In a move that shocked Hollywood, Bob Iger, one of the most prominent CEOs in Walt Disney Company history, is returning to lead the media empire once again.
Bob Chapek, who replaced Iger as CEO in 2020, is stepping down effective immediately.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his long service to Disney, including leading the company through the challenges of an unprecedented pandemic,” Disney Chairman Susan Arnold said Sunday evening. “The board has determined that, as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this crucial period.”
While the announcement surprises the media industry, it comes at a time when Disney has been growing a lot. The company is coming off a weak earnings report that shows growth in its streaming efforts. However, this came at a high cost. Disney’s streaming business lost $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter. The report sent Disney shares tumbling after a sluggish year to underperform.
Chapek guided the company through the pandemic, one of the most tumultuous periods in its nearly 100-year history, but ultimately Disney decided its future was in better hands with Iger.
Away from the pandemic, Chapek had a brief but bumpy tenure as head of Disney. Chapek, who was chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products before taking over from Iger, dealt with pay issues with Scarlett Johansson, one of the company’s biggest stars, as well as Disney’s battles with Florida and its own workers. in connection with a controversial state bill restricting certain LGBTQ topics in the classroom.
Disney’s stock has also taken a hit recently. It is currently down about 40% this year.
As for Iger, he has near-mythical status as head of Disney ( DIS ). He spent 15 years as a CEO and helped acquire major brands such as Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, home of Star Wars. Iger also closed a $71 billion deal to buy a majority stake in 21st Century Fox and started the streaming revolution at Disney ( DIS ) by creating Disney ( DIS )+ in November 2019.
Iger remained at Disney as CEO, leading the company’s creative efforts. He officially left the company after nearly 50 years at the end of last year.
Disney said Sunday that Iger has agreed to a two-year term as CEO with “board authority to set strategic direction for new growth and work closely with the board to develop a successor to lead the company beyond his term.”
The move is also surprising as Čapek just renewed his contract. The company’s board of directors voted unanimously to extend Chapek’s contract as CEO for another three years, the company announced in June. Čapek’s new contract began in July and was scheduled to run until 2025.
What’s more, Iger appeared to retire with his legacy as one of Disney’s most prominent and successful executives. Now he is back.
“I am very optimistic about the future of this great company and am thrilled that the board will be asking me to return as its CEO,” Iger said in a statement Sunday. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the world, especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to the company and its mission is an inspiration.”
Iger added that he is “deeply honored to be asked once again to lead this remarkable team with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unparalleled, bold storytelling.”