Disney has reappointed Bob Iger as its chief executive in a surprise decision after the entertainment company ousted its handpicked successor, Bob Chapek, after less than three years in office.
Iger retired from running Disney in 2020 after postponing his exit multiple times to guide the company through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. He was chief executive for 15 years and was replaced by Chapek, who formerly ran the theme parks department. Iger stayed on as Executive Chairman until the end of 2021.
Disney said in a statement late Sunday night that he will assume the post for two years, effective immediately.
Chapek has weathered a difficult time for Disney, with disruptions from the pandemic – which forced its theme parks to close – followed by concerns about the profitability of its Disney+ streaming service. Competing in a crowded field, Disney+ has spent billions of dollars creating new content while trying to beat Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. While the Disney platform’s subscriber base has grown rapidly, it has come at the cost of heavy operating losses in its streaming division.
Disney has also come under pressure at its Florida base after publicly opposing “don’t say gay” laws that ban classroom discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity at certain grade levels. Disney publicly defied the laws, which many activists and teachers saw as oppressive, prompting right-wing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to attempt to strip the company of its privileges in the state.
The company’s market value has plummeted more than 40% over the course of 2022, far worse than the 17% drop in the S&P 500 index of large U.S. companies.
Disney highlighted a fivefold increase in market value under Iger’s previous leadership. The company said Iger has a “board mandate to set the strategic direction for continued growth” while continuing to seek a long-term successor.
Shares were up more than 8% — nearly $14 billion — as Wall Street opened Monday.
Under Iger, Disney made a number of major acquisitions, including the Marvel film franchise, Pixar animation studio, and the Star Wars film franchise.
Michael Antonelli, market strategist at Baird, a US wealth manager, said Iger’s return was “probably the most significant part of the company’s disruption since [Steve] Jobs went back to Apple.”
Disney Chairwoman Susan Arnold said: “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney throughout his long career, including leading the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. The board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex phase of industry change, Bob Iger is in a unique position to lead the company through this pivotal phase.”
Iger said: “I am extremely optimistic about the future of this great company and I am delighted to be asked by the board to return as CEO.”
Disney did not release a statement from Chapek.