It is the end of an era at Disney—and a very lucrative one too. After spearheading Disney’s 21st-century renaissance over the last 15 years, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger is stepping down. The news comes not entirely by surprise given the whispers that he’s considered for years retiring from the post, and Disney’s banner year in 2019 seems like it might be a fond farewell for the game-changing media executive. Those rumors turned out to be partially correct, as Iger confirmed Tuesday evening he is immediately stepping down as CEO and Disney will replace him with Bob Chapek in that role. However, Iger will stay on as chairman until 2022.
“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” Iger said in a statement. “I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s executive endeavors.”
As per the release, Iger will finish out his contracted time as Disney chairman, which concludes on Dec. 31, 2021.
The mood surrounding Iger’s exit from the media company he helped shape into the titanic power it is today is something befitting Disney’s The Lion King—or at least its remake. Under Iger’s stewardship, Disney rebounded from a time of box office uncertainty and a stalling handle of brand management into the most powerful media conglomerate on the planet.
Iger succeeded his mentor Michael Eisner in the role of Disney CEO in 2005. At the time, Disney’s future appeared uncertain, as Eisner’s less rosy exit followed a corporate power struggle that saw chairman Roy E. Disney oust him. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney immediately began courting Pixar Animation Studios and its CEO Steve Jobs. Whereas Disney and Pixar had grown estranged in Eisner’s waning days, Iger wooed Jobs and John Lasseter, eventually convincing Pixar’s heads to allow Disney to acquire the studio, which resulted with Jobs becoming a powerful member of Disney’s Board of Directors.
It would go on to set the tone of Iger’s reign at Disney where the acquisition of popular intellectual property and media companies, time and again, buoyed the merchandising powerhouse at which he worked. Viewing characters like Toy Story’s Woody and Buzz as waves that feed water to toys, theme parks, and various other partnership deals, Iger sought to create as many waves as possible. This included the famed purchases of Marvel Entertainment, resulting in Marvel Studios coming under the Disney umbrella, and later Lucasfilm, bringing Star Wars to Disney. Seemingly overnight, Disney’s problem with attracting young and adolescent male audiences as eagerly as young girls generally gravitated to Disney’s famed princess line was solved.
More recently, Iger oversaw the acquisition of 20th Century Fox in a merger for the history books and Disney’s fire sale year in 2019, all of which culminated with the release of Disney+. In a 2019 that saw the releases of Avengers: Endgame, Captain Marvel, Frozen II, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and remakes of The Lion King and Aladdin, Disney grossed $11.1 billion at the box office alone. All of which acted as great advertising for Disney+ going into a softer 2020, and the legacy of Iger’s tenure.
What will the future hold for Iger? Who’s to really say, although he has more than once publicly toyed with running for President of the United States, even outlining his platform for such a campaign while talking at The Atlantic Festival last year…
Chapek, who takes over, has worked at Disney for the past 27 years, most recently heading their theme park division, which just saw the rollout of the Star Wars-themed Galaxy’s Edge.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to assume the role of CEO of what I truly believe is the greatest company in the world, and to lead our exceptionally talented and dedicated cast members and employees,” Chapek said. Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team. I share his commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation, and international expansion, and I will continue to embrace these same strategic pillars going forward. Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation, and thoughtful risk-taking.”