Could the bro-mance between Disney’s current CEO Bob Chapek and former CEO Bob Iger be over? According to a recent piece on CNBC which you can check out here, the two executives are barely on speaking terms these days.
If you’ve been following along with MickeyBlog you’ll know that bob Iger surprised the Disney community when he resigned in February of 2020 as Chief Executive of The Walt Disney Company. At that time, the consensus was that Bob Chapek was handpicked by Iger to take over the role given his tenure and operational experience with the company.
Chapek took over the reigns at Disney HQ during what was doubtless one of the most uncertain times in the company’s history with the pandemic and studios and theme park shutdowns imminent. For that reason, it was reported that Iger would stick around as executive chairman to see the company through transition period.
At that time, the comradery between the two executives seemed solid with Iger saying, “I can’t think of a better person to succeed me in this role” back in March of 2020. A similar show of respect was echoed by Chapek who responded at the time, “I’ve watched Bob [Iger] lead this company to amazing new heights, and I’ve learned an enormous amount from that experience.”
So What Went Wrong?
According to the CNBC, trouble between the two execs started a month later when Ben Smith of the New York Times wrote a piece after an email exchange with Iger where Iger reportedly said that he wasn’t going to “turn Chapek to the wolves” with so much going on in the world and would stick around to see the company through the uncertain times brought about by the global pandemic.
“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” Iger said in his email.
According to the CNBC piece, the NYT piece upset Chapek (according to three sources) who hadn’t asked for extra help and didn’t like the optics surrounding the idea of Iger staying on as a “white knight.” “It was a turning-point moment,” said one of the people familiar with Chapek’s reaction to Iger’s interview with Smith.
Since than, the relationship between Iger and Chapek has been distant (according to a dozen sources interviewed by CNBC.) At that time, it was Chapek’s strategy to take a firm hold of the Disney reigns making key decisions about the company’s future which including a staff reshuffling and going public with Scarlett Johansson’s dispute regarding her contract for Black Widow. During this time, insiders felt that Chapek had opted to go the course alone rather than with input from Iger.
The sources from inside the company went on to say that Chapek has a small circle around him that will advise him on major company decisions but that during Iger’s 18 months at the company after Chapek was appointed as CEO. Chapek’s inner circle apparently includes longtime right-hand man Kareem Daniel, chief of staff Arthur Bochner, and, to some degree, Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy.
Further proof of the rift between the Iger and Chapek was evident back in December of 2021. Iger, stepping down as executive chariman, threw a going away party at his house in Bretwood, Los Angeles. Chapek reportedly attended but there was little interaction between the two. “It was extremely awkward,” said one of the guests, who asked to remain anonymous because the party was private. “The tension was palpable.”
The splitting of the ways between Iger and Chapek, was highlighted by a difference in management style. Iger’s were some tough shoes to fill. Having helmed the company since 2005, he has earned the respect of those in Hollywood and is responsible for many big Disney milestones including the acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Anyone succeeding Iger, who had been Disney’s CEO since 2005, was going to have a difficult time filling his shoes. Iger was generally beloved by Hollywood and highly respected as a CEO, particularly after orchestrating a series of intellectual property acquisitions — of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm — which will likely go down in media history as three of the smartest deals ever. Iger, 71, has even flirted with running for president of the United States.
Chapek on the other hand is a more stoic leader which hasn’t always worked in his favor as evidenced by his public spat with Johansson and Chapek’s public acknowledgment that he let cast members down when it comes to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation
Another radical shift in the company under Iger versus the company under Chapek was Chapek’s decision to remove profit-and-loss power from Disney’s long-standing division leaders and instead give that responsibility to Daniel.
Restructuring Disney Leadership
One of Chapek’s key areas of focus since taking over as CEO has been reorganizing the company’s media and entertainment businesses. A new Media and Entertainment Distribution group was now made responsible for all monetization of content including the Disney+ streaming service. This is along with the profit-and-loss accountability that we mentioned above.
This marked a radical change to the way things had been done over Iger and gave Daniel what CNBC calls “one of the most important jobs in the history of media.” According to insiders, it was a decision that lead to polarization within the company, especially from longstanding Disney employees who found that they were no longer in charge of the budgets for their division. This included heads of Disney TV, ESPN and Hulu.
As we previously reported here at MickeyBlog, this was one of the reasons that Kevin Mayer, head of strategy decided to leave Disney for TikTok in 2020, once Chapek was chosen as CEO.
However, Chapek’s decision to remove authority from the head of individual departments came after Chapek meet with different executives and received the feedback that the existing system under Iger wasn’t working. By giving Daniel P&L control, Disney executives no longer have the authority to independently make decisions for their own divisions including control over budgets.
In addition to Mayer’s departure, this restructuring is also thought to be a motivating decision behind Kelly Campbell’s departure from running hulu to NBC Universa’ls Peacock last October.
There are executives, like the one interviewed by CNBC that felt that the company ran smoother when Alan Bergman (chairman of Disney Studios) and Alan Horn (former chief creative officer of Disney Studios) were in charge of the studio’s P&L.
More about Kareem Daniel
As we mentioned above, Daniel now has oversight for all movie, TV and film distribution as well as advertising, sales, technology and more. During his time with the company, Iger would’ve given Daniel that much control and believed that removing budget control of division heads wasn’t a good fit for a company as diverse and complex as Disney.
According to the CNBC piece, Daniel is also a polarizing figure within The Walt Disney Company. His tenure with Disney has seen him working in many different Disney units including studio distribution, consumer products, gaming, publishing, imagineering and corporate strategy. He has been a close ally of Chapek’s for over 20 years. He first started as an MBA intern for Chapek back in 2002.
Despite his longstanding working relationship with Chapek, Disney veteran’s worry that the job he’s been given my Chapek is just too big for any one person. “He arguably has the most important job at Walt Disney, outside of CEO, and he has almost no experience running any of these businesses that were previously run by people that had decades of experience,” said one former coworker.
Since taking over, Chapek and Daniel are primarily focused on quickening the pace of Disney’s “digital transformation” This includes the creation of a “Disney metaverse” and just last month Mike White promoted into the role of vice president in charge of “next generation storytelling ” with the job of connecting the physical and digital worlds.
Though Chapek does have Iger’s popularity, there is still time for the exec to show cast members and shareholders that he can accomplish the goals he laid out for the company.
What remains to be seen is whether everyone simply needs to “get used” to Chapek’s new way of doing things or whether there are larger issues that need to be addressed.
In the meantime, Iger is out for good. Those in know said that he former Disney head has regrets about the promotion of Chapek has gone but, as he said during a January interview, “I was CEO for a long time,” Iger said. “You can’t go home again. I’m gone.”
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