Bob Iger, one of the most famous chief executives in the history of the Walt Disney Company, is returning to take the helm of the media empire, shocking Hollywood.
Bob Chapek, who will succeed Iger as CEO in 2020, will step down immediately.
“We are grateful for Bob Chapek’s contributions to Disney throughout his long career, including leading the company through the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic,” Disney Chairman Susan Arnold said in a statement Sunday night. “The board has concluded that Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this critical period as Disney enters an increasingly complex period of industry transformation.”
The announcement, while a surprise to the media industry, comes at a time of big growth for Disney. The company delivered a lackluster earnings report that showed growth in its streaming business. However, this came at a huge cost. Disney’s streaming business lost $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter. The report sent Disney shares tumbling after a year of sluggish to poor performance.
Chapek steered the company through the pandemic, one of the most tumultuous periods in its nearly 100-year history, but ultimately Disney decided to take its future into Iger’s hands.
Away from the pandemic, Chapek’s tenure as Disney chief was short but bumpy. Chapek, who was chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products before succeeding Iger, found himself dealing with compensation issues with one of the company’s biggest stars, Scarlett Johansson, as well as Disney’s battle with the state of Florida and its employees, with regard to the state. Controversial bill restricts certain LGBTQ topics in classrooms.
Disney’s stock has also taken a hit lately. It is currently down about 40% this year.
As for Iger, he has an almost mythical status as the leader of Disney (DIS). He served as CEO for 15 years and was instrumental in the acquisition of major brands such as Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, the home of Star Wars. Iger also completed the $71 billion acquisition of a majority stake in 21st Century Fox and created Disney (DIS)+ in November 2019, starting Disney’s (DIS) streaming revolution.
Iger stayed on at Disney as executive chairman, directing the company’s creative efforts. Late last year, he officially left the company after nearly 50 years on the job.
Disney said on Sunday that Iger had agreed to serve as CEO for two years and that “the board empowered him to set the strategic direction for new growth and work closely with the board to develop a successor to lead the company after his term ends.”
The move was also surprising since Chapek had just renewed his contract. The company said in June that its board voted unanimously to extend Chapek’s contract as chief executive for another three years. Chapek’s new contract began in July and will run until 2025.
Additionally, Iger, one of Disney’s most famous and successful CEOs, appears to be retiring soon. Now, he is back.
“I am very optimistic about the future of this great company and am delighted that the Board of Directors has asked to return as CEO,” Iger said in a statement on Sunday. We hold a special place in the hearts of our employees – especially our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration.”
Iger added that he was “extremely honored to be invited once again to lead this exceptional team with a clear mission to focus on creative excellence and inspire generations through unparalleled, bold stories.”