News, Culture & Society

Ex-Disney CEO Bob Iger makes shock RETURN to entertainment giant, as his successor Bob Chapek quits

Disney has fired its CEO Bob Chapek following a series of woke controversies which cratered the firm’s share price – and sensationally-replaced him with his retired predecessor Bob Iger. 

The company’s board of directors tabbed Iger to ‘replace’ Chapek Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal reported, putting an end to the 11-month reign of the new CEO who was once hailed as the Disney heir apparent.

The shakeup comes as an abrupt return to power for Iger, who, prior to stepping down 11 months ago, had served as Disney’s head exec for more than 15 years. 

Iger, 71, had long pegged Chapek as his successor, handing him over the keys to his his kingdom in February – despite a slew of false starts that saw him continue to steer the company for more than two years after airing plans to retire – reportedly to the frustration of a waiting Chapek.

At the time, Iger, who famously caused ructions on his way out by forcefully speaking out against Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, asserted his retirement was permanent, and that he would not return to the role.

Now, it seems as those words were somewhat wayward, with Iger set to again take the reigns. It comes as the company has seen in share price plummet under Chapek, who earned a total salary of $26 million in 2021.

The company’s poor performance under Chapek has been blamed on a variety of factors – particularly his mishandling and subsequent support of the bill, which limits LGBTQ discussions in Florida schools for students in third grade and below.

Iger has worked for Disney for more than four decades, with 15 of those years coming in the company’s hot seat – which is now hotter than ever.  

Bob Iger is now the CEO of Disney – after he quit the role just 11 months ago – replacing his underperforming protégé amid plummeting share prices

Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board, announced the change in a statement Sunday night, in which she thanked Chapek, 62, for his short-lived service in the role.

 ‘We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,’ the statement read.

However, instead of rescuing the company’s flailing bottom lines, Chapek’s not so glittering tenure as CEO saw the company’s profits fall even further over the past year – when many experts posited it would recover. 

Since losing more than $10billion during the pandemic, shares of the company have fallen about 41 percent so far this year, as of Friday’s close. 

The stock hit a 52-week low on November 9, less than two weeks before the company’s shock announcement, where brass asserted that Iger ‘is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period.’

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he initially chose not to speak out against Florida's Don't Say Gay bill to balance the needs of customers and employees

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he initially chose not to speak out against Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill to balance the needs of customers and employees

The press release cited that Iger already ‘has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago.’

Also influencing the company’s decision, according to the statement, was Iger’s illustrious career at the entertainment giant that saw him build it into ‘one of the world’s most successful and admired media and entertainment companies’ in the world.

It further cited the re-crowned CEO’s ‘strategic vision focused on creative excellence, technological innovation and international growth.’

It added that Iger ‘is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide – all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership.’ 

In an email Sunday evening, Iger confirmed his return to staffers – in a pointed correspondence that saw him make no mention of his nixed successor.  

In an email Sunday evening, Iger confirmed his return to staffers - in a pointed correspondence that saw him make no mention of his nixed successor

In an email Sunday evening, Iger confirmed his return to staffers – in a pointed correspondence that saw him make no mention of his nixed successor

‘Dear Fellow Employees and Cast Members, It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility-and, I must admit, a bit of amazement-that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer,’ the email, obtained by The Ankler, read.

‘When I look at the creative success of our teams across our Studios, Disney General Entertainment, ESPN and International, the rapid growth of our streaming services, the phenomenal reimagining and rebound of our Parks, the continued great work of ABC News, and so many other achievements across our businesses, I am in awe of your accomplishments and I am excited to embark with you on many new endeavors.

‘I know this company has asked so much of you during the past three years, and these times certainly remain quite challenging, but as you have heard me say before, I am an optimist,’ wrote the CEO, who sparked controversy in 2019 when it was revealed he earned $66million a year – about 1,000 times the salary of a typical Disney employee. 

‘If I learned one thing from my years at Disney,’ he continued, it is that even in the face of uncertainty-perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty-our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible.’

The notice added that staffers would be hearing more about the shifting arrangement and what it entails in the coming weeks.

‘In the meantime,’ Iger wrote, ‘allow me to express my deep gratitude for all that you do.’ 

