It would appear that former chief executive Bob Iger has won the Disney War.
In a surprise Sunday night twist, the Walt Disney Co. said Iger had been re-appointed to CEO, “effective immediately.” The move dethrones Iger’s successor, Bob Chapek, who was named to the top job in February 2020, and just inked a new multi-year contract in June.
“The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period,” said board chairman Susan Arnold in a statement.
In an email to Disney employees, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Iger said he was returning with, “I must admit, a bit of amazement.”
The switch-up comes after a disappointing financial quarter for the entertainment behemoth—resulting in what CNBC host Jim Cramer called on Friday its “balance sheet from hell.” The company’s stock hit a 52-week low on Nov. 9, according to CNBC.
Chapek, 62, has also been dogged by a number of missteps made at the helm of the House of Mouse. His initial silence over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill resulted in his outraged employees staging a walkout; after he denounced it, Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republican lawmakers declared war on “woke” Disney.
What’s more, by throwing his weight behind building up Disney’s streaming services, Chapek infamously provoked the ire of Scarlett Johansson. The actress sued (and then settled with) Disney after claiming Black Widow’s simultaneous-release schedule violated her contract.
“The thing about Hollywood is, you can behave badly, you can be rude, you can make duds, but the thing you cannot do is fuck with people’s money,” a producer with business at Disney told The Hollywood Reporter last October. “You just don’t do that and hide behind technology as the reason why.”
The disquiet over Chapek’s tenure has been just as pronounced behind the scenes, according to CNBC journalist David Faber, who tweeted on Sunday that Chapek had been ousted amid “rising tensions amongst top management at the company.”
By comparison, the 71-year-old Iger is generally regarded as a beloved Disney icon, known for a fruitful first run as CEO between 2005 and 2020, during which time he transformed the company into the IP-is-king juggernaut audiences know it as today. That he is widely seen as pro-talent is illustrated by the overjoyed reaction of Josh Gad to Sunday’s news, with the Frozen and Beauty and the Beast actor tweeting, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. Welcome home @RobertIger- the GOAT is back!!!!”
In his statement on his re-ascendance, Iger diplomatically neglected to mention Chapek, saying instead, “I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.”
Although it seemed Iger allowed Chapek, his protégé, to take the reins peaceably enough in 2020, it wasn’t long before the trades picked up the scent of a feud, and a series of stories salivating over the “palpable” tension between the two men when they were in the same room quickly followed.
That Iger chose to remain executive chairman through the end of 2021 instead of taking the usual route of stepping back completely was also an early sign of trouble in the C-suite. Soon after The New York Times published an April 2020 story quoting Iger as suggesting he’d stuck around to “actively” shepherd Chapek through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bobs stopped speaking entirely, according to CNBC.
Iger’s return is not a happily ever after, however, as the Disney board made clear in its Sunday statement. Instead, he “has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years,” during which time he will work closely with the board’s members to groom a new heir apparent. You know, because it went so well the last time.