Late yesterday afternoon, Disney dropped a bombshell when it was announced that CEO Bob Iger is stepping down immediately and will be replaced by Bob Chapek, chairman of Disney Parks, as the new CEO. First of all, this is real-life Sucession and the HEAD OF PARKS got the CEO gig—go Tom Wambsgans! “Boar on the floor” paid off! But really, this is a stunning and stunningly fast change from one of the biggest and most powerful entertainment companies in the world. It’s already happened! Bob Iger is now the “Executive Chairman” and Bob Chapek is the CEO—they’ve updated the website and everything.
This is news is SO sudden that my first thoughts went like this:
Is something political about to happen?
Is something bad about to happen?
Is something sad about to happen?
The speed with which this power exchange happened immediately made me think there is some kind of emergency situation brewing. Hopefully its not illness, because that would be sad for anyone. I can’t imagine it being something bad because Iger is, and I mean this as a compliment, one of the most boring, staid guys in entertainment, with a reputation for being undramatic and, how do I put this, not one to throw staplers at his assistant’s head. He is the executive you can point to whenever someone insists that abusive behavior is some kind of sign of genius or byproduct of success. You don’t get much more savvy or successful than Iger, and he’s not a jerk. Or rather, that has not been his reputation up to this point. Or it could be about politics. I saw the CNBC tweet announcing he stepped down and instantly thought, Is he someone’s vice president pick? He has been adamant that he does not intend to run for president in 2020, but like, maybe he is? We now live in an age when American rich people throw away perfectly good lives as private citizens in order to be loathed by at least half of the country. Stranger things have happened.
Beyond the mystifying speed of the changeover, there are some odd bits that stick out about this story. One is that just a few months ago Iger was on a book tour for his biography/business book The Ride of a Lifetime, which seemed a bit odd as that’s a retiree move, but Iger had just signed a contract extension to remain the Disney CEO through 2021 (he will still honor that, but now in his position as “Executive Chairman”). But hindsight is 20/20 and I guess that book tour was a retiree move. Except the CNBC reporting about the CEO swap notes that Chapek will report to Iger, who will retain “creative control” of the company. You mean like what a CEO does? So he’s still kind of the CEO, but now we know who his successor is, but they went ahead and swapped titles, and now Iger is the “Executive Chairman”?
I keep putting “Executive Chairman” in quotes because it sounds like a made-up title you give to your boss’s nephew to keep him happy and out of the way. Oh him? Don’t mind him. That’s Ned, the boss’s nephew. He’s the “Executive Chairman”.
It just seems unnecessarily complicated and dramatic when there is plenty of precedent for CEOs naming their successors and then going through a years-long transition to transfer power. And now I’m back to wondering if something is wrong, or if Bob Iger is about declare “Iger 2020” or what. One thing is certain, though—Iger’s success as CEO can’t be replicated. He oversaw Disney’s big acquisition era, buying companies like Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Fox. He turned Disney into a media juggernaut, dominating theatrical film and storming the Netflix gates of streaming. In a follow-up statement, Iger said that with the Disney+ launch and Fox merger behind him, he can now “focus on the creative side”. My translation: Expect an overhaul of Star Wars. It’s the last desk left for him to tidy before exiting for good.