Iger leaves big shoes for Chapek to fill at Disney

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Last week, outgoing CEO Bob Iger (left) highlighted some of the accomplishments of his successor, Bob Chapek (right).
Last week, outgoing CEO Bob Iger (left) highlighted some of the accomplishments of his successor, Bob Chapek (right).

When he was a boy growing up in Hammond, Ind., Walt Disney Co.’s new CEO, Bob Chapek, would visit the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando every year with his parents, a working mother and World War II veteran father.

“That’s where I first developed a deep love for Disney and all that it stands for,” Chapek said. “That young boy could have never imagined that one day he would get the chance to lead this extraordinary company as the seventh CEO in its nearly 100-year history.”

But ascend to that role he did. Chapek addressed his promotion on a call with investors last week after the surprise announcement that he would move up to CEO from his previous role as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, while longtime CEO Bob Iger would shift his focus to the role of executive chairman, leading Disney’s creative endeavors through Dec. 31, 2021.

Iger, who has been CEO for 15 years, said the time was right for a change at the top following Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and the launch of its direct-to-consumer business with ESPN Plus and Disney Plus. With that asset base in place, Iger said, it was time for him to shift focus to the creative side of the business.

Iger also said Disney has had its eyes on Chapek for some time, especially considering his 27-year tenure with the company.

In a note to investors, CFRA Research media and entertainment analyst Tuna Amobi, wrote, “We see some big shoes to fill after Bob Iger, given Disney’s remarkable transformation in the nearly 15 years of his leadership. Still, with a broad range of experience over nearly three decades spanning some of its key businesses (including filmed entertainment, theme parks and consumer products), Mr. Chapek appears to bring some crucial skill sets that should serve him well in his new role.”

Iger highlighted some of Chapek’s accomplishments in his various roles. As president of home entertainment for Walt Disney Studios, he spearheaded its successful “vault strategy,” releasing films for a limited time only. As president of distribution for the studio, he directed Disney’s film distribution strategy and expanded its global reach. As head of consumer products, Iger said, Chapek transformed the businesses and embraced technology to improve customer experiences.

In his most recent role as chairman of Parks, Experiences and Products, Chapek “oversaw the largest capital expansion in the history of our parks,” Iger said, opening Shanghai Disney Resort, doubling the fleet of Disney Cruise Line and creating “Star Wars” lands at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Before Disney, Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz Co. and in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.

“Everything in my career has been a consumer-oriented business,” Chapek said. “That’s where I’ve played. So the idea that now I’ll be able to take that background and experience, including everything that I’ve done in consumer products and in our parks, and now apply it to a direct-to-consumer business feels like it’s well within my wheelhouse.”

J.P. Morgan analyst Alexia Quadrani said in a note to investors that she expects a smooth transition, despite the fact that Iger had previously said he would remain CEO through 2021.

Chapek was the assumed front-runner for the role, Quadrani said, and she added that she believed he is the right person for the job. With theme parks contributing 45% of Disney’s operating income and “being the most consistent and biggest profit-grower over the last four years,” she said, his promotion was unsurprising.

As CEO, Chapek said his priority would be “to continue the growth and stewardship of this great brand, while preserving its rich legacy. I share Bob’s commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion, and I will embrace these same strategic pillars going forward.”

Len Testa, president of TouringPlans.com and co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2020,” said he believes Chapek as CEO will continue a trend he started in his leadership role with Disney Parks.

“He’s going to enforce the placement of Disney intellectual property in promoting all aspects of the company’s operations, whether that’s the parks, Disney Plus, television or cruise ships,” Testa said. “Every line of business will reference the others, even if the reference is sometimes a stretch.”

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