Bob Chapek Is the Unluckiest CEO of All-Time
The story seems so relatable. For years now, you’ve eyed the big chair, right? You ache for that big promotion that will redefine your career and establish you in your industry. Then, you finally get the much-anticipated tap, and you’ve got your dream job!
I’m about to describe the best proof ever of the maxim, “Be careful what you wish for.” The situation above describes the career of Bob Chapek, the recently appointed CEO of The Walt Disney Company.
Chapek joined Disney in 1993 and has held many jobs within the organization. On February 25th, 27 years into his tenure, Chapek received the ultimate promotion as the new leader of Disney…and everything has been terrible ever since. Let’s talk about all the horrible things that Disney’s new CEO has experienced during his first six weeks on the job.
A Bad Start
During the MickeyBlog News article that happened right after Chapek’s promotion, I wrote the following: “So, Chapek started immediately and seemed positioned to succeed. Alas, the best-laid plans sometimes fall apart due to bad luck…”
I really undersold that. I was basing it on what happened during the first three days Chapek had on the job. The most alarming of them was the one that generated the fewest headlines in the United States.
Tokyo Disneyland announced on February 28th that it would close due to Coronavirus concerns. At the time, the park only intended to stay out of operation through March 15th. We’re almost a week into April, yet Tokyo Disneyland is still closed.
In this manner, all Asian Disney theme parks have experienced the same fate. Shanghai Disneyland closed on January 25th, while Hong Kong Disneyland followed suit the next day. While some restaurants and stores have re-opened at Shanghai Disneyland, neither park is in operation today, an alarming sign.
Early Theme Park Mishaps
At the time, headlines fixated on other aspects of Disney’s American parks, though. The most infamous incident occurred at Magic Kingdom, where the Bomokandi Bertha took on water and sunk…with Jungle Cruise passengers onboard.
Chapek understandably absorbed social media ridicule for this, as he’d overseen theme parks before becoming CEO. Remarkably, a second issue would occur almost immediately afterward.
The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover had previously experienced a smoke issue on the escalator. Then, right after Chapek’s promotion, two PeopleMover vehicles crashed. It was a second bad look that underscored questions about Chapek’s priorities as head of Disney parks.
A third negative headline happened at Walt Disney World between the two park incidents. A SWAT team and several police troopers investigated reports of an armed gunman at Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
The complaint wasn’t based in fact, as law enforcement officials determined that the “gun” was something else under a jacket that shared a vaguely similar shape. So, it was a bad break for Disney, as social media cynics dismissed the company’s safety measures, ones that worked perfectly in this instance.
I want to reiterate that everything I’ve mentioned thus far happened during Chapek’s first three (!) days as CEO. And the situation has degraded from there.
The Worst March Imaginable
In early March, Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom unexpectedly shut down for several days. The Doom Buggies on the Omnimover malfunctioned and required several days of downtime to repair. Park officials were reticent to add context to the matter, which led to more negative headlines.
Negative Disney headlines are the calling card of Chapek’s tenure thus far. Dude might be cursed.
Monday, March 16th, will stand forever as arguably the worst day in Disney theme park history. On that date, for the first time ever, every Disney theme park in the world remained closed. Coronavirus concerns forced Chapek and his staff to shutter operations.
Disney undoubtedly made the correct call here. On March 16th, Florida had 161 confirmed cases of COVID-19, while California had 472 afflicted. As I type this, the two states list more than 26,200 Coronavirus victims. Those numbers could be double or triple if the parks had remained open.
To a larger point, guests visit Walt Disney World and Disneyland from all states and countries. Someone who picks up the disease at a park will carry it back home and risk infecting others.
So, Chapek’s options were to stay in business and risk public safety or lose hundreds of millions of dollars to protect others. The only regret here is that other CEOs aren’t as conscientious as Chapek.
Dire Financial Straits
Still, the fallout from this decision has caused financial peril. Disney had to pay cast members who weren’t working and thereby generating revenue. Originally, park officials had hoped that the parks would only close for a few weeks, but Coronavirus has since become a pandemic.
In early April, Florida governor Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order for the month. This declaration all but ensures that Disney parks will remain closed for at least six weeks from the initial date of March 16th.
With a sudden lack of income, Disney has decided to furlough cast members on April 19th. Starting on that date, loyal Disney employees won’t have paying jobs until the parks re-open. Disney has also asked its high-ranking executives to accept pay cuts of 20-30 percent.
As you might expect, Chapek’s not the most popular boss in the world right now. He’s been on the job for five minutes, and everyone’s already making less money.
In fact, this situation isn’t just about the parks. All major sports leagues have shut down, which has reduced ESPN to airing – I’m not joking – old Wrestlemania episodes. And movie theaters became such a lightning rod for criticism that Onward went from theatrical release to available on Disney+ in less than a month.
If Disney were a cruise ship right now, it would be the Titanic. And the vessel was seaworthy right up until Captain Chapek steered it into an iceberg.
No, I don’t mean that. The entire point here is that Chapek looks like the ultimate fall guy. It’s almost like former CEO Robert Iger anticipated everything that would happen next. Then, he persuaded the board to promote his successor, who now takes the blame for everything.
Meanwhile, Chapek is left to figure out how his dream job went so horribly awry.
The Final Indignity
What’s the kicker here? While suffering all these misfortunes, Chapek has had his pay cut, too. He’s previously agreed to a base salary of $2.5 million plus incentives.
As a reaction to Disney’s revenue disruptions, Chapek will earn 50 percent less this year, meaning that on top of all other issues, he might make less as CEO this year than before he became CEO. So far, Chapek’s received the worst promotion ever.