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So much for the retired life of Bob Iger. Deadline reports that after less than a year into retirement, Iger returns to the Walt Disney Company as CEO. That’s shocking news, as Bob Chapek is now out as Disney CEO after less than two years.
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Iger passed the torch as CEO to Chapek in February 2020, a surprising move at the time, before serving as an executive chairman until the end of last year. Now, only a calendar year later, Iger is back in the big seat. “I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling,” Iger wrote last night in an email to staffers and the company board. But while Iger reassumes the CEO position, it won’t be for long. Part of his return involves finding a successor for him, something Iger had difficulty accomplishing during his 15 years as CEO.
And Disney welcomes Iger back with open arms because the company is in dire straights right now. The company’s shares have lost roughly 40% in 2022, a multi-year low for one that regularly overachieves in its yearly earnings. A troublesome quarterly earnings report two weeks ago may have prompted the ousting of Chapek and Iger’s return. So, consider Iger’s re-hire as Disney pushing the panic button, as Iger’s 47-year run with the company brought massive success, while Chapek’s brief run has been disastrious in comparison.
In an email to Disney employees, Iger shared his return “with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility—and, I must admit, a bit of amazement.” Iger didn’t share how his re-hire manifested over the weekend. Still, he did say that Disney “holds a special place in the hearts of people around the globe thanks to you, and your dedication to this company and its mission to bring joy to people through great storytelling is an inspiration to me every single day.” It’s telling that Iger’s email to Disney employees did not mention Chapek. Iger and Chapek reportedly have a rocky relationship, especially since Chapek took the reins for Disney in 2020.
And that rockiness extends to Chapek’s relationship with other Disney employees, with Iger reportedly having been asked several times to return as CEO over the past two years. However, Iger always refused the offers, claiming his new phase as an industry observer and investor. But now that Iger is back, it’s not as if he’s beyond retirement age. At 71 years old, he’s still much younger than what the business world considers automatic retirement age, with many CEOs in their role well into their 80s or older. Still, Iger displayed zero interest in returning as Disney CEO as recently as September. ““I don’t miss my job,” he said during a sit-down at the Code conference. “Retirement is great, I have a vastly different life than before. Much more air in my day.”
As for Chapek, his dismissal comes just months after the Disney board unanimously voted to renew his original CEO contract, extending it with a new three-year agreement that started on July 1. But industry insiders questioned Chapek’s future at Disney almost from the start of his time as CEO. After successfully navigating the company during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chapek fell out of favor with investors and board members after how he handled the company’s opposition to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Chapek’s public clashes with Scarlett Johansson over the Premier Access release of “Black Widow” was another drastic misstep for the CEO. Amid Johannson suing Disney over breach of contract, Chapek also fired TV chief Peter Rice with no explanation, another move that alarmed board members.
But now Chapek is out and Iger is in as Disney CEO. So, what does this mean for the immediate future of Disney as it navigates its worst financial year in decades? Speculation abounds, but given Iger’s successful tenure with the company, don’t be surprised if he very quickly re-rights the Disney ship.