By Frank Pallotta, CNN Business
Bob Chapek, who replaced Iger in 2020 as CEO, is stepping down immediately.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board for Disney, said in a statement on Sunday night. “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.”
Investors cheered the news, sending Disney shares up 9% Monday after the stock has lost roughly 36% of its value this year.
The announcement, while surprising to the media industry, comes at a time of great evolution for Disney. The company is coming off a lackluster earnings report that showed growth for its streaming endeavors. However, that came at a great cost. Disney’s streaming business lost $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter. That report sent Disney’s stock tumbling after a year of sluggish-to-bad performance.
Chapek’s short tenure
Chapek guided Disney through the pandemic, one of the most tumultuous periods in the company’s nearly 100-year history, but ultimately Disney decided that its future was in better hands with Iger.
Away from the pandemic, Chapek had a short but bumpy tenure as the head of Disney. Chapek, who served as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products before taking over for Iger, found himself dealing with issues regarding pay with Scarlett Johansson, one of the company’s biggest stars, as well as Disney’s battles with Florida, and its own employees, regarding the state’s controversial bill restricting certain LGBTQ topics in the classroom.
That, in particular, was a flashpoint for Chapek’s stint at Disney. In March, he was forced to apologize for his silence on Florida’s controversial bill after initially declining to comment on it.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek wrote in a letter to employees.
Chapek spent weeks doing damage control, telling employees that Disney was “increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states” and that the company is “hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.”
His public stance was in stark contrast to Iger, who took a public stance against the Florida bill.
“A lot of these issues are not necessarily political,” Iger told CNN host Chris Wallace in March. “It’s about right and wrong. So, I happen to feel and I tweeted an opinion about the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in Florida. To me, it wasn’t about politics. It is about what is right and what is wrong, and that just seemed wrong. It seemed potentially harmful to kids.”
Iger has an almost mythical status as the leader of Disney. He spent 15 years as CEO and was instrumental in acquiring major brands like Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, the home to Star Wars. Iger also closed the $71 billion deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox and kicked off the streaming revolution at Disney with the creation of Disney+ in November 2019.
He stayed on as executive chairman directing the company’s creative endeavors, then officially left the company — after nearly 50 years — at the end of last year.
Disney said Sunday that Iger has agreed to serve as CEO for two years with “a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term.”
The move is also surprising since Chapek just renewed his contract. The company’s board of directors unanimously voted to extend Chapek’s contract as CEO for another three years, the company said in June. Chapek’s new contract began in July and was set to run until 2025.
Also, it appeared that Iger was set in retirement with his legacy as one of Disney’s most notable and successful CEOs. Now, he’s back.
“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 Sunday. “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.”
Iger added that he is “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.”
–CNN’s Jordan Valinsky contributed to this report.
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