by Ray Keating
July 18, 2022
A Business Insider article has caused quite a stir in Disney circles, with the report claiming that former Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger is not pleased with his CEO successor, Bob Chapek. Of course, there’s irony here in that Iger played a big part in Chapek becoming the new CEO in February 2020.
It’s reported that the two men were headed in different directions, with respective teams working against each other, once Chapek became CEO, and Iger was named executive chairman to help Chapek through the transition. Iger’s time at Disney as executive chairman and chairman of the board came to an end this past December.
Neither man comes off particularly well in the report, but this ranks as one of the most critical takes on Iger that I’ve read, as so much of the entertainment and business media tend to fawn all over the former Disney CEO.
For example, according to Business Insider, Iger seemed to have checked out of the CEO position before officially checking out:
“It was Bob Iger's desire to move the timeline up — and if COVID hadn't happened, none of the stuff between [him and Bob Chapek] would have transpired,” said one Disney executive, referring to the friction that developed between the two men ahead of Iger's final exit. “The board was surprised; it was several months before his departure date.”
“He got tired of all the things you have to do,” added the Disney exec, who recalled going to Iger with day-to-day business issues in those final years — only to be told that the boss didn't want to engage. “He really wanted to play around with creative and not worry about all the business crap.”
Iger backers obviously dispute this, asserting that after Disney+ was launched “the company was in good shape for a handoff.” Interestingly, that doesn’t really answer the criticism.
Iger’s public declarations in April 2020 that he was helping Chapek and the company get through the pandemic was not well received by Chapek. For good measure, assorted Disney executives reportedly were not pleased with the timing of Iger’s resignation, especially given that his run was supposed to go through the end of 2021.
Indeed, it’s hard to come away from this article not realizing that Iger botched setting up a succession plan, and annoyed the board with his desire to retire as CEO but still somehow hang around doing things he liked:
Iger proposed that he continue to ensure there was a pipeline of content for the company's multiple distribution platforms while Chapek stepped up to manage the other parts of Disney's business, according to the person familiar with Iger's thinking.
The board wasn't thrilled with Iger's proposal and suggested that he consider making Chapek a chief operating officer instead, with Iger remaining as CEO until he was ready to fully relinquish his operational duties.
One of the most telling lines from the story is:
The former Disney exec said that in the years leading up to his exit, Iger felt that the board had not fully appreciated his leadership. “He said he was tired of being harangued about [succession] and said, ‘Fine, you guys have someone else run the business.’”
And yes, Iger pushed for Chapek.
So, what’s the takeaway from this report? Well, Iger’s ego was, or had grown to be, sizeable, and he had an outsized view of his own importance. But I like the following: “Chapek wasn't viewed as a ‘visionary,’ this person added, but nor was Iger at the beginning of his tenure.”
True. Time will tell – as will the inevitable books coming from Disney outsiders and insiders on the transition from one Bob to the next.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com; and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant thrillers and mysteries, and the Alliance of Saint Michael novels; and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
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