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Bob Iger returning as Disney CEO

Awful Announcing 11/21/2022 Jay Rigdon
Disney CEO Bob Iger. © Provided by Awful Announcing Disney CEO Bob Iger.

In a fairly stunning Sunday night news dump, Disney announced that Robert Iger is back as CEO, immediately replacing embattled executive (and Iger successor) Robert Chapek.

Iger was previously in the role of CEO from 2005-2020, when Chapek succeeded him in the top chair. Disney obviously oversees ESPN, although according to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, this move doesn’t have any likely effect on network strategy going forward:

Chapek was always a somewhat surprising choice, coming from the parks division (where Disney is the apex predator) to lead a company battling many wars on different media fronts, from streaming to film production to the world of television. (And that’s before he had to deal with the non-traditional issues of his term, chiefly Chapek’s initial bungled response to Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law.)

In the end, this all feels strangely inevitable. Chapek has been pretty transparently defending himself from possible replacement for months now, going back to firing fellow top executive Peter Rice this summer ia move many saw as usurper preemption.

From Disney’s statement:

“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.

This feels very much like the board of directors finally getting tired of lagging share performance and going back to Daddy Iger for help. Granted, Chapek doesn’t really deserve any sympathy here; he had plenty of rope from his superiors and never managed to make any real mark beyond “bumbling.”

Iger, meanwhile, essentially received a lengthy, very well-paid vacation along with (presumably) a pretty hefty two-year salary to both repair Disney’s corporate standing and, according to his mandate, groom a more competent successor:

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.

It’s somewhat ironic that Chapek’s moves this summer may have actually hastened his demise. It’s not hard to imagine him surviving longer if the board’s choice was between Chapek and someone like Rice vs. Chapek and Iger, who the board might not have considered if not for Chapek clearing the current deck of any potential replacements.

Now, Iger returns, which will have plenty of ripple effects across the entire entertainment industry. Let’s just hope he doesn’t nix the plan to bring back the This Is SportsCenter campaign.

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