Disney’s chief executive Bob Iger earlier today abruptly stepped down from his CEO role after running The Walt Disney Company for nearly fifteen years.
The 69-year-old executive has now handed the keys to Magic Kingdom to the company’s seventh chief, Bob Chapek, who was most recently chairman of Disney’s parks business and just became the seventh chief executive in Disney’s nearly 100-year history.
Chapek will be reporting to Iger through the end of Iger’s contract with Disney, the firm said.
Meanwhile, Iger will continue to focus on Disney’s creative endeavors.
“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of 21st Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” said the outgoing CEO.
Although the move was abrupt, Iger ensures that it’s an orderly transition of power, albeit a little bumpy, telling The New York Times by phone:
It’s only abrupt in other people’s eyes because we haven’t been talking about it publicly. I have been discussing this with the board for a number of months. I basically described what I thought my best use was given that our asset base and strategy are pretty much in place. And that was to fully focus on the creative side of our business and make sure that our creative pipelines are vibrant.
Disney saw similarly bumpy transitions in the past, most notably when its previous CEO Michael D. Eisner was forced to hand over the reigns to Iger after trying to cling to his job for too long.
Congratulations to @RobertIger for 15 amazing years as CEO of the @WaltDisneyCo! Fantastic job protecting the #Disney brand, expanding the breadth of the overall company, and orchestrating super growth. And he still has his hand on the creative rudder for almost two more years.
— Michael Eisner (@Michael_Eisner) February 25, 2020
The unexpected CEO change arrived at a time when Disney has pretty much been able to successfully plot a killer, very aggressive direct-to-consumer strategy designed to maximize its 20th Century Fox acquisition and its existing offerings of Hollywood’s top entertainment (Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars etc.) under the new Disney+ streaming services that undercuts many established players with a low monthly price of just seven bucks.
That is very, very important, especially as we roll out Disney+ around the world. In thinking about what I want to accomplish before I leave the company at the end of ’21, getting everything right creatively would be my No. 1 goal. I could not do that if I were running the company on a day-to-day basis.
Since launching in November 2019, Disney+ has already amassed 30 million subscribers in the United States, with growth expected to accelerate as the service will arrive in the coming months in Europe and India.
Iger, why had a close personal friendship with Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs, as Disney’s CEO was able to pull a few smart moves that saved the company from falling into relevancy after a string of animated hit movies in the 1990s, such as “The Lion King”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and others.
Last night's premiere of @Pixar latest film, #Onward, gave me a chance to see @MarvelStudios friends–#ChrisPratt and #TomHolland! Tom owes me a "pint" for saving @SpiderMan! pic.twitter.com/JP1UOQJa6h
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) February 19, 2020
Most importantly, under his leadership Disney went on an acquisition spree, having purchased some of Hollywood’s most-prized franchises and studios, including Jobs’ own Pixar animation studio in a deal worth $7.4 billion, turning Jobs into Disney’s biggest individual shareholder and earning him a state on the company’s board.
This was reciprocated when Iger got named a member of Apple’s board of directors in 2011. But as Apple and Disney became rivals in the video-streaming space, Iger resigned from the Apple board last September.