Iger Return to Disney Surprises Hollywood, Draws Quick Reactions

By Jeffrey Quiggle

Disney casts former CEO in his own sequel, replacing the man he'd picked to succeed him at the helm of the entertainment giant

In a surprise move on Sunday, Nov. 20, the Walt Disney Company (DIS) - Get Free Report announced that CEO Bob Chapek was stepping down. But the real shocker was who it replaced him with.

It is Robert Iger, who had previously served as Disney CEO for 15 years, who got the call for a return stint at the helm.

Reaction to the news was generally positive. Disney stock ended up 6.3% Nov. 21 and observers are weighing in with their opinions.

After taking the CEO job in February 2020, Chapek's nearly three years leading the company involved some trying circumstances, and not only because of the world economy's struggle to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2021, actress Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney, alleging breach of contract due to the simultaneous release of Black Widow to theaters and to Disney Plus. She claimed the move had sacrificed the film's box office potential, even though it was clear the decision was made in response to declining ticket sales because of the pandemic.

The lawsuit was settled in late September 2021.

In a high-profile political controversy during Chapek's tenure, Disney found itself in a precarious situation handling public relations around Florida's 2022 Parental Rights in Education Act, known by its foes as the "Don't Say Gay" law. It first surfaced that Disney had helped to fund the legislators that supported the bill. The perception was that this conflicted with Disney's pro-LGBTQ rights image.

At first, Chapek refused to criticize the legislation. After objections inside and outside the company, he changed course and publicly opposed it.

Adding to Chapek's troubles in 2022 is that Disney's stock price is down about 40% year-to-date.

Hopes for Disney are High Under Iger

The naming of Iger as CEO gives the company a shot of adrenaline.

During his previous time as CEO, Iger oversaw the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. He also drove the opening of Shanghai Disney Resort and the release of films such as Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Disney’s Frozen and Frozen 2, and Black Panther. Streaming services Disney Plus and ESPN Plus were also launched under his leadership.

"I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe—most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration."

Reacting to a tweet from the Hollywood Reporter that quoted from a Disney press release, @evanthenerd1138 writes, "This man knew what he was doing when he was CEO and he made some of the best moves Disney has ever made. Thank god he’s back. Chapek was not good at all."

"This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the return of Bob Iger as CEO," says @chrstphrjsph.

"And a note to wannabe ballers," writes @georgehahn. "Bob Iger is the CEO to emulate, not Elon Musk."

One Twitter user offers a word of caution. "Bob Iger is an incredible CEO but the fact there is literally one person in the world the board thinks is capable of running Disney is a head scratcher and a failure of some sort of internal system there over the past decade," remarks @Jessicalessin.

Disney Says Iger is 'Uniquely Situated'

The company described Iger's qualifications to return as CEO in a press release.

"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. "The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period."

"Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide -- all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership," she said.

Arnold will continue as Chairman of the Board, Disney said.

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