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Disney CEO Bob Iger steps down suddenly, capping career with Disney Plus’ epic launch

Disney CEO Bob Iger steps down

The company’s head of parks, Bob Chapek, is now CEO. Iger will continue to be Disney’s chairman and focus on “the creative side of our business” until the end of next year.

Disney leader Bob Iger has stepped down as CEO, effective immediately, Disney said Tuesday. Iger, who spent his entire career at the company and will leave with the legacy of Disney’s titanic transition to streaming, Disney Plus, capping his tenure, will remain chairman of the Walt Disney Company until the end of next year. Disney’s head of parks, Bob Chapek, is now CEO. 

Iger’s time as CEO will forever be marked by the launch of streaming service Disney Plus in his last year leading Disney. The launch was a massive endeavor, involving collaboration among every arm of Hollywood’s biggest giant, and it spurred Disney into its $71.3 billion takeover of Fox to stay competitive. In less than three months, Disney Plus signed up 28.6 million subscribers, an unprecedented number in such a short period of time. One media analyst called it “one of the greatest product launches of all time.”

With those chess pieces in place and in play, Iger said that “getting everything right creatively” would now be his “No. 1 goal.”

“I could not do that if I were running the company on a day-to-day basis,” Iger said during a Tuesday conference call about the succession. “It just obviously takes that much time and it’s so complex. And so the goal was for me to turn over the day-to-day management of the company to Bob [Chepak] with direct authority over all of our businesses and basically all elements of the company, and free me up just to basically focus on the creative side. It was really that simple.”

A leadership transition has been anticipated for years, but the announcement still came as a shock. The 69-year-old Iger has delayed his planned retirement several times, and the process of picking a successor has been marked by some drama, such as when one heir apparent to Iger suddenly resigned in 2016. Though Iger’s latest retirement plan was to depart at the end of 2021, Tuesday’s announcement that Chepak had immediately taken the reins came as a surprise. 

The choice of Iger’s successor, however, wasn’t nearly as shocking. With Chepak, Disney is turning to a veteran who’s spent nearly three decades at the company. Tuesday, the board’s independent lead director, Susan Arnold, said the board unanimously elected Chepak as CEO after a years-long consideration of both internal and external candidates. 

Streaming, however, is one area of the business where Chepak has little experience. 

“In terms of the biggest challenges that we might have going forward, obviously each one of our businesses, just like every business in the world, is experiencing disruption because of new technologies, new ways that consumers are choosing to enjoy our products, and we want to stay on the front end of that wave,” Chepak said during the conference call. “The challenge going forward is going to be: How do we continue to have a leg up on our competition and understand when the markets are changing, and stay ahead of that so that we’re proactively transforming as opposed to in any way reacting.”

During his 15-year stint as Disney’s CEO, Iger secured the $7.4 billion acquisition of Pixar from Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2006, as well as the $4 billion acquisition of Marvel in 2009 and the $4 billion purchase of Star Wars studio Lucasfilm in 2012.  Iger was named Time’s Businessperson of the Year for 2019.

Chapek previously served as chair of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, and has worked at the company for 27 years. Iger said Chapek “has led with integrity and conviction, always respecting Disney’s rich legacy while at the same time taking smart, innovative risks for the future.”

“Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company,” Chapek said in the company’s statement. “I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”

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