Disney CEO Change! Bob Iger Out–Bob Chapek In

Disney CEO Change! Bob Iger Out–Bob Chapek In

Find Out What it Means to You

I am shocked. And I’m not the only one covering this who is saying the same. This is what major news outlets are saying:

  • Stunning
  • Abrupt
  • Surprising
  • Shock Waves
  • Band aid ripped off

Bob Iger announced on Tuesday, February 25th that he was stepping down from his position as CEO immediately and that Bob Chapek, 60, who currently serves as head of the theme park division would take over. While Bob had 20 months left on his contract, he is now remaining on as executive chairman focused on creative endeavors for the remainder of his time.

Let’s talk about what this all means. You can find our podcast here on Podbean, iTunes, Spotify, MyTuner, and ListenNotes. Be sure to subscribe and share with others!

Reading the Tea Leaves

There were many reasons to believe this would happen sooner than later:

  • Major build out of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
  • Completed acquisition of 21st Century Fox
  • Debut of Disney+
  • Bob Chapek recently re-organized his area

So why didn’t we see it coming the way it came? Let’s look at Disney’s approach to succession planning.

Disney’s Succession Planning

Disney does so many things well. But succession planning has never been its forte. Consider the following:

  • Walt Disney died way too unexpectedly. There was never a thought of real succession, despite how good the organization was staffed.
  • Roy Disney also died unexpectedly, though he was planning to go back into retirement. Still, he did so without any real creative leadership in play, simply leaving the business in the hands of Card Walker and Donn Tatum.
  • Card Walker turned over the reigns to Ron Miller, Walt’s son-in-law. That transition gave out a scent to Wall Street that this company was easy prey.
  • Michael Eisner never prepared for the unexpected death of Frank Wells, who served as president. He couldn’t fill that role in its aftermath, despite bringing in Michael Ovitz.
  • Michael Eisner then stayed too long in his role as CEO, forcing Roy E. Disney to lead a movement to oust him. Bob Iger was given an interim opportunity, but it was awkward given Michael really at times did not speak highly of Iger in front of others.
  • Bob Iger named Tom Staggs as his apparent heir, only to have the board fail to support him for reasons never made clear. That failure in placing someone in an interim role is why Bob has said he did not want to Bob Chapek in that same place, not having the kind of autonomy needed to rise to the opportunity.

Good News:

  • I’ve always wanted someone in parks to head the organization.
  • Bob Iger is still around as chairman to shepherd things until they are underway.
  • It appears according to word that the Board did do their homework.
  • Bob went out at a strong time, instead of at a point when he burned out.
  • Bob Chapek is no outsider with 27 years, and has had multiple roles across the company, not just with parks, but with Disney Consumer Products, and even heading up distribution for Walt Disney Studios. Before that he worked in brand management with an outside firm.
  • I can assume that the aggressive agenda with developing the parks will continue.

Bad News:

  • Not sure how Hollywood will embrace Bob Chapek
  • Not sure how other corporate leaders like Alan Horn (Co-Chairman Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Studios), Kevin Mayer (Disney Direct-to-Consumer Chairman), Kevin Feige (President of Marvel Studios) or Kathleen Kennedy (President, Lucas Film) will respond.
  • The Walt Disney Company has to put on a solid show of support, otherwise, there may be wolves at the door. An apple can eat a mouse.
  • Just because you ripped off the band aid, doesn’t mean the wound is healed, or there still won’t be more bleeding to come.
  • The organization needs a creative leader, not just a business leader. It’s Show Business after all. Chapek doesn’t even come across as charismatic, much less a story teller–which is the heart of this organization. I think the company needs to be led by a combined partnership of creative and business savvy leadership.

As an add on to the latter point, it’s not just about creative diversity. It’s about diversity at all. My daughter Mikell, far more astute to these things than I am, wrote in our family text:

The question is–would anyone have realized there was a change in command without a press release, since we are switching out one white dude named Bob for another?

There’s truth to that. Hollywood has yet to really show that kind of diversity in the boardroom. In Hollywood Reporter Studio Chief Summit, while there are two woman among 7 executives, there is no color or international representation for a global entertainment enterprise. This seems to have been another missed opportunity.

Photo by Hollywood Reporter. Disney’s Alan Horn is on the far right.

Despite this reality, this isn’t bad. But is it really great? Bob Chapek is a good choice, in many ways better than others. But is he the best choice the company can find?

Well, in truth, would you have said that of Bob Iger. Eisner didn’t even throw great confidence toward Iger. And yet he had a pretty good run. In fact, he has done a really great job.

Next for Iger

What’s next for Iger? In the short term he stated that this wasn’t a 3-day a week job as Chairman, but he would be working full time until the end of his contract.

Long term? Well, he chuckled that he was too late for a presidential bid. I was surprised that while he didn’t show up for the opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World, he made time to come to the opening of The NBA Experience at Disney Springs.

Photo by Disney.

Souvenirs For Your Organization

  • How well are you surrounding yourself with a solid team?
  • How well are you in developing contingency plans?
  • How are you developing your team for opportunities in the future?
  • How are you stabilizing your organization for change?
  • How are those in charge of determining future leadership acting independently, intentionally, strategically and with anticipation?

Understanding Disney Leadership

There’s so much more to the heritage of Disney’s Leadership. Definitely check out Disney, Leadership and You. It’s filled with stories from over 100 artists, imagineers & pioneers within the Walt Disney Company. You’ll get great ideas for gaining better results by effectively working with others. Check it out on Amazon today.

Disney, Leadership and You
Disney, Leadership and You, written by J. Jeff Kober.

J. Jeff Kober