Who Could Replace Bob Chapek As CEO
We are probably about six months away from learning the fate of current Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
As previously discussed, Chapek’s contract officially expires on February 28th, 2023.
However, these situations work like professional sports coaching contracts. If a team doesn’t renew by a certain date, the coach should go ahead and schedule the U-Haul.
If Disney’s Board of Directors doesn’t extend Chapek’s contract by the end of 2022, his fate is probably sealed.
After recent events, the board has pot-committed to Chapek, at least in the short term.
Disney’s current CEO appears to have won a power struggle with now-former Disney executive, Peter Rice.
Does that mean Chapek is sure to be at Disney in a year? Absolutely not!
So, here are seven people who could become Disney’s next CEO.
Thomas O. Staggs
Let’s start with the two most likely candidates.
Did you ever have a boss who totally abused your goodwill, took advantage of you, acted like a friend, and then stabbed you in the back?
If so, you will admire the hero’s journey of Tom Staggs, who joined Disney in 1990.
An investment banker by trade, Staggs earned the role of Chief Financial Officer at Disney in 2000.
Fifteen years later, Staggs won a bake-off against his replacement as CFO, Jay Rasulo. As a result, Staggs gained the all-important title of Chief Operating Officer at Disney.
This move signaled that Staggs would eventually replace then-CEO Bob Iger. The two executives shared a close relationship, with Staggs once saving Iger’s life.
If the former Disney COO had the whole thing to do all over again, he might have let Iger choke.
Even though the men’s families vacationed together, Iger decided he wasn’t ready to leave Disney. Simultaneously, he opined that Staggs should go.
This bit of corporate backstabbing became Wall Street fodder for years to come, the latest proof that nobody should ever turn their back on Bob Iger.
Somehow, Staggs is having the last laugh, though. While at Disney, Staggs proved integral to the company’s acquisition of Pixar.
Along the way, he gained inside knowledge of the potency of intellectual property (IP).
Recently, Staggs started his own company, Candle Media. Its primary business strategy involves the acquisition of ascending IPs.
Staggs also sits on the Board of Directors of several companies like Spotify, WETA, and PureForm Global.
Due to his recent successes, Staggs has proven that the best revenge is living well.
I wrote an article a few months before the world went nuts. Its subject involved the succession plan at Disney when Iger left.
At the time, the hot industry gossip suggested that Chapek had fallen out of favor with Iger.
Insiders speculated that Iger would look to someone else as his eventual replacement, and the hot name at the time was Kevin Mayer.
This executive had led the acquisition of BAMTech, quietly one of Disney’s best purchases ever. He’d also had a hand in Marvel and Lucasfilm.
Still, to the entirety of Wall Street and Hollywood, Mayer’s claim to fame involved the creation and seamless introduction of Disney+.
Whenever I talk about Disney’s ascendancy and eventual takedown of Netflix, Mayer deserves much of the credit.
Still, Chapek ultimately won the favor of Disney’s Board of Directors. Mayer left the company when Disney chose Chapek.
I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn to say that many members of the Board of Directors would like a do-over on that.
Mayer absolutely would, as his next moves proved a series of unfortunate events.
The executive joined TikTok/ByteDance just in time for the President of the United States to develop a grudge against that company.
Mayer got helplessly stuck in the middle of an impossible circumstance and eventually quit after less than four months. It was miserable.
Why These Two?
Like Staggs, Mayer somehow recovered…and he has Staggs to thank for it. They’re business partners with Candle Media.
I don’t want to oversimplify, but the Staggs and Mayer ARE Candle Media to outside observers. They’re both well on their way to becoming billionaires.
You may wonder why either man would return to Disney since it would legitimately be a pay cut.
With Staggs, he’s been CFO and COO. He also believed he would gain the title of CEO, only to have it snatched away at the last instant. That frustration may linger.
Meanwhile, Mayer would enjoy the rare opportunity to prove that a mistake was made soon after the fact.
We’re only 27 months down the line from Chapek’s promotion. But, for Mayer, that time must feel like dog years given everything that happened.
Still, the executive has emerged on the other side wiser for the struggles. The TikTok experience humbled him, while Candle Media enlightened him.
Also, I can’t help but think he’d take tremendous satisfaction in taking Chapek’s job.
If you lost a promotion to someone and then had a chance to replace them, wouldn’t you want that gig? And I’d bet he’d get a congratulatory message from Peter Rice, too.
Three Other Candidates
Disney has a history of shortlisting its CFOs as potential CEOs. We saw it with Rasulo and Skaggs.
