Disney names Bob Chapek CEO; Iger to chair board through 2021
New exec had led the company's parks, experiences and products
Bob Iger is out as The Walt Disney Company CEO effective Tuesday, but he’ll remain as executive chairman of the company’s board through 2021.
The Disney board named Bob Chapek as the company’s new CEO. He was most recently Disney’s chairman of parks, experiences and products.
Chapek’s three-year contract as CEO pays a base salary of $2.5 million, plus millions more in cash and stock based on annual and long-term goals, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Iger’s pay will be unaffected by his move out of the CEO seat, SEC records show. He earns a base pay of $3.5 million and has earned tens-of-millions in annual performance bonuses.
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Iger has been with Disney since 1996 and took over as CEO in 2005 after the departure of Michael Eisner. Iger’s contract with Disney lasts through Dec. 31, 2021, and the company said in a press release that he will continue to direct its creative endeavors in his role on the board.
“I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s creative endeavors,” Iger said in a written statement.
Less than a year after taking over, Iger bought animation studio Pixar for $7.4 billion. He was close with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was CEO of Pixar until Disney bought it, and Iger sat on Apple’s board until concerns over the companies’ competing streaming services led him to step down from Apple last year. Iger told Vanity Fair that he believed that if Jobs were alive, “We would have combined our companies, or at least discussed the possibility very seriously.”
The Pixar deal was his first big move, but would not be his last. His crowning achievement may be the $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox, combining two already-large movie catalogs into a Hollywood juggernaut. But even more than dominating at the box office, Iger has said the purchase was a key part of Disney’s plan to dive into streaming video.
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“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” Iger said.
The company launched its Disney+ service last fall, riding a wave of hype from original programming like “The Mandalorian” and offering shows like Fox’s “The Simpsons” which had been mostly unavailable on streaming services previously. Disney+ has drawn more than 28 million paid subscribers, Iger told investors during an earnings call earlier this month.
Disney also holds a controlling stake in streaming service Hulu, which has more than 30 million subscribers and also owns ESPN+, which has more than 7 million subscribers.
Iger also led Disney through its $4.2 billion purchase of Marvel in 2009 and its $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012. Many questioned those purchases, but Disney has turned around both franchises to see multiple billion-dollar box offices on its movies each year.
“This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney’s unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses, and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value,” Iger said after buying Lucasfilm.
Chapek joined Disney in 1993. He served in a variety of roles throughout the company, and was named president of the company’s former consumer products segment in 2011. He held that role until 2015, when he became chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. In 2018, he was named chairman of parks, experiences and products.
His tenure leading the parks saw Disney open its Shanghai resort, nearly double the size of the Disney Cruise Line fleet and open the new “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” parks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees,” Chapek said in a written statement.
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Iger and Chapek have worked closely together as Disney executives. In Iger’s 2019 book, “The Ride of a Lifetime,” he described how Chapek stepped up on what Iger called “the saddest day of my career” — the day a 2-year-old boy was killed by an alligator at Walt Disney World.
Iger was in China, and he spoke to the boy’s parents by phone. The father asked Iger to make sure the same thing never happened to another family. Iger was due to meet with important Chinese officials shortly after the emotional call.
“Eventually I called my team and said to meet me in the hotel lounge,” Iger wrote.” I knew if I described the conversation to them, I would start crying again, so I kept it short and told Bob Chapek what I’d promised [the father]. ‘We’re on it,’ Bob said, and sent word back to his team in Orlando right away (What they did there was remarkable. There are hundreds of lagoons and canals on the property and thousands of alligators. Within twenty four hours they had ropes and fences and signs up throughout the park, which is twice the size of Manhattan).”
Chapek shared positive sentiments about Iger, too.
“Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team,” Chapek said. “I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”
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Planning for bringing in an eventual successor have been in the works for years, according to Susan Arnold, independent lead director of the Disney board.
“Mr. Chapek has shown outstanding leadership and a proven ability to deliver strong results across a wide array of businesses, and his tremendous understanding of the breadth and depth of the company and appreciation for the special connection between Disney and its consumers makes him the perfect choice as the next CEO,” Arnold said.
She also praised Iger, calling him "one of the world’s most esteemed and successful business leaders."
Iger summed up his career in his book last year.
"There have been difficult, even tragic days, but for me this has also been, to steal a phrase, the happiest job on Earth," he wrote. "We make movies and television shows and Broadway musicals, games and costumes and toys and books. We build theme parks and rides, hotels and cruise ships. We stage parades and street shows and concerts every day in our 14 parks across the world. We manufacture fun. Even after all these years, I still sometimes find myself thinking, 'How'd this happen? How'd I get so lucky?' We used to call our biggest, most exciting theme-park attractions 'E-Tickets.' That's what comes to mind when I think about the job, and it's been a 14-year ride on a giant E-Ticket attraction known as the Walt Disney Company."