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Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger Hands Keys to Magic Kingdom to Its 7th Chief - The New York Times

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Media |Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger Hands Keys to
Magic Kingdom to Its 7th Chief


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DISNEY C.E.O. BOB IGER HANDS KEYS TO MAGIC KINGDOM TO ITS 7TH
CHIEFDISNEY C.E.O. BOB IGER HANDS KEYS TO MAGIC KINGDOM TO ITS 7TH
CHIEF

He will be replaced by Bob Chapek, who was most recently chairman of
Disney’s parks business.

Robert A.
Iger, chairman and chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, is
stepping down after nearly 15 years at the helm.Credit...Drew
Angerer/Getty Images



By Brooks Barnes

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Feb. 25, 2020

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LOS ANGELES — Robert A. Iger
,
who delayed his retirement four times in recent years, abruptly
stepped down as Disney’s chief executive

on Tuesday. But he will not be going far.

The Walt Disney Company said that Mr. Iger, who has run Disney for
nearly 15 years, would be replaced as chief executive by Bob Chapek, a
27-year veteran of the entertainment conglomerate who has most
recently served as chairman of Disney’s theme parks and consumer
products businesses. Mr. Chapek will report to the Disney board, which
will continue to be led by Mr. Iger, who will also take on the title
of executive chairman and “direct Disney’s creative endeavors,”
the company said, until the end of his contract on Dec. 31, 2021.

Mr. Iger, 69, had been expected to remain chief executive until that
date, with some people in the entertainment industry speculating that
he would extend his reign for a fifth time. As such, the
out-of-the-blue passing of the baton to Mr. Chapek, 60, surprised Wall
Street and Hollywood. Disney shares dropped 3 percent in after-hours
trading, to $125.30, before regaining some ground.

Disney has a history of bumpy transfers of power. Mr. Iger’s
predecessor, Michael D. Eisner, tried to cling to his job, and in the
end he turned over a struggling company.

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“It’s only abrupt in other people’s eyes because we haven’t
been talking about it publicly,” Mr. Iger said by phone. “I have
been discussing this with the board for a number of months. I
basically described what I thought my best use was given that our
asset base and strategy are pretty much in place. And that was to
fully focus on the creative side of our business and make sure that
our creative pipelines are vibrant.”

He added, “That is very, very important, especially as we roll out
Disney Plus around the world. In thinking about what I want to
accomplish before I leave the company at the end of ’21, getting
everything right creatively would be my No. 1 goal. I could not do
that if I were running the company on a day-to-day basis.”

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The Disney Plus streaming service is a make-or-break effort to
reposition Disney for growth — its traditional cable businesses are
in decline — and compete with the tech giants that are aggressively
moving into Hollywood. Introduced in November, Disney Plus has nearly
30 million subscribers in the United States and will arrive in the
coming months in Europe and India. Other significant near-term
challenges for Disney include the coronavirus outbreak; the Shanghai
Disney Resort and Hong Kong Disneyland have been closed for a month
and the virus could hurt parks in Japan, France and the United States.

Mr. Iger said the Disney board “identified Bob actually quite some
time ago as a likely successor.” He said he decided not to elevate
Mr. Chapek to an interim role — perhaps chief operating officer, a
job that has not existed at Disney since Thomas O. Staggs, once Mr.
Iger’s heir apparent, left the company in 2016. “I did not believe
that would bestow on him the kind of autonomy that I wanted him to
have during this transition,” Mr. Iger said. Furthermore, “I’m
not going to suddenly be working three days a week. My new role is a
full-time job.”

And, no, he is not planning to run for president, as he had flirted
with in the past. “I think it’s a little late for that,” Mr.
Iger said with a chuckle.

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Mr. Chapek, who has limited creative experience, became the seventh
chief executive in Disney’s nearly 100-year history. He can come
across as a bit stiff in comparison to the magnetic Mr. Iger, whose
celebrated run at the company has made him a corporate celebrity. But
what Mr. Chapek may lack in charisma, he makes up for with an
uncynical admiration for Disney’s sentimental style of
entertainment, gladly clapping along with the parade when he visits
the parks and gamefully engaging in scripted banter with costumed
characters.

