A day after Disney shocked Hollywood by unusually appointing Bob Chapek as CEO, sources with ties to the company say discontent among some board members has increased to the point that there had been discussion of Chapek’s replacement since the late June directors’ meeting in Florida.
At the time, sources said, several people on the board wanted to replace Chapek and appoint one of them, Nike president Mark Parker, as interim CEO while the search was underway. looking for a new long-term leader. But a source said Parker turned down the role even though the idea arose more than once. In addition to Parker, these sources said, General Motors chief executive Mary Barra also supported replacing Chapek at the June meeting. (Neither Parker nor Barra responded to requests for comment.)
At the time, Chapek made a series of moves that were widely mocked. Aside from the fierce public conflict over Scarlett Johansson’s compensation, Chapek’s overturning of Florida’s ‘No Gay Saying’ law initially angered Disney employees and later infuriated Governor Ron DeSantis. Another controversy erupted after Chapek fired Peter Rice, the well-regarded show and entertainment president. “Chapek picked up another negative news cycle when he was just getting back on the ground,” a longtime communications executive said at the time.
But sources say Board Chairman Susan Arnold is a Chapek supporter. “Susan sided with Chapek from the very beginning, even before [Iger] left,” said one. “She tried to put Iger back in his box. At each turn, she said, ‘Let Chapek run the company.’”
After Rice was fired, Arnold released an alleged unanimous statement of the board’s “trust and support” for Chapek. But many in the industry have noted that the board has yet to renew Chapek’s contract, which expires in February 2023. Once again, the industry’s top executives roll their eyes. surprised. “You let the CEO get it within a year of his contract expiring,” one industry power player said at the time. “That in itself is a statement of disapproval. A vote of confidence is meaningless.”
When the board discussed Chapek’s contract later that month, according to one account, some only wanted to extend the contract for two years. But Arnold argued that would cut Chapek too much. A deal appears to have been reached: Chapek’s contract was extended by three years but delayed, leaving his contract with a little over two years.
Meanwhile, discontent with Chapek has been growing, culminating in its most recent earnings call and a follow-up note to employees about hiring freezes, staff layoffs and cost cuts Other charges have caused deep anxiety in the company. Two senior sources – who felt they should have been forewarned – said they were completely blindsided by the memo and had to scramble to figure out what they could still spend money on and what has now. exceeding.
Throughout it all, Iger’s disapproval of Chapek was a secret to anyone. He is said to have warned at a December 2021 board meeting in New York, shortly before leaving the company, that Disney’s culture could be transformed negatively and quickly. That was the last time he spoke to Chapek.
In recent months, Iger has spent time settling on his investments, sailing a yacht, writing a book and even talking to producer Brian Grazer about a movie based on the book. Lucky 666: Mission Impossible Changes the War in the Pacific. Until his phone rang. That’s Susan Arnold. Iger hasn’t spoken to her since his last lunch with the board in New York last December.
When Chapek ended, even a source with Disney connections who was not a Chapek fan expressed shock at the way it went down. “He must not say goodbye or say, ‘I have decided to resign,'” the person said. Referring to reports that Rice was similarly fired after his own brief meeting with Chapek, the person added, “I bet you it broke Chapek’s record of firing Rice in the past year. seven minutes. They called [Chapek] and said, ‘You’re out. Our attorney will call your attorney.’ No statement from him, no comment from him, no grace. This is crazy.”
To current and even former Disney insiders, the change feels crazy, albeit welcomed. One said: “It’s amazing, in a weird way, it feels inevitable.” Another noted that Iger undertook a reorganization to undo the process imposed by Chapek, who had shifted financial decision-making from creative executives. “I’m glad he’s going to put things back the way they were,” the person said. “As if Chapek had never been there.” Iger and Chapek declined to comment.
Another Disney veteran commented on an amazing irony: “Bob Iger has messed up the succession at Disney for 15 years. When he finally did, it was a giant mess. that’s incredible [Iger] is the guy they chose to go back to. It speaks to his reputation and the lack of choice and incompetence of the board. How did they get to this place? How could this happen?”
Additional reporting by Alex Weprin.