With the not entirely unexpected ascension of Bob Chapek to Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company today, former CEO Robert Iger’s watch is now over. Although Iger is stepping down from running the day to day operations of the Mouse House, he will continue on as Executive Chair of the Board and direct the company’s creative endeavors.
The search for Iger’s successor has been ongoing for around a decade and Iger had made it known that when his contract expires at the end of 2021, he would be leaving the company.
The announcement of Chapek taking the CEO desk came a bit earlier than most observers expected, but in the last few years he had become the obvious internal candidate. Iger will remain in close communication with Chapek during the transition period to ensure there is no dropoff in performance or execution at Disney.
“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,” Mr. Iger said. “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.”
Mr. Iger added: “Bob will be the seventh CEO in Disney’s nearly 100-year history, and he has proven himself exceptionally qualified to lead the Company into its next century. Throughout his career, Bob has led with integrity and conviction, always respecting Disney’s rich legacy while at the same time taking smart, innovative risks for the future. His success over the past 27 years reflects his visionary leadership and the strong business growth and stellar results he has consistently achieved in his roles at Parks, Consumer Products and the Studio. Under Bob’s leadership as CEO, our portfolio of great businesses and our amazing and talented people will continue to serve the Company and its shareholders well for years to come.”
Iger joined ABC in 1974 literally sweeping the floors of television sets just as a way to get into the television industry. By 1989 he was leading ABC Entertainment and later became president of the ABC Network Television Group and eventually lead Capital Cities/ABC media conglomerate as its President and CEO.
In 1996, with Iger still CEO, Disney bought Capital Cities/ABC. Iger remained in charge of what became Disney’s Television division until 1999 when he was identified as a possible replacement for then CEO Michael Eisner. After serving on a series of other executive roles, and with the efforts behind the scenes from Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney, Eisner resigned and Iger took over leadership in 2005.
One of Iger’s first big moves was to acquire Pixar from Steve Jobs. The relationship between Pixar and Disney had soured under Eisner’s leadership and Pixar had been talking of moving to another studio. Other Iger-led major acquisitions that have worked out financially for Disney include Marvel, Lucasfilm (Star Wars and Indiana Jones), and BAMtech, the company behind the technology that runs Disney+.
The most recent, and by far largest, acquisition was 21st Century Fox. The $71 billion deal is seen by industry insiders as necessary to give Disney the sort of leverage it needs to fend off outside investors and capitalize on distribution of its vastly expanded library of films and other properties. It remains to see how well this works out for Disney, but so far, signs are pretty good.
Other minor acquisitions include The Muppets and trading sportscaster Al Michaels to NBC for the rights to Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first big cartoon star that he lost in a licensing deal.
What will Bob Iger do after Disney? There had been some talk of him turning to politics, but recently he said he was no longer interested in such a path. It’s been hinted that he might move into professional sports as a team owner. He is also likely to continue his charitable and philanthropic work. In 2019, Forbes magazine reported that Iger had a network of $690 million.
Iger is married to journalist Willow Bay and has four children; two daughters from a previous marriage and two boys with Bay.
We wish Bob Iger luck in his retirement and thank him for his careful stewardship of the Disney legacy over the years. We may not always agree with his decisions, but he left the company stronger than when he found it and has given his successor Bob Chapek a solid path into the future to follow.