In a move that shocked Hollywood, Bob Iger, one of the most prominent CEOs in the history of the Walt Disney Company, is returning to lead the media empire once again.
Bob Chapek, who replaced Iger in 2020 as CEO, will step down effective immediately.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney during his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Susan Arnold, Disney’s Chairman of the Board, said in a statement Sunday night. “The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the Company through this pivotal period.”
The announcement, while surprising to the media industry, comes at a time of great evolution for Disney. The company is coming off an unfavorable earnings report that showed growth for its streaming efforts. However, this came at a great cost. Disney’s streaming business lost $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter. That report sent Disney shares tumbling after a year of sluggish to bad performance.
Chapek guided the company through the pandemic, one of its most tumultuous periods in its nearly 100-year history, but ultimately Disney decided its future was in better hands with Iger.
Away from the pandemic, Chapek had a short but bumpy tenure as head of Disney. Chapek, who served as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products before taking over for Iger, found himself dealing with pay issues with Scarlett Johansson, one of the company’s biggest stars, as well as battles with Disney with Florida and its employees. about the state’s controversial bill restricting some LGBTQ topics in the classroom.
Disney’s stock has also taken a hit recently. It is currently down approximately 40% this year.
As for Iger, he has an almost mythical status as the leader of Disney (DIS). He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands such as Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, the home of Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and launched the streaming revolution at Disney ( DIS ) with the creation of Disney ( DIS )+ in November 2019.
Iger stayed on at Disney as executive chairman directing the company’s creative efforts. He officially left the company after nearly 50 years at the end of last year.
Disney said Sunday that Iger has agreed to serve as CEO for two years with “a mandate from the Board to set strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company through the end of his mandate.”
The move is also surprising as Chapek just renewed his contract. The company’s board of directors voted unanimously to extend Chapek’s contract as CEO for another three years, the company said in June. Chapek’s new contract began in July and was set to run until 2025.
It also appeared that Iger retired with his legacy as one of Disney’s most prominent and successful CEOs. Now, he is back.
“I am extremely optimistic about the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said in a statement Sunday. “Disney and its unparalleled brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe — especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration.”
Iger added that he is “deeply honored to be asked to once again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unparalleled and bold storytelling.”