Big news on the corporate level of The Walt Disney Company as Bob Chapek, previously the President of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, has been promoted to Chief Executive Officer of the entire company. This move is effective immediately. Previous CEO Robert Iger will remain with The Walt Disney Company as Executive Chair of the Board of Directors a position he already holds.
Iger has been telegraphing his desire to step down as CEO for years and one or two potential replacements had failed to materialize as CEO material. It looks like Chapek has passed whatever hurdles of confidence the Board of Directors required.
Chapek is a promotion from within, which means he understands the culture of Disney. He’s spent nearly three decades at Disney with a large portion of that time in the consumer products division then moving to the parks and resorts in 2015. In 2018, he became head of the newly created Disney Parks, Experiences and Products business segment.
I know a lot of Disney theme park fans are not going to be happy with this news. They see Chapek as the force behind budget cuts on big projects, cutbacks in entertainment, and a move away from original theme park attractions to ones that leverage Disney owned intellectual property with a particular focus on how Disney movie characters are invading EPCOT.
All that is true and I feel that fans and business observers are right to question those moves. But even with Bob Chapek at the head, Disney does not make these moves without its own supporting evidence. Chapek has also led the Disney Parks division through its largest investment and expansion in sixty plus years. Just some of the accomplishments include opening Shanghai Disney, acquiring control of Disneyland Paris, a plan to add three ships to Disney Cruise Line, figuring out how to integrate Marvel stories in the parks, and opening not one, but two Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge lands with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, an attraction almost universally acknowledged as the pinnacle of Disney theme park attractions to date.
I’ve met Bob Chapek and found him to be not just affable, but in tune with the company, its employees, and its fans. We fans may not get everything we like out of this promotion, but we never do. At least it’s an internal promotion, not someone from outside where there’s a risk the company culture could be destroyed. In Chapek’s hands, we know things will go along much as they have for the past two-decades under Bob Iger’s careful stewardship.
The Walt Disney Company is more than just its theme parks and Chapek has experience working on the Distribution side of The Walt Disney Studios. He also led the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment division. This experience will be invaluable as he faces a wider array of decisions as CEO than he did in charge of parks and consumer products.
That said, Bob Iger came from the ABC/Capital Cities merger and he did ok. No one is expecting Chapek to pull off the acquisition trifecta of Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars (and lets not forget The Muppets) that Iger did in his tenure. But it will be interesting to see what Chapek’s take on Iger’s concept of building around franchises is. I suspect he’ll continue with that idea and maybe layer some more consumer facing ways to access franchises as technology continues to evolve in the parks, studios, and other company divisions.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees,” said Chapek in a statement. “Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team. I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”
Prior to joining the company, Mr. Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Company, and in advertising at J. Walter Thompson. He has a degree in microbiology from Indiana University Bloomington, and received his MBA from Michigan State University.
Mr. Chapek has also developed a close relationship with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where he currently serves as a Board Member and helps the organization leverage the power of Disney to make a difference in the lives of children with critical illnesses and their families.
A replacement for Bob Chapek as head of the Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products division has not yet been announced.