As far as Disney sequels go, they rarely get more dramatic than this: Last month, less than three years after giving up the reins of the company he had led for almost 15 years, Bob Iger was reappointed chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Corporation.
Iger’s return means that Bob Chapek, who had been hand-picked by Iger as his successor in 2020, was unceremoniously fired just months after receiving a three-year contract renewal.
Granted, Chapek had an extremely tough act to follow. When Iger was at the helm, he turned Disney’s animation and studio businesses around by acquiring Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. He also opened Shanghai Disneyland, brought ESPN to streaming, spearheaded the launch of Netflix rival Disney+ and grew the company’s market capitalization fivefold.
Chapek—who had previously served as chairman of Disney Parks—took over under the most challenging circumstances. He was named CEO a month before the coronavirus pandemic shut down Disney’s resorts, cruise lines and film and television productions.
Chapek also faced criticism over his bungled response to Florida’s so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation: He managed to anger Disney employees as well as the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, who pushed forward a bill to strip the company of its special tax status in the Orlando area. Losses at Disney’s streaming services, a recent poor earnings report and several announced cost-cutting measures were the last straw.
Yet, the sky-high expectations surrounding Iger—at one time, he considered running for US president—could make his job more difficult. After all, he must still face the same problems that sank Chapek.
Iger, who began his career in the media as a weatherman and news reporter at a small cable station in upstate New York, now has to navigate a looming global recession. Parks and cruises are likely see their profits slashed.
Also, Iger’s original plan to make Disney+ the lowest-priced streamer must be balanced with the goal of making it profitable as well. Finally, he will have to choose a successor: Last time he did that, by his own admission, he failed.