When Bob Iger suddenly announced he was stepping down from Disney’s Chief Executive Officer, the news came as a surprise to many.
It’s true that we already knew Iger had plans to retire in 2021, but why was he calling it quits so early?
Retirement Delays to Quick Change?
Originally, Iger’s last day as CEO for The Walt Disney Company was slated for December 31st, 2021. Previously he had extended his contract with Disney twice before, most recently in 2017 after Disney acquired 20th Century Fox as part of the negotiations for the purchase.
However, Iger assured Disney’s board he would undoubtedly be turning over the reins this last time when his tenure expired. So why after not being able to step away from Disney on two separate occasions did Iger suddenly leave his post almost two years prematurely?
Was the Timing Just a Coincidence?
Iger’s untimely departure could just be total happenstance. There’s no evidence that Iger decided to step down when he did because of any mitigating factors. That being said, Iger did have situational awareness of what was occurring with overseas Disney parks in China, Tokyo, and France before the current situation struck here in the United States.
The parks in China and Japan had closed their doors months prior to us hearing any talk in the United States of something similar happening, but Iger certainly had a heavy hand in many of those decisions.
Did Iger step down out of growing global health concerns? Or was something more at play? It’s possible we’ll never know the answer for sure, but arguments can be made for two possible scenarios.
Did Iger Want To Quit While He Was Ahead…
During Iger’s 15-year stint as Disney’s CEO, he built Disney’s IPs substantially, playing a critical role in acquiring Pixar, Marvel, and LucasFilm. Disney’s portfolio was also expanding with the launch of Disney+, and the most recent acquisitions of 21st Century Fox and Hulu.
According to The Associated Press, 2019 was also a record year at the box office for Disney. Franchise films such as Avengers: Endgame, Frozen 2 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker dominated ticket sales, grossing $13 billion worldwide. During his tenure, the Walt Disney Company thrived.
On the theme park front, flagship ride Rise of the Resistance had just opened up to rave reviews on both coasts. Future projects were all moving at a solid pace both domestically and internationally. So it’s entirely reasonable to think that Bob Iger saw the company was in good shape and felt the time was right to pass the torch.
But, Iger did announce his decision to step down on February 25th — a month after he had already closed Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland due to the growing situation. Not to mention the monumental 50th anniversary of Disney World was looming just before his retirement, in the fall of 2021. Wouldn’t he choose to go out on a high note THEN? Why now? This can throw into question his timing and if the decision was made to avoid being the face of the company during an especially trying time.
So maybe he wanted to quit while he felt like he was up?
Or maybe, just maybe, he stepped down from the top slot because he saw something bigger was coming and wanted to rearrange the company to best battle the barrage on its way.
…Or Was This A Prescient Realignment of Leadership?
By now, we’ve already talked about what a creative tour de force Iger was and continues to be at Disney. Since stepping down from CEO, Iger’s taken on the title of executive chairman to “direct Disney’s creative endeavors” — at which he’s proven to be very adept in the past.
Taking Iger’s place as CEO is Bob Chapek, who has been with Disney since 1993 and presided over the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts since February 23, 2015, after replacing Tom Staggs. Prior to his former position, Chapek was the president of Disney Consumer Products since September of 2011.
According to Business Insider, Iger said during a call with investors that this decision for his departure was “not accelerated for any particular reason” and that Chapek was identified “quite some time ago” as his likely successor.
But the article went on to state that a Rosenblatt Securities analyst noted how much of the Disney CEO’s time and effort would soon need to go to the global health crisis, which would take away from Iger’s ability to focus on the creative endeavors of the company. “Leaving Bob Chapek, a Disney veteran with 27 years with the company, to run the day-to-day business while Bob Iger is still in the building seems like a good reallocation of resources to us.”
So, what if this was all a calculated move, but not for the nefarious reasons the situation might suggest? What if the company recognized that they would soon be staring down the barrel of a recession on the heels of closed parks worldwide and significantly debilitated income from nearly all other silos, and determined that Iger’s and Chapek’s unique talents would be best used if realigned?
So we’ve noted that Iger clearly has talents in acquisitions, growth, and creative direction. But what about Bob Chapek? Why does it make sense to put him at the helm right now? There seems to be one BIG reason. Yes, he has the logistical experience to fill the role of CEO; but he’s also got the skills to pay the bills if a recession is on the horizon.
Chapek is a number cruncher whose ability to manage budgets would be of great benefit to Disney in a down-turned economy.
He may not have the creative streak and charisma of Iger, but Bob Chapek’s got a way with balance sheets as we can see from the recent, and oft-criticized, tactics of raising ticket prices and readily reorganizing operations at the parks to save or make a dollar. A company in Disney’s situation needs a strong, budget-minded leader at the helm running the day-to-day operations in order to come out bigger and better (or at least not bleeding) in the end.
Since this global situation has continued its spread, Disney’s parks and film industries have been the most severely impacted. Perhaps having both Iger and Chapek situated in powerful roles that are uniquely suited to their respective skill sets might have been the strategic Hail Mary Disney needed to get through this.
Why Iger Says It Was Time For Him To Step Down, In His Own Words
While we may never know if Iger’s decision to step down when he did was a direct result of the worldwide situation or not, we do know this: the former Disney CEO told CNBC, “With everything else falling into place, the time seemed right.” He went on to tell the New York Times he would be focusing on Disney’s creative strategy, and said “I could not do that if I were running the company on a day-to-day basis.”
Clearly he had no interest in washing his hands of Disney and walking away. Rather he was looking to adjust his outlet within the company.
How Disney Is Weathering This Situation, In Their Own Words
Let’s take a look at what Disney said to its investors recently, as told by CNBC. “We have closed our theme parks; suspended our cruises and theatrical shows; delayed theatrical distribution of films both domestically and internationally; and experienced supply chain disruption and ad sales impacts. In addition, there has been a disruption in creation and availability of content we rely on for our various distribution paths, including most significantly the cancellation of certain sports events and the shutting down of production of most film and television content.”
We can’t say for sure the motives behind Iger’s decision to step down. But one thing IS for sure: he’s far from retired right now. Iger is actively working with the company, even speaking out as the face of Disney in the midst of his current role, to help push things forward. When Disneyland announced they were initially closing, he was the one to release a statement supporting the state governor and reassuring the public, not Chapek. The public had a developed trust of Iger that is still beneficial to the Walt Disney Company today.
While Disney seems to be very aware of the challenges that lie ahead, including changes in consumer behavior and construction projects being delayed in addition to all the other adversity we’ve already mentioned, it may be comforting for Disney fans to know the company has two skilled leaders in place.
Were you surprised when you heard Iger was stepping down as CEO? Tell us what you thought of his decision in the comments below.