Bob Iger may no longer be the CEO, but his work at Disney is not over.
In a surprising announcement on Tuesday, Iger said he would be stepping down as Disney CEO, ending one of the most successful tenures in media history. However, Iger will be staying on as executive chairman to focus on the creative endeavors of the company.
Bob Chapek, the head of the company’s parks, experiences and products unit, will takeover as the new CEO.
While focusing on the creative side of Disney may seem like a step down for Iger, it’s actually not. A powerful creative head is vitally important to Disney’s health, both as one of the biggest media companies on the planet and as a beloved cultural brand. Having Chapek focus on Disney’s business side while Iger handles the creative is also a return to the company’s roots, according to Aaron Goldberg, author of “The Disney Story,” a book that chronicles the company from its inception to today.
“If you look back at the history of Disney, their most successful years were primarily when there was a creative leader, i.e. Walt Disney and a business money manager, i.e. his brother, Roy. The same could be said for Michael Eisner and Frank Wells during the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s,” Goldberg told CNN Business. “The marriage of a business side and a creative side is a part of Disney’s DNA.”
Disney exists “because of its creativity,” Goldberg added. Being focused on the creative side of the company is “arguably as important as any other job at Disney, even possibly CEO.”
After Walt Disney’s died in 1966, the company struggled for years. It wasn’t until Eisner and Wells’ tenure in the mid-80s that the company rebounded with the two running “a similar ship like Walt and Roy,” according to Goldberg. After Eisner resigned in 2005, Iger took Disney to new heights as the singular head of the company.
Yet despite Iger postponing his retirement multiple times in the past, the announcement Tuesday that he really was stepping down shocked the media world. The abrupt nature of the announcement has led to some skepticism about why Iger chose to relinquish the CEO job now.
Iger told CNBC on Tuesday that he did so because he wanted to make sure that “all of our creative engines were working extremely well.”
“The only way that I was able to do that was to pass the torch on to Bob so that my direct reports and the authority over our businesses will shift to him, freeing me up to do what I think is our next big priority,” Iger said.
Trip Miller, a Disney shareholder and managing partner at hedge fund Gullane Capital Partners, believes that Iger’s shift to the creative side is important because he knows Disney’s content brands “intimately well.”
Iger’s tenure has been highlighted by the acquisitions of Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel — three brands that have helped Disney dominate the media world and the box office. He also oversaw major expansions to the company’s parks division, closed a $71 billion deal to acquire most of 21st Century Fox and, arguably most important, launched Disney+, a streaming service with a trove of content that could compete with Netflix.
The company said Tuesday that Chapek will oversee all of Disney’s business and corporate functions, but will still report to Iger and the board of directors.
“I think Bob Chapek has proven himself in the parks business and with consumer products, but the media side of things is a whole new animal for him,” Miller said. “Having Iger stay on and focus on content allows Chapek time to build his skill set in that realm. I think their strengths can complement each other really well.”