Amid a Disney PR backlash and a divisive reputation, the new CEO of the beloved Walt Disney Company has certainly had a rocky ride when it comes to his public narrative.
Bob Chapek’s role as Disney CEO follows a 15-year tenure from Bob Iger, with Iger’s surprise exit shocking Disney fans across the world.
With a petition going viral last year aiming to persuade the Walt Disney Company to fire Chapek, the Disney head has become quite a continued topic of discussion among Disney Guests.
And now, it has been revealed that Iger and Chapek are currently in a “furious” falling out that has left the transition of power in a very awkward place.
As the Walt Disney Company finds itself surrounded by endless controversy – from its response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill to the recent high school marching band insensitivity – it has come to light that the two recent Disney CEOs are not even talking.
Many Disney fans debate Bob Chapek’s decisions and stances on important political and industry issues. His budget cuts and layoffs, attention moving to Disney+ and away from the quality of the Disney Parks, as well as his silence on recent LGBTQ+ issues has led fans of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and Disney entertainment to question Chapek’s role as the head of the Disney Company.
Chapek did not have it easy to begin with as CEO, starting just before the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of closures of the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, and Disney Parks across the globe, as well as a high-profile lawsuit with Scarlett Johansson.
But he also had to follow in Iger’s shadow. Bob Iger was a well-loved Disney CEO, steering Disney through acquisitions of Lucasfilm, Pixar, Marvel Studios, and 21st Century Fox to become the giant entertainment company it is today. Iger led Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort through the additions of Pandora – The World of Avatar, Toy Story Land, Cars Land, and of course Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. He also opened Shanghai Disneyland in 2016.
And then, of course, Iger shocked Disney fans everywhere by stepping down as Disney’s chief executive in February 2020. He handpicked Chapek as his successor, who had decades of experience with Disney and multiple successes under his belt. But then, only two months later, everything fell apart.
Iger remained as executive chairman at Disney to help direct the company’s “creative endeavors” to help with the transition. He said in March 2020, “I can’t think of a better person to succeed me in this role,” a day before the company announced it would begin closing its Disney Parks due to the pandemic.
And Chapek returned the compliment, saying “I’ve watched Bob [Iger] lead this company to amazing new heights, and I’ve learned an enormous amount from that experience.”
All nicey-nicey, right? Well, then New York Times media columnist Ben Smith published a story that changed everything for Disney.
Smith reported that Iger wrote in an email, “A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!”
And that was it. Chapek was apparently “furious” at Iger’s comments, according to CNBC.
Chapek was angry as “he wasn’t looking for a white knight”, and felt like Iger was, once again, postponing his retirement as CEO to help him.
According to CNBC, this was a “turning point” for Disney, who had no interest in feeding the fire:
The Disney board had little interest in starting a brawl, especially given the state of the company and the world, the people said. Three days after Smith’s story was published, Disney accelerated its timeline and named Chapek to its board.
And ever since those comments made back at the start of the COVID pandemic, the two Bobs have not been able to repair their relationship. Chapek started making big decisions without Iger’s input, with internal Cast Member messages about strategy often conflicting, and Iger has not been a part of Chapek’s core circle.
Disney was speaking with two voices. The sad irony is that both Iger and Chapek have a focus on Disney’s digital transformation, but now their relationship has soured.
Furthermore, CNBC reveals that late last year, before his departure as executive chairman, Iger threw himself a going-away party. Iger invited over 50 people to his house in Los Angeles, including Robin Roberts and David Muir, who sat at two long tables. Iger and Chapek? Well, they were sat at opposite tables. Chapek near to his direct reports, while Iger next to Steven Spielberg. While Bob Iger gave a speech publicly praising former colleagues, he barely mentioned Chapek.
“It was extremely awkward,” said one of the guests, who asked to remain anonymous because the party was private. “The tension was palpable.”
During an annual retreat in 2021 for the company’s upper management at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii, Iger seemed to hint at the data-driven nature of Chapek. Iger spoke about his advice on successfully being the CEO of The Walt Disney Company and not to let data control their decision, but rather, creativity.
Both Iger and Chapek declined to comment on their relationship with each other.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s contract is up at the end of February 2023, so the pressure is on for him to convince Disney Cast Members, Guests, and the world that his leadership is one that will lead Disney to future success and togetherness.