In a stunning turn of events, Bob Iger is returning as the Walt Disney Company’s CEO after less than a year of retirement.
Disney’s board of directors announced the decision Sunday evening. Current CEO Bob Chapek—who had held the role since February 2020—will be stepping down and exiting the company.
“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, in the statement. “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.”
Chapek took over as CEO in 2020 from Iger, who had been CEO from 2005 until 2020 and served as executive chairman until the end of 2021. Now, Iger is back at the top of the Mouse House.
“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,” Arnold said.
For most of Chapek’s rocky tenure, there had been speculation that his time as CEO could be short-lived, but the board signed him to a multi-year renewal last June.
But now, he’s out in favor of Iger, who spent more than four decades at Disney, including 15 years as its CEO. He’ll return to the CEO role for two more years, working with the board to develop a successor to lead the company following his term.
“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 in a statement. “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. I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.”
Disney has been focused on growing its streaming business in recent years, adding 12.1 million subscribers to Disney+ in the fiscal fourth quarter.
But the company’s direct-to-consumer segment lost $1.5 billion in revenue last quarter—and $4 billion over the last year—which spooked investors, and clearly, the Disney board as well. Now they are betting on Iger to right the ship.
With Iger’s stunning return to CEO, speculation has already begun about how he will navigate some of the company overhauls that had been enacted under Chapek—including the October 2020 streaming restructuring that put Kareem Daniel atop the company’s media and entertainment division group.