Disney Franchise Timeline

Well, after years of talking about it, Robert Iger has finally made it official: he’s stepped down as the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, and is being succeeded by Bob Chapek, effective immediately. This executive transition has understandably raised a lot of questions, both from the Disney diehards online and any of you who just might like an occasional animated film. So let’s break it down as best we can, based on what we know so far.

Is Bob Iger Finished at Disney?

Technically, not at all. He’ll serve as executive chairman for the company until the end of 2021 and he’ll be Bob Chapek’s direct supervisor.

Was Iger Always Planning on Leaving?

Bob Iger had been talking about leaving Disney, or at least stepping down as CEO, for a while. It’s not news that he was looking to move onto a new phase of his life; even in the earlier part of 2019, there were rumblings that he was going to run for President of the United States, but he nixed that idea publicly

Was Bob Chapek Groomed to Succeed Iger?

In retrospect…maybe? It’s hard to know for sure if this is the result of a lengthy transition that the public simply wasn’t aware of. When Iger had first implied he would step down, there were very loud rumblings that he would be succeeded by Jay Rasulo, a theme-park executive who has since left Disney. And in the last year or so, there had been a few rumblings that Iger would be succeeded by Kevin Mayer, who oversees Disney+. Instead, we have Chapek.

Yeah, So…Who Is Bob Chapek?

Fair question! Chapek has been part of the Walt Disney Company for 27 years, joining Disney in 1993. Chapek, prior to Disney, worked for H.J. Heinz in brand management, and he also has a college degree in microbiology. (You read that correctly.) Over the last 27 years, Chapek has worked as a top leader at Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Consumer Products, and lastly Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.

How Are People Reacting?

Well, it depends on who you ask. For most people online, the reaction was largely one of surprise. While Iger had designs on stepping away from Disney at the end of 2021, he’d been expected to stick around in his current position…well, until the end of 2021. As investor Matthew Ball summed up, he’s in the middle of a 36-month extension, just recently exulted over big earnings, and the announcement came basically out of nowhere. 

And Chapek being named successor has been met with grim reactions in the swath of Twitter dedicated to talking about the Disney theme parks. In his tenure at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Chapek has overseen the expansion of Star Wars at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but he’s also overseen the scaling back of operational budgets at theme parks that are boasting even higher attendance numbers than usual. (Except, of course, this past summer, when attendance numbers were lower than expected, thanks to a largely overly constrained marketing campaign regarding the presumed popularity of the land. Chapek since acknowledged that was a mistake.)

Some of his work prior to being in the parks division is also…well, as the meme goes, not great, Bob. (If there is one bonus to this news, it’s that we can keep using that meme. Truly, we’re all winners.) As an earlier bio of Chapek notes, he “spearheaded” the vault strategy of hiding classic Disney movies away from home-media purchases. (Seeing as Disney+ essentially has upended that strategy, thank God, it’s an interesting thing to see from the top dog of the company.)

But it’s Chapek’s work in the Disney theme parks that’s raised concerns for fans on Twitter. Chapek’s tenure at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is marked by the increase of hard-ticket events, a dwindling amount of operating hours for the parks, and outrageous price increases that have raised the sense that to go to a Disney theme park requires you to be outlandishly wealthy. Though Chapek has literal decades of experience at the Walt Disney Company, both in filmed and live entertainment, his track record isn’t automatically encouraging.

So, Why Is This Happening Now?

That question will be hounding this company for a while, I would imagine. It’s hard to know for sure, but the reaction from both investors and employees implies that this specific succession was not something everyone was expecting. It’s true that Iger says he’ll be sticking around to handle creative issues and properties through 2021, but a) Iger hasn’t always been known as a heavily creative type, and b) it’s hard to know if this is just a ceremonial position with little true oversight. 

For now, Disney has a busy year in front of them, no matter who’s serving as CEO. March marks the true beginning of their feature-film slate, with Onward and Mulan arriving within the next month, and a new era of Marvel movies on the way as well. The Disney parks are expecting new attractions (though the Asian parks remain mostly closed due to the coronavirus outbreak), and Disney+ remains a powerful new part of their entertainment lineup. The 2020s are going to be a very…interesting decade for this powerhouse. We’ll see if this surprising executive shift puts them on the right side of “interesting”.

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