Disney’s Robert Iger Loomed Over Bob Chapek After Ceding CEO Role, Creating Tensions

“We’re not concerned at all about creating any confusion,” he said in an interview with CNBC this afternoon.

Less than a month later, people familiar with the men say the two were in on Mr Chapek’s plan to lay off tens of thousands of workers at Disney’s theme parks as Covid-19 hits.

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Soon after, Mr. Iger announced he was taking a more active role because of the pandemic, leaving Mr. Chapek feeling as if he had been undermined from the start, according to people familiar with the matter. was.

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According to people who worked with both, the relationship between Mr. Iger and his successor—the “two Bobs” who are only seven men to have led Disney in its nearly 100-year history—has never been worse than Disney’s transition of power. Could not recover from the initial days. officials.

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Mr. Iger frowned heavily on Mr. Chapek’s short tenure as CEO, even though he left the company entirely at the end of last year, until he fully returned as CEO again this week. Returns. Over the past two years, he has told friends and colleagues that he disapproves of the changes Mr. Chapek is making, launching a whispering campaign throughout Hollywood that has never seen Mr. Chapek escape the shadow of his predecessor. Not allowed.

After Mr Chapek was ousted on Sunday, some of his supporters say initially there were sleights of hand. Mr Iger was widely viewed as one of the entertainment industry’s best executives of all time – so successful he said he seriously considered running for the presidency. After more than 25 years at Disney, Mr. Chapek took over as CEO after the pandemic blew up their bottom line, causing furloughs and layoffs of thousands of employees and forcing Disney’s streaming services to continue streaming film and There was a dire need to shut down TV production. ,

Last week, Mr. Iger’s career took a turn when he received calls from at least one intermediary to Disney’s board asking whether he would consider replacing Mr. Chapek, according to people familiar with the matter. Then, on Friday, Disney board chair Susan Arnold called to offer him the job, confident he would accept, the people said.

Corporate governance officials say there will be a balance to be struck while passing the baton to the late CEO.

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Joseph Yaffe, partner at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, which advises on corporate governance, said the continued presence of former CEOs generally can be a double-edged sword.

“A key factor in whether this might work — which is very difficult to assess in advance — is the mindset of the former CEO,” he said. “Are they ready to hand over the reins to new leadership and exercise their influence judiciously, or are they unable to take the wheel off the wheel?”

Chapek, then head of the parks and consumer-products division, was named Disney’s CEO in February 2020 after the board’s nominating and governance committee screened several internal candidates, people familiar with the matter said.

His first major separation with Mr. Iger occurred only a few weeks later. Mr Iger wanted to delay any Covid-related staff cuts until after the CARES Act, a massive spending bill in Congress meant to blunt the economic impact of the pandemic, was signed into law. In this way, Disney employees could benefit from its protection, Mr. Iger argued, according to people familiar with the matter.

These people said Mr. Chapek wanted to move more quickly with the layoffs. At the time, many CEOs felt immense pressure to cut costs and secure cash.

Mr. Iger overruled Mr. Chapek, these people said, and convinced the board that it was better to wait. Then-President Trump signed the bill into law in late March, and Disney began furloughing tens of thousands of workers in April. Mr Chapek was furious, some of these people said, and complained to the deputy that he was being undermined from the time he was promoted.

In April 2020, Disney began sending tens of thousands of workers on furlough as the spread of COVID-19 closed its theme parks.


David McNew/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mr. Iger, who said he would focus on creative work as executive chairman, was interfering in day-to-day affairs that were considered the CEO’s domain, Mr. Chapek told people familiar with his inner circle at the company. Said the matter said.

Since leaving the company entirely last year, Iger has been known to dominate lunchtime conversations around Los Angeles with talks about how he thinks Chapek steered Disney in the wrong direction. Has taken off, according to several people who have dined with him in the past. several months. Some aides said Mr. Iger would focus so much on the subject that it would become uncomfortable.

Mr. Iger felt that Mr. Chapek, who had set ambitious goals for the growth of Disney’s streaming business, had prioritized that business at the expense of other parts of Disney, such as cable television and theme parks. Mr. Chapek said the number of customers was growing rapidly in 2020, and he dramatically raised initial growth projections. Mr. Iger thought Mr. Chapek’s projections went too far, according to people familiar with Mr. Iger’s thinking.

Mr. Iger also felt that Mr. Chapek was too sensitive to changes in Disney’s stock price, and Mr. Iger was concerned about price increases at Disney theme parks, which Mr. Chapek argued would boost revenue and prevent overcrowding. Will limit, these people said. People familiar with the matter said Mr. Iger received calls from creative executives frustrated with Mr. Chapek.

“He’s killing the soul of the company,” Mr. Iger told more than one confidante.

The difference in the public personas of the two men came to the fore in March of this year, when Mr Chapek faced backlash from staff and fans for saying he felt it was unfair to weigh in on Florida’s controversial parent’s right to education. would be unfair to Also known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. When Mr. Chapek spoke out against the bill, he and Disney came under fire from conservative politicians, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

As Disney CEO, Bob Chapek said it would be unfair for him to weigh in on the controversial Florida bill dubbed by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.


Mario Anjuni/Reuters

Meanwhile, Mr Iger posted an unusual political message on his Twitter account, echoing his support of President Biden’s criticism of the bill.

“I’m with the President on this!” the message said. “If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people at risk.”

In the spring, shortly after the Florida controversy, some board members considered replacing Mr. Chapek, and Mr. Iger was aware of the discussions, said people familiar with the matter. Ultimately, Ms. Arnold publicly endorsed Mr. Chapek in June, and the board soon extended his contract.

For some of his colleagues inside Disney, Mr. Iger’s life outside the studio gates was an extension of his final years inside, when it seemed he simply didn’t want to leave. Mr. Iger postponed his retirement four times. For a while, he drove a car with a customized license-plate frame that asked: “Is there life after Disney?”

Mr. Iger is already making changes to Mr. Chapek’s plans. In one of his last memos to employees as CEO, Chapek said the company would make “difficult and uncomfortable” cost-cutting decisions and that layoffs were coming.

This time, Mr. Iger has told close aides, he has another priority beyond fixing the company’s finances.

Some said he plans to be more involved in the CEO succession process this time around.

Ultimately, people said it would be part of his legacy to decide who would come next.

Robert Iger, who appeared alongside the stars of the Avengers franchise at Disneyland in 2019, was widely regarded as one of the entertainment industry’s most successful executives.


Jeff Grichen/SCNG/Zuma Press

Write to Erich Schwartzel at [email protected], Emily Glazer at [email protected], Robbie Whelan at [email protected] and Jessica Toonkel at [email protected]

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