Disney brings back Robert Iger after ousting Chapek as CEO

The board of directors of the Walt Disney Company was removed Bob Chapek as CEO on Sunday after concluding that various missteps had irreparably damaged his ability to lead and abruptly announced that Robert A. Iger would return to run the company, effective immediately, for two years.

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service,” Susan Arnold, board chairwoman, said in a statement. “The board concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this pivotal period.” Disney’s board is scheduled to meet in person in New York in December.

She added that Mr. Iger had the “deep respect” of Disney’s senior management team.

Iger, 71, said in a statement that he is “extremely optimistic about the future of this great company and is thrilled to be asked by the board to return as CEO.” Mr. Iger led Disney as CEO between 2005 and 2020. At that point, he turned over day-to-day management of the company to Mr. Chapek, his handpicked successor, while staying on as executive chairman. Mr. Iger left the company entirely in January.

Mr. Capek could not immediately be reached for comment.

Mr. Iger’s surprise reinstatement and Mr. Chapek’s ouster comes after a disastrous earnings call on Nov. 8. Disney dazzled Wall Street with reporting $1.5 billion in losses in its newly formed streaming division, up from $630 million a year earlier. Mr Chapek said Disney+’s higher production, marketing and technology costs contributed to the “peak” losses.

Disney shares fell 12 percent the next morning, in part because investors — and many inside Disney — were shocked by the happy tone Mr. Chapek struck while discussing the earnings report on a conference call with analysts. Mr. Čapek’s behavior struck many as tone deaf.

Immediately, CNBC anchor Jim Cramer began calling for Mr. Chapek’s firing during comments on his show. On Friday, Mr. Cramer said Mr. Chapek was “incapable of running a fantastic company” and “we need someone new at Disney.”

Mr. Cramer added: “This balance sheet is the balance sheet from hell.”

Mr Čapek, 62, was appointed CEO in February 2020, taking over from the hugely popular Mr. Iger. The transmission did not go smoothly. The coronavirus pandemic forced Mr. Čapek to close most of the company. This year, Mr. Čapek has struggled with one crisis after another, some of his own making.

In March, Disney became embroiled in a heated dispute with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, over legislation aimed at banning classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity until third grade. Mr. Chapek tried not to take sides at first, at least in public, which made an employee revolt. Mr Čapek then denounced the bill, sparking a political firestorm, with right-wing figures opposing the “woke Disney”.

In June, Mr. Chapek suddenly fired Disney’s best TV executive spurred on by disapproval from Hollywood. In August, activist investor Dan Loeb pushed Mr. Chapek to consider a range of changes, including shaking up the board and spinning off ESPN. (Mr. Loeb later dropped the spinoff, says on Twitter that he learned more about Disney’s “growth and innovation plans” for ESPN.)

All the while, some of Disney’s most loyal theme park customers are growing resentful of what they see as price hikes nickel and dimming. Disney told investors last month that theme park profits would have been even higher if not for Disneyland’s “unfavorable mix of attendance” that annual passholders took as an insult. T-shirts, mugs and stickers have gone on sale online bearing the word “Unfavorables” in Disneyland’s signature calligraphy.

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