Bob Chapek knew this, which is why he acted after reports that Rice was engaging with Disney’s Board of Directors.
Had Rice remained with the company, he’d have been viewed as Chapek’s logical successor.
With Rice off the board, I’d be remiss if I excluded Christine McCarthy from this list. She’s been an exemplary CFO for the company.
However, as you’re probably aware, she’s…problematic as a public speaker. Given what’s happened with Chapek, that should scare Disney’s board.
The other candidates working for Disney right now are ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro and Disney’s rising star, Josh D’Amaro.
ESPN was already a juggernaut when Pitaro took over. So, I struggle to give him any credit there.
He also has a reputation of something of a spineless yes person. Unfortunately, that perception doesn’t scream Disney CEO.
D’Amaro is among the most popular Disney executives of the past quarter-century. He’s as popular as Frank Wells had been before his tragic death.
The downside with D’Amaro is that he’s primarily worked in the Parks division. Disney’s Board prefers people with a multifaceted track record.
Also, D’Amaro has earned these promotions for the same reason that Kareem Daniel has. They’re favorites of Chapek.
I didn’t include Daniel since he’s loyal to Chapek. The same logic applies to D’Amaro.
As such, I don’t think Disney currently possesses an internal candidate worthy of becoming CEO within the next year.
Chapek made sure of that with Rice’s termination.
The Dark Horses in the Field
In 2007, Iger picked an executive named Jason Kilar to bring to life his vision for a joint streaming service composed of content from all four networks.
You know this service as Hulu, and Kilar somehow convinced everyone but CBS to play. It was a miracle, the first of many he’s performed over the years.
Kilar famously led Warner Bros. right as the corporation pivoted to HBO Max. It had already debuted when Kilar got there and was a total mess.
Within two years, Kilar turned HBO Max into a viable threat to Disney+ and Netflix. So what did he get for his trouble? Fired.
Discovery Inc. merged with but actually acquired WarnerMedia. Since Discover controlled the process, Kilar gracefully exited the company.
Amusingly, people will remember his tenure at Warner for all the turmoil. Kilar famously decided to release Warner titles day and date on HBO Max.
Hollywood pitched a fit and burned him in effigy. Meanwhile, Disney whistled innocently and turned around and did the same thing.
History has shown that Kilar made the best possible move in a time with no good choices for movie moguls.
Also, as Kilar prepared to depart from Warner, HBO Max’s lineup of upcoming titles was the strongest HBO has claimed since the early days of Game of Thrones.
Similarly, Warner’s film lineup for the next 18 months looks better than it has any right to be as well.
Kilar has proven that he can run a modern media conglomerate as well as anyone in the industry. And that’s what Disney needs right now.
Still, the fact that Kilar got fired from Warner wouldn’t make for a good look if Disney put him in charge.
How much does that matter? I honestly don’t know.
As I size up the field of candidates, Kilar makes as much sense as almost anybody, though.
If I were on Disney’s board, I would vet him and weigh his candidacy against that of Mayer, his former cohort.
Hilariously, almost exactly ten years ago this week, Mayer had to make the following statement in defense of Kilar:
“Jason is an outstanding CEO, leading Hulu to exceed our expectations while also uniquely positioning the company for ongoing growth in the long run.
We look forward to Jason and Hulu continuing to expand Hulu’s reach and deliver increasing value in the future.”
That’s how incestuous this entire search could be.
Many of the names we’re discussing count as proteges of Iger. They’ve all worked closely together in the past.
Rice had been the only real exception here, and we saw how that worked out. Chapek ruthlessly ended Rice’s Disney ambitions during a seven-minute phone call.
Then, there’s the elephant dancing in the living room. The eighth candidate who could become Disney’s next CEO is…Bob Iger.
I don’t care what the former CEO is saying at the moment. Seriously, he could state that he’d rather pull out his eyeball and eat it before coming back to Disney.
I still wouldn’t believe him because I believe Iger feels extreme resentment toward Chapek. Mentors don’t expect disciples to freeze them out.
That’s what has happened here. Also, Iger is “only” 71.
Sure, most people have long since retired by that age, but Sumner Redstone worked at Viacom/CBS until his death. He was 95!
Similarly, Alan Horn just left Disney at the age of 79, and some rumors suggest he may run another studio.
Iger absolutely could go another decade if the Board of Directors made him the right offer.
In short, we’ve got plenty of palace intrigue as Disney weighs Bob Chapek’s fate.