Disney wants CEO Bob Iger to set new priorities for 'renewed growth'

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The Walt Disney Company has tapped Bob Iger to return effective immediately as CEO – a role that longtime company exec Bob Chapek has held since 2020 – and bring "renewed growth."

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Iger’s return as Disney CEO comes 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" in two year's time, according to the Sunday release announcing his appointment. Iger previously served as CEO from 2005 to 2020 and as executive chairman through 2021.

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"I am 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," Iger said in a Sunday statement.

Disney CEO Bob Iger is shown during the Oscars Nominees Luncheon at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on Jan. 27, 2020. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images / Getty Images)

In early November, the company reported fourth-quarter revenues and earnings below analysts’ estimates. Disney posted $20.15 billion in revenues, while its diluted earnings per share "excluding certain items" decreased 19% year over year, coming in at $0.30.

Disney+ saw its subscriber count grow by 12.1 million in the fourth quarter, bringing the total to 164.2 million, and the company’s other streaming services, ESPN+ and Hulu, also saw their subscriptions grow year over year. However, the direct-to-consumer services segment overall generated $1.47 billion in fourth-quarter operating losses, roughly 134% wider than the $630 million reported in the same period last year.

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Chapek said at the time that Disney expected that figure to "narrow going forward" and for Disney+ to become profitable in fiscal 2024. Both of those things, he said, were "assuming we do not see a meaningful shift in the economic climate."

Disney (Getty Images)

"Theme parks have been propping up the business, and they are clearly highly resilient assets, but there will also be concerns that as a cost-of-living crisis wages in key markets, it could see ticket sales or merchandise revenue weaken," Susannah Streeter, a Hargreaves Lansdown senior investment and markets analyst, said in a Monday market report. "The company wants a shake-up and a change of direction, and Bob Iger, who led the House of Mouse for 15 years, is clearly considered to be the best character for the job to throw a sparkle of magic back over the business."

Iger's 15 years as CEO included Disney's acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox, according to a press release from the company.

Chapek started serving as CEO of Disney in February 2020, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted lockdowns around the globe. When he took over as CEO, he said in a statement that he "share[d] his [Iger’s] commitment to creative excellence, technological innovation and international expansion," promising to uphold them.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek speaks at the Disney Legends Awards in Anaheim, California, Sept. 9, 2022. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni/File / Reuters Photos)

The Chapek-led Disney in October 2020 announced a reorganization of its media and entertainment business. The new structure created a centralized media and entertainment distribution group charged with all "distribution, sales, advertising, data and technology functions" for the company’s content engines, as well as operations management for its streaming services and domestic TV networks. The new group also received sole profit and loss accountability for the businesses, the company said.

As 2022 came along, Chapek sent a memo to Disney employees in which he outlined three "strategic pillars" the company would focus on this year as it sought to "set the stage for our second century" and "ensure Disney's next 100 years are as successful as our first," according to Deadline. The "pillars" reportedly included "storytelling excellence," "innovation" and "relentless focus on our audience."

The company faced some controversy earlier this year, including its opposition to the Florida governor’s signing of a bill that prevents the teaching of sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and claims of being too "woke" for some consumers.

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Over four months before Iger's takeover of the CEO role from Chapek, the Disney board had voted in late June to extend Chapek's contract by three years. At the time, Walt Disney Company Chairwoman Susan E. Arnold praised Chapek for his handling of Disney during the pandemic and described his leadership as "key" to Disney's continued success.

"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," Arnold said Sunday. "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."

Richard Lawrence contributed to this report.

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