Former Disney CEO returns following dismissal of predecessor


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Caryl Anne Francia, Business Editor

The Walt Disney Co. welcomed former CEO Bob Iger to return to the role on Nov. 21 after firing successor Bob Chapek.

Iger agreed to serve as CEO again for two years as Disney seeks to increase revenue after losing $1.47 billion from its streaming services in its fourth quarter.

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said in a press release.

Iger was the chief operating officer of Capital City/ABC Inc. from 1995 to 1996 when Disney acquired the media company. He became Disney’s president in 2000.

The company tapped Iger to replace outgoing CEO Michael Eisner in 2005. While Iger was CEO, Disney acquired media companies Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and 21st Century Fox. Toward the end of his tenure, the company generated a record revenue of $13 billion in 2019.

Iger resigned from the position in February 2020. Chapek, who served as chairman of parks, experiences and products for Disney, succeeded Iger.

After he resigned as CEO, Iger stayed with Disney as an executive chairman. He left the role in December 2021, when his contract with the company expired.

Chapek took control just as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the United States, forcing parks to shut down and media production to pause. But a surge of subscriptions to Disney’s streaming service gave it a means to grow. Disney+ reached more than 100 million subscribers worldwide in 2021.

But Chapek’s tenure did not leave the company unscathed. Actress Scarlett Johansson sued the company in July 2021 for breach of contract when it released the film “Black Widow” on Disney+ instead of physical theaters. Both parties agreed to terminate the lawsuit three months later.

Disney employees held protests in March in response to Chapek’s remarks about Florida’s Parent Rights in Education bill, which is now signed into state law. Employees criticized the CEO for not quickly condemning what was commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Chapek apologized directly to Disney’s LGBTQ employees and announced a pause in the company’s political donations in the state.

Florida’s state government later stripped the company of the special district status given to the area occupied by the Walt Disney World Resort amusement park. The order was made in April but will not go into effect until June 2023. The company’s tax breaks in the state will be lifted consequently.

Chapek’s contract with the company was renewed in June. He was to serve as CEO for another three years, starting July 1.

After Disney released its fourth-quarter earnings on Nov. 8, the company’s stocks fell 10%. To save on costs, Chapek announced in a Nov. 11 company memo plans to freeze hiring, halt non-essential business travel and potentially lay off staff.

The company fired Chapek on Nov. 20. The outgoing CEO was paid an estimated $44 million per the “terminate without cause” clause in his company contract.

Disney shares fell close to 27% over Chapek’s two years as CEO.

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek wrote in a company letter, as reported by CNN.

Iger said he plans on reorganizing the company’s structure. The returned CEO also announced in a Nov. 28 town hall with employees that the hiring freeze would remain while the company reviews costs.

“I know change can be unsettling, but it is also necessary and even energizing, and so I ask for your patience as we develop a roadmap for this restructuring,” Iger wrote in a Nov. 21 memo.

The company will seek a person to succeed Iger in 2025 at the earliest.

“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,” Susan Arnold, the company’s chairperson, said in a press release. “He is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide — all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership.”