Bob Iger is returning as Disney CEO as part of an unexpected leadership shakeup that will see current CEO Bob Chapek step down, the company announced in press release.
Iger will return temporarily, for two years, with a mandate to “restore growth” and to find and train his successor. Iger told Deadline he is returning with “an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement.”
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Disney’s chairman of the board Susan Arnold said in a statement. “The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period.”
Iger chose Chapek as CEO, but it quickly became clear teat their work styles were incompatible. Iger was known as a CEO who supported talent and creativity, while Chapek focused on streaming, especially as the pandemic decimated Disney’s theme parks and movie theater businesses.
Under Chapek, Disney+ grew to 235 million subscribers (including ESPN and Hulu), but the company lost $1.5 billion on streaming last quarter. Its market capitalization also fell from $257.6 billion in Iger’s last full year to $163.5 billion. Much of that drop is due to the pandemic, as Disney’s theaters and parks were forced to close.
The move came as a surprise, given that Disney had extended Bob Chapek’s contract for three years (there was no comment from Chapek in the press release). Meanwhile, Iger has an almost mythical status as Disney’s CEO, having presided over the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. However, that legacy will be put to the test as Disney faces difficult times, with the company recently announcing plans to freeze hiring and saying layoffs are likely in the near future.