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Bob Iger steps down as Disney CEO, replaced by Bob Chapek

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Iger will remain executive chairman through 2021

92nd Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals Photo by Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic

Disney CEO Bob Iger will be replaced by Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Bob Chapek as CEO, effective immediately. Iger will stay on as executive chairman through the end of 2021, with a focus on creative endeavors.

“I felt with the asset base in place, and with the strategy deployed, I felt that I should be spending as much time as possible on the creative side of the business,” Iger said in a call with investors after the news, adding there’s “ample” projects to focus on. “Getting everything right creatively would be my number one goal.”

Chapek’s current role is described by the company as overseeing “the global hub where Disney’s stories, characters and franchises come to life.” Chapek assumed leadership of the new job in March 2018. Chapek was one of the leading candidates to replace Iger who announced his retirement in 2018. Chapek beat out other top candidates, like direct-to-consumer head Kevin Mayer for the role. Iger told investors on a call that “this is an exciting day for Disney, a historic day, and I am thrilled for Bob.” An SEC filing confirms that Iger’s continued guidance over the content side of Disney will remain a priority.

“With the successful launch of Disney’s direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is the optimal time to transition to a new CEO,” Iger said in a press release. “I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney’s multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the Company’s creative endeavors.”

Chapek is the seventh CEO in the company’s history. Iger noted that, over the last 27 years with the company, Chapek has proven that he has the “visionary leadership” to lead the company.

“Under Bob’s leadership as CEO, our portfolio of great businesses and our amazing and talented people will continue to serve the Company and its shareholders well for years to come,” Iger said in the press release.

Iger became the face of Disney over the last 15 years. On March 15th, 2005, Disney announced that Iger would succeed longtime CEO Michael Eisner as the company’s sixth CEO. In his first year as CEO, Iger repaired broken relationships with visionaries like former Apple CEO Steve Jobs and acquired Pixar for just over $7 billion. It was the start of Iger’s ongoing legacy at the company.

Iger’s next big purchase was Marvel Entertainment in August 2009, which Disney bought for just over $4 billion. The purchase, which was floated prior to Iger becoming CEO but was regarded as a risk to Disney’s brand (something Iger spoke about in his recent book, The Ride of a Lifetime), has generated more than $28 billion at the box office alone. (That number doesn’t account for things like merchandise, either.) Then in 2012, Iger made another massive purchase, buying Lucasfilm for just over $4 billion. Like Marvel, the move has generated more revenue for Disney. Under Iger and Mayer, the company also bought 21st Century Fox for over $71 billion — key to Disney’s biggest new entries: streaming.

One of Iger’s last big projects, but arguably one of the most important, was moving Disney into the direct-to-consumer space with the launch of Disney Plus. Under Iger, and Mayer, Disney has amassed more than 28 million subscribers to its Disney Plus platform in just over three months. Hulu, which the company holds a majority stake in, has also grown to 30 million subscribers. ESPN Plus, one of the biggest sports streaming services, has also seen great growth since Disney offered it as a bundle with its other services.

“Bob Iger has built Disney into the most admired and successful media and entertainment company, and I have been lucky to enjoy a front-row seat as a member of his leadership team,” Chapek said in the press release. “Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation for further creative storytelling, bold innovation and thoughtful risk-taking.”

Investors brought up questions about direct-to-consumer strategies — a key area that Iger stressed as Disney’s future. It’s because of the investment in direct-to-consumer entertainment that industry insiders and analysts thought Mayer would be a shoe-in for the job. Chapek as Iger’s succession came as a shock to multiple employees at Disney, The Verge learned.

Still, Chapek has the experience that the board may have thought Mayer lacked right now. Chapek told analyst Michael Nathanson that spending nearly three decades at the company means he knows it “extremely well.” Chapek added that his entire career has been about consumer products, including his time in advertising and packaged goods, giving him the expertise he needs for direct-to-consumer entertainment.

In terms of what’s next for Iger? He’s not going anywhere. Iger will remain a “creative content officer” of sorts, but doesn’t want to call it that. His goal is to help Chapek know that end of the business extremely well, so when he leaves as executive chairman in 2021, Chapek will be able to execute everything he needs to as CEO.

“If we were to give me the title of chief creative officer or name someone that would imply that we had a need and I don’t think thats the case,” Iger said. “I intend to work closely with Bob.”