Who Will Replace Bob Iger as Disney CEO
“When you play the Game of Thrones, you win, or you die. There is no middle ground.”
Iger Claims the Throne
On March 13, 2005, Robert Iger pulled off one of the greatest corporate achievements in history. He successfully ousted his boss, Michael Eisner, and become CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Historians have detailed how Iger pulled off a political assassination for the ages without getting his hands bloody. He seemed like an innocent bystander rather than the perpetrator.
Disney has undeniably benefitted from the change. Eisner had lost his touch, and the theme park division, in particular, had flagged under his leadership. With Iger in charge, seemingly everything Disney touches has turned to gold.
The First Two Failed Candidates
Iger’s overwhelming success as Disney’s leader has created a bit of intrigue. Over the years, Iger has groomed potential replacements. A few years ago, Disney famously had a bake-off between two highly decorated corporate executives. Media sites breathlessly reported on this competition.
The participating candidates were Jay Rasulo, the CFO of The Walt Disney Company, and Tom Staggs, the COO. It was a showdown of epic proportions, with both parties working hard to prove that they could carry Disney to a better tomorrow.
In June of 2015, Rasulo suddenly announced his retirement from Disney. He left the company for good at the end of the month, leaving Staggs as the heir apparent. The situation seemed resolved.
Then, something unexpected occurred. Bob Iger determined that Staggs was ill-fit to maintain his legacy. He worried that Disney would collapse without strong leadership in place.
To a more significant point, Disney’s Board of Directors felt that Staggs struggled to step up and spent too much time clashing with his boss, Iger. For whatever reason, the two men didn’t share the same vision for the future of our favorite company.
In April of 2016, Staggs tried but failed to secure a promise from the Board of Directors. He wanted confirmation that he would become CEO of Disney. This impatient act blew up in his face, as Staggs learned that he wouldn’t ever hold that title. Staggs resigned from Disney immediately and has kept a low profile ever since.
Iger Kicks the Can Down the Road
Iger had carefully planned for his tenure at Disney to end in 2018. Insiders believed that he wanted to run for President of the United States during the 2020 campaign. However, when the Board of Directors informed him that they didn’t have a strong candidate to become CEO, Iger faced a difficult choice.
His decision grew more difficult with the agreement for Disney to buy most Fox media assets. Fox’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, agreed to the deal on the contingency that Iger stay at Disney until 2021. While some have speculated that Murdoch had political motivation for this request, it still seemed reasonable.
Even though Iger was already 66 at the time, he agreed to extend his contract through 2021. Presuming that he honors this arrangement, the CEO will be 70 at the end of his contract.
Most analysts assume that Iger won’t extend again, although that’s not certain. He may still want to run for President in 2024.
However, the age of 70 isn’t old for a media CEO. For example, Sumner Redstone remained Executive Chairman at CBS and Viacom until he was 92!!! And the only reason why he resigned is that he had to testify in court about his mental faculties at that age.
CBS went with some young blood as his replacement. Les Moonves was a vibrant 66 when he took the gig. And yes, I’m being sarcastic. Moonves would have run CBS for at least a decade had the world not learned that he’s a total monster/repeated sexual predator.
And the replacement for Moonves is Shari Redstone, the daughter of Sumner. She’s 65. By media conglomerate standards, Robert Iger isn’t that old. He could feasibly run Disney without issue for another decade if that’s what he prefers. It just doesn’t seem like he wants that.
The New Contenders
When Staggs left, a few logical contenders emerged as the next CEO of Disney. Alan Horn is the CCO (Chief Creative Officer) and co-Chairman. However, he’s 76 right now and would be 78 in 2021. That’s asking a lot.
Another candidate who gets mentioned is Peter Rice, a Fox executive since 2000. Disney acquired him at the same time as the other Fox assets, and Iger has assigned Rice the crucial title of Chairman of Walt Disney Television.
Realistically, Disney has been reticent to hire outsiders to run the company. Rice probably won’t have enough time to gain enough support to become CEO. He’s “only” in his early 50s, so he could become a stronger candidate in a few years.
The most logical successor to Iger is Bob Chapek. He’s the wildly successful Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
As the arrival of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge approached, most insiders believed that Iger was grooming Chapek as the next CEO of Disney.
To be clear, that may still happen. It’s the most natural move for Disney, as the Parks division remains the company’s bread and butter.
Chapek is undeniably great at earning money at the theme parks. Revenue has reached all-time highs several times in recent years, with fiscal 2019 standing out as the best ever.
Sadly, Galaxy’s Edge garnered a lot of negative headlines over its lackluster attendance, though. Those news items hurt Chapek’s candidacy a lot.
Also, his reputation is as a money guy, not a customer service guy, which irritates some Disney loyalists. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that a lot of people would be angry if Chapek becomes CEO. His reputation is problematic.
A New Leader in the Clubhouse
Chapek’s negatives have allowed a new contender to emerge. A few months ago, I speculated that the importance of Disney+ could elevate one person’s profile. That man is Kevin Mayer.
Currently Chairman of Direct-to-Consumer & International, Mayer first worked at Disney in 1993. He leveraged this opportunity into better gigs outside the company.
At one time, the current leader of Disney+ was the CEO of Playboy.com, which would be a fascinating footnote if Mayer eventually becomes CEO of Disney. He was also CEO of Clear Channel Interactive for a while before returning to Disney.
During his second stint, Mayer’s had several astounding triumphs. He played an integral part in the company’s acquisitions of Pixar, Fox, Lucasfilm, and Marvel.
Also, parents who had young children at the time will grin at the news that Mayer bought Club Penguin for Disney. This man’s resume is impressive.
Currently, Mayer’s job requires him to run a project that you may know. It’s called Disney+. While the streaming service has become Iger’s legacy, it’s Mayer’s baby. And that is one big, fat, happy baby.
The stunning success of Disney+ has caused a record valuation for DIS stock. And that’s the kind of news that makes a Board of Directors smile a lot while passing around the Grey Poupon.
Deadline Chimes In
Given his hot streak, the 57-year-old Mayer has emerged as the most likely candidate to replace Bob Iger as CEO at Disney. I’d heard this rumor a few months ago, but Deadline just reported it yesterday. Here’s the exact quote:
“Kevin Mayer, who heads Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International unit, is seen as having the inside track to succeeding Iger because of the strong early performance of Disney+, the crown jewel of Disney’s streaming strategy.”
So, from now on, whenever you hear somebody praise Disney+, remember that this positive press could alter the fate of Mayer, Chapek, and Disney as a whole. It’s going to be a photo finish between Mayer and Chapek, but the betting money has changed to the Disney+ guy over the Disney Parks guy.
Oddly, this news is pretty good for fans of Disney Parks. Personally, I’d give Chapek a warm hug if I ever met him as I think he’s been an extremely effective leader. The overall perception of him isn’t great, though, at least with passionate Disney fans.