Disney Unintentionally Names Most Likely Successors to Bob Iger
The Walt Disney Company has reorganized yet again.
Depending on how you keep score on these things, Disney may have done this as many as three times in three years.
Yes, the pandemic threw everybody a curveball, but that annual corporate reshuffling suggests a chaotic workplace.
As the old tech maxim goes, you ship your org chart, which is to say that we’re getting Disney chaos because that’s what’s happening behind the scenes, too.
Bob Iger just attempted to calm the waters with his latest move, which takes Disney back to the future.
Now, we only have three primary operating segments. In the process, Disney has unintentionally confirmed Iger’s four most likely replacements.
Let’s take a look at the most likely people to become Disney’s next CEO, presuming that the company promotes internally.
Some of the names we’re about to discuss appeared in the November evaluation. Much has changed since then.
Disney’s recent restructuring has identified who is really in charge at Disney. In short, if you’re not holding a Chairman position, you’re not gonna be the next CEO.
When I last evaluated Disney, I left Bergman off the list because he shares the same shortcoming as Chapek.
Bergman has worked almost entirely in content during his 25+ year career at Disney. For many years, Bergman worked for/with legendary studio boss Alan Horn.
That training has unquestionably aided the protégé as he climbs Disney’s corporate ladder. Iger trusted Horn implicitly.
So, Horn’s disciple was already somebody Iger was inclined to respect. In Iger’s first memo after returning to the company, he name-dropped Bergman, too.
Still, Bergman’s more of a creative, and Wall Street prefers a numbers person or combo talent like Iger himself.
Does Bergman possess that skill set? Iger seems to think so. Still, I’d only rank Bergman third among the candidates we’re discussing today.
However, Bergman does deserve a ton of credit for smoothing Disney’s strained relationships with Hollywood insiders…and Scarlett Johansson.
Also, Disney’s 2022 ended in stunning fashion with $3 billion in combined box office for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Way of Water.
Now, Disney starts 2023 with Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania. You can’t say that Bergman isn’t doing his job incredibly well.
Folks, here’s your guy. I’m starting to believe that.
Josh D’Amaro is so daggum likable that he somehow earned Bob Iger’s trust, threw himself fully behind Bob Chapek, and has now returned to Team Iger.
As far as political moves go, that one’s impressive. Pretty much nobody else at Disney has managed it.
For his part, Chapek capitalized on D’Amaro’s tremendous popularity when Disney made controversial moves at the parks…which was about every five days during Chapek’s tenure.
Now, Iger has punctuated D’Amaro’s power by name-dropping the Parks Chairman repeatedly.
Whenever Iger states that a park decision is in the offing, his words underscore that he trusts D’Amaro completely.
In the aftermath of Chapek’s termination, one report indicated that D’Amaro had prepared to leave Disney due to his frustration with his boss.
Depending on how you perceive that story, the threat of losing D’Amaro caused Disney’s Board of Directors to act…OR…D’Amaro understands politics enough to leak that report.
Either way, I believe that if Disney picks an internal candidate as CEO, D’Amaro currently sits in the pole position.
I’m mentioning McCarthy mainly because the 70-year-old Disney CFO gained a bit of heat in the wake of Bob Chapek’s firing.
Some reporters championed the idea that McCarthy led the charge against Chapek, revolting against his brazen decision-making and PR mistakes.
We later learned that when Jim Cramer called for Chapek’s firing, he was communicating with McCarthy via text that day. Therefore, McCarthy deserves some praise.
Still, McCarthy is only two years younger than Iger, who has already retired once. In fact, McCarthy is older today than Iger was when he announced he was leaving Disney.
Also, McCarthy’s foot-in-mouth disease seems chronic. I just don’t think Disney can pick another unpolished public speaker so soon after Chapek.
Just last month, I described Pitaro as “lucky to be here…or anywhere really.”
Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of Pitaro, but that’s because he’s coasting off John Skipper’s work.
Skipper, one of Disney’s most credentialed executives ever, led ESPN content from 2005 through 2018, when he unexpectedly stepped down.