Shares of Disney have fallen about 41% so far this year, as of Friday’s close. The stock hit a 52-week low November 9

Shares of Disney have fallen about 41% so far this year, as of Friday’s close. The stock hit a 52-week low November 9

No additional details about the shift were provided by Iger or the company, which has battled a slew of controversies over the past year amid its changing power structure under Chapek – who championed ‘inclusion’ as his foremost focus as CEO.

Chapek’s ‘inclusion’ campaign – which was widely criticized as a means of pandering to the company’s increasingly outspoken progressive customer base –  would see the company nix phrases ‘ladies and gentleman, boys and girls’ during shows at Disney World’s iconic Magic Kingdom.

Other rides such as the Jungle Cruise, a staple of Disney’s theme parks for nearly 70 years, got an overhaul to address years of complaints that it offered a racist view of indigenous people as uncivilized ‘savages’ – decisions reportedly made without Iger’s input.

Chapek landed in hot water last spring when he took no public stance on Ron DeSantis' Don't Say Gay bill, which barred schools from discussing sexuality or gender with children between kindergarten and third grade

Chapek landed in hot water last spring when he took no public stance on Ron DeSantis’ Don’t Say Gay bill, which barred schools from discussing sexuality or gender with children between kindergarten and third grade

Chapek was criticized for not condemning the bill, to try and quell the backlash with a backtracking statement to staff. (Pictured: Disney employees in California rallying against the bill on March 22)

Chapek was criticized for not condemning the bill, to try and quell the backlash with a backtracking statement to staff. (Pictured: Disney employees in California rallying against the bill on March 22)

The company’s ‘Lightyear’ spinoff also drew backlash after it showed a same-sex kiss between two characters – a scene insiders said Chapek initially took out, but reinstated following complaints from offended staff.

The family film was subsequently banned in multiple counties in the Middle East and Asia due to its contentious content.

Insiders at the time described a rift forming between Iger and Chapek, with the former mentor reportedly growing increasingly frustrated with his protegee’s said decisions made without his or others’ input.

Calls Chapek made without the chairman’s blessing, according to the outlet, included a dramatic reorganization of the company in October that saw 28,000 theme park staffers laid off to deal with accruing costs spurred by pandemic related closures, and a shift in focus to the company’s streaming service, Disney+.

They also included the revelation of actress Scarlett Johansson’s $35 million salary for starring in Marvel movie Black Widow.

The huge payday was leaked after Johansson sued over the movie’s release on Disney+, rather than at movie theaters, alleging she was being stiffed and underpaid when compared to her male counterparts.

The conflict reportedly embarrassed Iger, sources told NBC, who remarked that while no longer CEO, the company chairman still prided himself on the company’s relationships with A-list talent.  

Most importantly, however, Chapek was criticized for not condemning DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Act, dubbed by detractors as the Don’t Say Gay Bill, to try and quell the backlash, which eventually gave way to a backtracking statement from Disney to staff declaring its opposition to the bill.

In the memo, Chapek reiterated the park’s policies: ‘I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.

Iger (at right with Chapek in September), whose reign was largely unmarred by such disputes, notably took a public stance against the bill, leading to a rift between him and his handpicked successor

Iger (at right with Chapek in September), whose reign was largely unmarred by such disputes, notably took a public stance against the bill, leading to a rift between him and his handpicked successor

‘We are committed to creating a more inclusive company – and world.’

Weeks prior, Iger, whose reign was largely unmarred by such disputes, notably took a public stance against the legislation. 

Several longtime Disney staffers said Chapek’s handling of the situation led to ‘the worst week they’ve ever had working at the company,’ Deadline reported at the time. 

According to the outlet, sources close the company at the time said that employees were calling Iger to air complaints and their dissatisfaction with Chapek. 

Chapek, meanwhile, remained adamant that the company could better advocate for inclusivity through its increasingly woke content – and by working with legislators behind the scenes, an internal memo sent to staffers during those struggles revealed. 

The memo’s revelations, however, were met with outrage by senior staff, who called Chapek’s decision weak and disappointing. Chapek later was forced to apologize in March, publicly decried the bill, announced Disney had paused all its political donations within Florida, where Disney World has operated for more than a half century.