“I have absolute confidence in his abilities, as does the board,”
Mr. Iger told analysts on a conference call. “I intend to work very
closely with Bob. My goal when I leave here is that he will be just as
steeped in the creative part of the business as I am today.”

Mr. Chapek said that he had spent “the last couple weeks” talking
with Mr. Iger and the Disney board about becoming chief executive.
“I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological
innovation and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace
these same strategic pillars going forward,” Mr. Chapek told
analysts. “A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done, and now
it’s a question of refining that.”

Before joining Disney in 1993, Mr. Chapek worked in brand management
at H.J. Heinz and J. Walter Thompson Worldwide. Raised in Hammond,
Ind., Mr. Chapek has a degree in microbiology from Indiana University
and received his M.B.A. from Michigan State University.

Mr. Chapek first made a name for himself at Disney by spearheading the
company’s highly successful “vault” strategy for its iconic
animated films, bringing them on and off the market in cycles that
allowed Disney to sell the films repeatedly on DVD and Blu-ray discs.
He rose to president of distribution for Walt Disney Studios before
serving as president of consumer products for four years.

He was named chairman of Disney’s theme park operation in 2015,
overseeing 170,000 employees worldwide. He has quietly shined in that
role, helping Mr. Iger open the Shanghai Disney Resort; overseeing the
construction of two colossal “Star Wars”-themed expansions at Walt
Disney World in Florida and Disneyland in California; and finding
numerous smaller ways to make the parks more profitable.

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While puzzled by the timing of the announcement, analysts were
supportive of the choice.

“Chapek is a really good, no-brainer pick — the other division
leaders have been there too short of a time,” Michael Nathanson, a
media analyst and founding partner at MoffettNathanson, said in a
phone interview. “He’s a really nice person who is part of the
Disney culture, which is important.”

Other candidates to succeed Mr. Iger included Kevin A. Mayer, chairman
of Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international division, and Peter
Rice, chairman of Walt Disney Television.

Mr. Chapek indicated that he hoped to rely on both of those men.
“Obviously I have not spent as much time on the media side or the
direct-to-consumer side, but we have some really great, experienced
leaders that are in place in those businesses,” he said.

Even so, Mr. Chapek said that his years at Disney had given him “a
bit of fluency” in those businesses. “I’m familiar with the
opportunities and some of the challenges that they all face,” he
said.

Since taking over as chief executive in October 2005, Mr. Iger has led
Disney to record financial results, even in the face of economic
downturns, the occasional horrendous movie write-off and changing
consumer habits that dented ESPN, the company’s longtime profit
engine. Last year, Mr. Iger completed a $71.3 billion acquisition that
gave Disney the bulk of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, substantially
altering the entertainment landscape. Mr. Iger then oversaw the
successful introduction of Disney Plus.

The downside to that success? Nobody seemed to measure up,
complicating succession. One internal candidate to succeed Mr. Iger,
the well-regarded Mr. Staggs, abruptly left Disney in 2016 after
losing the unqualified support of Mr. Iger and some other board
members. Since then, Disney has been engaged in a quiet hunt for a
successor.

Even among media conglomerates, Disney has a unique mix of businesses,
some of which are healthier than others. The company’s movie studio
is widely regarded as the strongest in Hollywood and the Disney theme
parks are delivering record profits. But the company’s vast consumer
products division has been challenged, and Disney’s television
operation, which includes ABC, Disney Channel and Freeform, has been
struggling with ratings weakness and a lack of breakout shows. Now it
has entered the streaming era with Disney Plus
,
which has started strong but will lose money for the coming years as
Disney spends billions of dollars on original content and
technological infrastructure.

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Mr. Iger started his entertainment career at ABC in 1974. Disney has
no mandatory retirement age for chief executives; the company’s
mandatory retirement age for board members is 74.

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