The then-head of ESPN revealed a substance abuse problem that shocked longtime friends and co-workers.
Disney replaced Skipper with his long-presumed successor, Pitaro. I cover Disney for a living, and the next notable thing Pitaro does will be a first.
Maybe that’s the key to his corporate success. He can somehow remain below the radar while steadily advancing his career.
Pitaro is now one of only four Disney division leads overall. He also joins D’Amaro as the two who don’t share their titles.
For this reason, you could make a solid argument that Pitaro is one of the two most likely Disney employees to succeed Bob Iger.
My personal belief is that Disney’s restructuring makes it that much easier to sell ESPN, as it’s going to get tied off from everything else. That division ostensibly lifts right out.
Then again, I just underestimated Pitaro a few weeks ago. Maybe I’m doing it again?
When Iger returned, one of my first thoughts was that this benefited Walden substantially.
After Iger’s final big move, the Fox acquisition, most Fox executives found themselves without jobs.
Walden immediately started an upward career trajectory, one Chapek accidentally enhanced when he fired a perceived threat, Peter Rice.
Now, Walden has earned another promotion. She was previously Chairman of Disney General Entertainment Content.
With this promotion, Walden stakes a claim as one of the ten or twelve most powerful people in Hollywood. She joins Bergman as Co-Chairman of Disney Entertainment.
People dream about jobs like that when they’re kids. Now, Walden and Bergman are in charge of all Disney stories.
Obviously, that’s as important a job title as there is at Disney…or anywhere, really.
I’d previously listed Walden as the likeliest candidate to replace Iger if Disney hires from within for its next CEO.
The fact that Walden shares her role with Bergman makes her slightly less strong as a candidate than D’Amaro, although I’d still rank her above Pitaro.
So, I view the current internal pecking order for Disney’s next CEO as D’Amaro followed by Walden, Bergman, Pitaro, and McCarthy.
Right now, I believe D’Amaro holds a decent lead over Walden. Then, there’s a gap to Bergman and Pitaro, who are fairly equal.
As for McCarthy, I just don’t see it happening even though the Board seems to like her. Still, we have two other Disney-employed candidates we should discuss.
A Loser and a Non-Candidate
Okay, history may prove me wrong here. However, I believe that if Mark Parker wanted the job, he’d already have it.
Disney recently recommended him to become Chairman of the Board, which suits his skill set perfectly.
Parker has previously led Nike as its CEO for 13 years.
For this reason, when Disney’s Board contemplated cutting ties with Bob Chapek last summer, they targeted Parker as a temporary replacement.
Even the later wording from postscript journalism indicated that nobody believed Parker wanted the job permanently. He’s likely had his fill of the demanding CEO gig.
Meanwhile, another potential candidate has fallen by the wayside. As recently as December 2022, CNBC wrote the following about Rebecca Campbell:
“Rebecca Campbell, who’s currently in charge of Disney’s international content and operations, is another candidate that Iger may favor (as CEO), people familiar with the matter said.”
Folks, that’s how fast things can change at Disney. In 2020, Rebecca Campbell replaced Josh D’Amaro as the President of Disneyland Resort.
The following year, Campbell became the de facto successor to Kevin Mayer with Disney content.
So, we’re talking about a powerhouse talent here, someone on a par with Mayer and D’Amaro.
Campbell finds herself the victim of a turf war, as Disney’s cost-cutting measures eliminate the need for her job.
Brooks Barnes at the New York Times describes Campbell as “squeezed out.”
Disney fallout tidbit: The respected Rebecca Campbell, a 26-year Disney vet who is tight with Iger (she's been on the yacht) has been squeezed out, with her international content turf getting downsized and absorbed by other execs 1/3
— Brooks Barnes (@brooksbarnesNYT) February 9, 2023
It’s brutal to read CNBC say that you might be the next Disney CEO and then be out of a job barely two months later.
We call that the Thomas O. Staggs move.
With Campbell’s impending demise in June, we have fewer competitors for Disney’s Iron Throne.
However, numerous people outside Disney remain in play as well. Remember that we’re only evaluating the internal shortlist of candidates today.
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Feature Photo: AFP