Chapek explained he wanted Disney to be brand that could ‘rise above’ the political fray, and serve as a beacon of optimism and harmony in the world. 

‘What we try to do is be everything to everybody,’ Chapek said at the time. ‘That tends to be very difficult because we’re The Walt Disney Company.’

‘We certainly don’t want to get caught up in any political subterfuge, but at the same time we also realize that we want to represent a brighter tomorrow for families of all types, regardless of how they define themselves,’ he said. 

The company's 'Lightyear' spinoff also drew backlash after it showed a same-sex kiss between two characters - a scene insiders saiud Chapek initially took out, but reinstated following complaints from offended staff

The company’s ‘Lightyear’ spinoff also drew backlash after it showed a same-sex kiss between two characters – a scene insiders saiud Chapek initially took out, but reinstated following complaints from offended staff

After Chapek announced the halting of Florida political donations in his apology, Florida governor DeSantis responded by beginning the legislative process of stripping away Disney’s special zoning status – known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District – which allowed it to save billions in tax dollars over the years.

This rapid surfacing of these controversies would contribute to the company’s failure to rocket back to its former wealth this year as Wall Street had expected, as well as tensions between Iger and Chapek, who, once the best of friends, were reportedly not even on speaking terms at the time of Chapek’s succession. 

Late last year, tension between the pair was palpable at a going-away party for Iger, held at his posh Los Angeles estate in Brentwood.

At the gathering, which saw roughly 50 guests – most of them Disney staffers – Iger spoke at length about his time at Disney in front of the crowd, spending more than 10 minutes praising former colleagues.

However, noticeably absent from the exec’s songs of praise was Chapek, who Iger barely mentioned, sources told NBC. 

‘It was extremely awkward,’ said one of the guests, who asked to remain anonymous because the party was private. ‘The tension was palpable.’

According to the insiders, Iger now regrets how the changing of the guard has transpired. 

But the exec has so far remained adamant that he’s not returning to Disney, telling the Times in January: ‘I was CEO for a long time – you can’t go home again. 

‘I’m gone.’

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom sits deserted in July 2020. Neither Disney nor Iger have offered an explanation behind Chapek's apparent dismissal. Chapek has also yet to comment on his apparent ousting. Iger had perosnally handpicked Chapek to succeed him in 2019, before stepping down late last year

Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom sits deserted in July 2020. Neither Disney nor Iger have offered an explanation behind Chapek’s apparent dismissal. Chapek has also yet to comment on his apparent ousting. Iger had perosnally handpicked Chapek to succeed him in 2019, before stepping down late last year

Their rift, according to insiders, was said to have caused issues for Chapek – who sought to ingratiate himself among other Disney executives who remained loyal to Iger because of his glittering tenure at the helm of the entertainment giant.

Chapek’s subsequent mismanagement of the Don’t Say Gay Scandal seemed to only worsen the situation, with Iger reportedly unhappy by his successor’s weak, flip-flopping response.

With that said, neither Disney nor Iger have offered an explanation behind Chapek’s apparent dismissal. Chapek has also yet to comment on his apparent ousting. DailyMail.com reached out to Disney for comment on the sudden shakeup Sunday night, but did not immediately receive a response.

Full transcript of Disney statement outlining Bob Iger’s return to CEO position

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) announced today that Robert A. 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. Mr. Iger succeeds Bob Chapek, who has stepped down from his position.

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. “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.”

“Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide–all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,” she said.

The position of Chairman of the Board remains unchanged, with Ms. Arnold serving in that capacity.

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Mr. Iger said. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe—most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration. 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.

“During his 15 years as CEO, from 2005 to 2020, Mr. Iger helped build Disney into one of the world’s most successful and admired media and entertainment companies with a strategic vision focused on creative excellence, technological innovation and international growth. He expanded on Disney’s legacy of unparalleled storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company’s market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO. Mr. Iger continued to direct Disney’s creative endeavors until his departure as Executive Chairman last December, and the Company’s robust pipeline of content is a testament to his leadership and vision.”

 

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk