a Nov. 20 statement, Arnold said, “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.”
Chapek’s exit comes as the company’s stock is trading at around $91 a share, the lowest it’s been since the global pandemic declaration in mid-March 2020. Earlier in November, Chapek announced a hiring and travel freeze in an effort to contain costs, which soared this past quarter due to streaming expenses.
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And yet Disney+, The Walt Disney Co.’s flagship streaming service, finished the quarter ended Oct. 1 with more than 164 million global subscribers — an impressive 39% gain from the same quarter a year ago.
The 62-year-old Chapek, born in Chicago but raised in Indiana, joined Disney in 1993 as marketing chief for the company’s home entertainment division, then known as Buena Vista Home Entertainment. In 2006 he was promoted to president of the division, just as Blu-ray Disc was being launched, and he aggressively promoted the new format through innovative bonus features and extravagant promotions that included a mall tour engineered by then-publicity head Eric Maehara.
In 2009, Chapek was promoted again, to head of distribution for Walt Disney Studios. He was named head of consumer products in 2011 and spearheaded the integration of “Star Wars” merchandise into Disney’s licensing program after the studio acquired Lucasfilm.
In February 2015, Chapek was appointed chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Over the next five years, he oversaw the completion of Shanghai Disneyland, Pandora — The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
He was upped to CEO three weeks before the World Health Organization declared a global COVID pandemic on March 11, 2020. Iger, who had been CEO since 2005, remained at Disney as executive chairman until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021. He is 71.