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Bob Iger makes shock return as Disney CEO, replaces Bob Chapek in ‘pivotal period’

Bob Iger is returning to lead The Walt Disney Company as CEO, effective immediately, with Bob Chapek exiting from the role.

Bob Iger

Iger, who was CEO for 15 years until he stepped down in 2020 and was replaced by Chapek, will assume the role on a two-year term.

Disney confirmed the revelation on Sunday, stating that Iger’s mandate is to “set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the board in developing a successor to lead the company at the completion of his term.”

Susan Arnold, chairman of the board, added that the board 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.”

The decision to replace Chapek with Iger – whose original run as CEO is widely heralded as one of the most successful periods in the company’s century-long history, including the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox – comes during a period of intense fiscal scrutiny for the Mouse House.

Earlier in the month, Disney reported fourth-quarter revenue of US$20.1bn, missing Wall Street expectations of US$21.2bn. While it added an impressive 12.1 million Disney+ subscribers, Wall Street was unimpressed and Disney’s stock fell to US$86 per share.

Like many media companies, Disney’s share price has been in free fall since the turn of the year, dropping from US$156 per share at the start of the year to US$91.80 on Friday.

In the wake of the fourth-quarter results, Chapek announced the implementation of a hiring freeze across many departments, as well as the creation of a “cost structure taskforce” with a mandate to make “critical big picture decisions necessary to achieve our objectives.”

It is no secret that there has been friction between Chapek and Iger in the past, and the degree to which the latter reverses some of the decisions taken by the former will have a significant impact on the future of the company.

Chapek’s tenure as Disney CEO was a rocky one, including a public conflict with US actress Scarlett Johansson over lost theatrical revenues after blockbuster Black Widow was released simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+. He also drew criticism for Disney’s response to an anti-gay Bill in Florida earlier this year.

More recently, in June, he was criticised for his dismissal of Peter Rice, former chairman of Disney General Entertainment. As pressure mounted on Chapek, Disney’s board of directors publicly backed the exec, saying he had the “support and confidence of the board.”

Arnold added: “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.”

Iger said he was “extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the board to return as its CEO.”

He added: “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe – most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration.

“I am deeply honoured to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivalled bold storytelling.”

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