On Sunday, The Walt Disney Company stunned the entertainment industry with the announcement that Bob Iger had returned as CEO. The news meant that his successor/predecessor, Bob Chapek, was removed from his post at the company, a little over two years after he started the job. Now, a new report from the Wall Street Journal claims that tensions between the two have existed almost since the transition in power began.
According to the report, Iger has spent the past two years criticizing Chapek’s decisions as CEO. Although Iger left the company officially last year after his term as executive chairman ended, he reportedly remained fixated on Chapek’s mistakes, and spoke so much about his successor that it became “uncomfortable,” The Wall Street Journal’s sources said.
Among the various issues Iger had with Chapek included his prioritization of streaming over other parts of Disney’s business and increases in prices at Disney Theme Parks. Iger reportedly felt that Chapek was investing in streaming at the expense of cable television and other sources of revenue for Disney, and that his projections for streaming growth were overinflated. Iger, who has publicly stated he wanted Disney parks to stay accessible to middle-class families, was also alarmed by the price hikes at the resorts.
Reportedly, several creative executives working at Disney would contact Iger to share their frustrations about working with Chapek, and Iger would tell confidents that his successor was “killing the soul of the company.”
The relationship between Iger and Chapek began fracturing early on, when Chapek was promoted from his role as Disney Parks and Resorts chairman to CEO and Iger stepped down from the head job to become executive chairman of the board. At the time, the plan was for Iger’s role to be hands-off, but the pandemic quickly caused the two executives’ very different leadership styles to be put into sharp relief.
Chapek planned to respond to the pandemic quickly, by laying off thousands of workers at Disney’s theme parks. Iger wanted to wait until Congress’ Cares Act was signed into law, potentially giving any laid-off employee protections to help them during unemployment. Iger overruled Chapek, convincing the board it was better to wait until the Cares Act was passed.
The situation destroyed their relationship, as Chapek felt he was being undermined, while Iger no longer trusted Chapek. Iger ultimately took a more active role in guiding Disney as the pandemic continued, before stepping down from the post at the end of last year.
According to the report, Iger received a call from a Disney employee a week before the official announcement asking if he’d consider coming back to the company. He was officially offered the job on Friday, by Chairwoman Susan Arnold.
Prior to this, the board reportedly considered replacing Chapek following his bungled response to the Florida state government’s homophobic Parental Rights in Education legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Although Chapek eventually did speak out against the bill and governor Ron DeSantis, he initially stayed silent as criticism of Disney’s monetary contributions to state legislators supporting the bill mounted, and stated he wouldn’t speak publicly about the legislation in internal company memos. Iger, on the other hand, posted his criticism of the bill in February on Twitter, saying it puts “vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”
According to the report, board members considered replacing Chapek as CEO after the controversy, and Iger was aware of the discussions taking place. Arnold supported Chapek, and the board ultimately extended his contract by three years.
Iger’s return has largely been received positively by Disney employees, Wall Street analysts, and others in the entertainment industry, who have expressed unhappiness about Chapek’s term at the company. One of Chapek’s final acts before getting fired was to warn employees that cost-cutting decisions and layoffs would be coming following the company’s disappointing fourth quarter losses. It’s unclear if these layoffs will happen under Iger, but the once and current CEO has already made changes of his own, including getting rid of Disney’s Media and Entertainment Distribution head Kareem Daniel.