One Year as Disney's CEO: Get Off of Bob Chapek's Back!

One Year as Disney's CEO: Get Off of Bob Chapek's Back!

At the start of a terrible pandemic one year ago, Bob Chapek was surprisingly placed in the difficult position of being Disney’s new CEO. The year that followed has been a horrific period for businesses across the globe. Today The Walt Disney Company held their annual shareholders meeting for 2021. We look at what was announced in that meeting, as well as reflect on the events of the last year. We make a case that Bob Chapek has done some heavy lifting in keeping this company not only alive, but in making it agile and even innovative. While his performance isn’t perfect, the period of his tenure has been remarkable given such difficult times. We look at why people throw criticism at Bob Chapek, particularly petty, personal comments that have nothing to do with performance. We look at how that is reflected in most workplaces, as too often the boss at the top becomes the shared enemy that unifies others. We look at why that’s unproductive, and why Chapek’s own performance as CEO has merit.

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Here are 5 reasons to define Chapek’s performance not just over the last year, but since he came aboard Disney.

1. Hardest Economic Period Since Depression

Bob Iger: “The most difficult year in recent years–if ever”

I believe this may be the hardest economic period for The Walt Disney Company since the Depression, the Strike and World War II.

Despite this, Disney has kept its operation going to include activities like:

  • Nearly re-opening all of its parks under a high level of safety standards
  • Receiving over 100 million new subscribers to Disney+ and have continued to expand other Direct to Consumer efforts globally
  • Continuing film and animation production whenever and wherever safely possible to include over 100 new titles annually to Disney+
  • Becoming the #1 news provider for morning and evening network news in the United States
  • Continuing construction on many theme park projects
  • Focusing efforts on being more inclusive
  • Being recognized with 5 Golden Globe awards, to include best animated film for Soul

Alan Braverman: “We have demonstrated our resiliency…We have more than persevered.”

2. Chapek Is Park Focused

Before all this, Bob Chapek as head of Disney Parks got up at the last D23 and made announcements that were fairly huge at the time. Not including other projects already in the pike such as Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, he named dozens of new projects. After that event other announcements were made for projects like

Here is that list. Note that items in green, though some delayed, are still a “go”. Items in Yellow remain to be determined. Only a couple of items, which here are shown in red, seem dead at this point.

Many of those projects have been delayed. And a few have been cancelled. But that is a very few projects compared to the whole. One can be disappointed that a project like Ratatouille at Epcot is not opening until October 1st, when that project is essentially completed.

3. Chapek Utilizes Opportunities

Not every initiative has succeeded. But who can fault a company who is looking for ways to not leave money on the table, who is trying to identify new ways to support the guest experience while fortifying the bottom line. Here are some hit and miss examples we share in the podcast:

  • Tents in Tomorrowland
  • Premium Parking
  • Club 33
  • Building on the Success of Disney+

In the spirit of those examples, I think that Bob Chapek has done a great job of learning some important lessons around what works and what doesn’t work–particularly in taking short cuts to identifying new opportunities.

4. Chapek is Taking the Long Route

I believe that Chapek has shown a propensity for taking the longer route and the higher road. Actions over the year have played that out:

  • Not rushing to be out the gate with re-opening
  • Not pushing for higher occupancy rates when a governor has given carte blanche to do so.
  • Taking the higher road when a governor has chosen to block the re-opening of Disneyland by offering to provide vaccinations in its parking lot.
  • Not rushing to be out the gate on April 1st announcement.
  • Not rushing to get the Disney Cruise Line back in operation before it’s fully prepared to do so.
  • Re-investing in infrastructure such as new roads, IT needs and Cast facilities
  • Not cutting off the theatrical market entirely when the Direct to Customer presents itself so readily.

5. Disney Has Rebounded Significantly

This easily plays out in the earnings over the last year:

The Need for a Common Enemy

A common foe is sometimes healthy:

  • College Rivalries
  • Sports Competitors: John McEnroe and Björn Borg
  • Worthy Marketplace Competitors
  • A Pandemic or Natural Circumstances Beyond Our Control

But sometimes a common enemy doesn’t work:

  • Small underdog
  • Internal rivalries
  • Your manager

Even CEOs can be banter for satire as one finds a humorous are even sarcastic way to describe poor performance. Someone did a music video, taking the Agatha All Along number and re-editing it as Chapek All Along. It wasn’t that funny, probably because it really didn’t make any point. The lyrics were a replay of the Agatha song, and weren’t customize other than to allude to the removal of The Great Movie Ride. If it had, then it probably could be justified, or at least one could have a good laugh.

But describing negatively any individual, despite their status or position, by their physical traits, is simply bullying. Moreover, it’s a reflection of how incapable you are of clarifying why an individual is succeeding or failing. Such comments have included insipid statements like “he reminds me of Lex Luthor of Superman.”

This isn’t just any fan base. This is Disney. This is not the brand or culture for such making mean-spirited and petty statements. This is the company Walt Disney founded. Walt Disney–who was positive and optimistic and hard working. This is the company where everybody’s hero and good-guy Mickey Mouse has become the symbol, and where “Happily Ever After” is the outcome everyone is looking for. This is the company for being inclusive and caring, uplifting and encouraging–not one that seeks to tear down others.

Walt showing emphasizing a “great, big, beautiful tomorrow.”

If you’re frustrated by events that perhaps cancelled an important vacation, or has resulted in becoming unemployed, vent that. You have a right to express disappointment and sorry. Sometimes circumstances and people make life hard. You have a right to call out those issues, or at least express your frustration.

If Bob Chapek’s performance is poor and inadequate, then articulate that. I do it myself. I don’t see the company as perfect. I know too well its flaws. Sometimes those need to be called out. But you can provide critical thinking without simply being critical of others. Putting down someone does not offer answers.

But if you say that someone like a CEO is an open target for being mean spirited, what you are saying is that it is okay given the right situation to bully any one. I say there is never a time to demean others. No one. Never. To that end I say, stop bullying. You look petty. You come across as unprofessional. And it is not in keeping with the spirit of what is at the heart of Disney.

Souvenirs for Your Organization

  • What criteria are you using to judge the performance of others? Are you fair in making judgements based on that criteria?
  • When circumstances that are out of control to most people occur, do you seek to find someone to blame?
  • How can you exercise critical thinking without simply being critical of others?
  • Do you make fun of others as a put down? What’s the cost of doing so? What message are you sending to others when you do so?

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J. Jeff Kober