Is Bob Iger’s Successor Already at Disney?
In early September, a CNBC analyst wrote 11,000 words on the Disney mess.
Specifically, this writer interviewed 25 people on the behind-the-scenes turmoil that ultimately led to Bob Chapek’s termination.
Recently, the same author appeared on a podcast and provided even more details about what transpired.
Along the way, we learned a few new details about the next CEO at The Walt Disney Company.
Is Bob Iger’s Successor at Disney? The answer is apparently yes.
About the Interview
Let me be clear that I’ll believe it when I see it and not a second before then.
I’m one of those people who believes that Bob Iger will stay at Disney until the Board of Directors forces him to leave.
Currently, that won’t happen until 2026 at the earliest. Even then, I’m not holding my breath.
Still, Alex Sherman’s writing on the subject has proven invaluable.
Now, the author has appeared on Matthew Belloni’s podcast, The Town.
In an episode entitled, “What Can’t Bob Iger Find a Successor?”, Sherman discusses all the tidbits he couldn’t include in his article.
Specifically, the reporter details several juicy tidbits about various candidates to follow Iger as Disney’s CEO.
So, let’s once again evaluate the potential future Disney CEOs to learn who is currently sitting atop the power rankings and why, the latter of which is the more interesting topic.
7) Christine McCarthy
This will be the last time we ever mention McCarthy as a potential CEO.
In the not-too-distant past, Deadline reported that McCarthy had emerged as the most likely candidate to replace Iger as CEO.
Sadly for her, the former Disney CFO proved too close to Bob Chapek in her thinking, even if the two famously split over management decisions.
6) Alan Bergman
Currently, Disney lists four people as either Chairman or Co-Chairman of its three main divisions.
As I previously indicated, Disney’s internal list of candidates starts with those four people, although two outsiders factor into the discussion as well.
Among the four, Bergman fares the worst in Sherman’s evaluation.
The author believes that the current Co-Chairman of Disney Entertainment isn’t a serious candidate.
That’s because the other Co-Chairman overshadows Bergman. I’ll explain why in a bit.
5) Thomas O. Staggs
Nearly ten years ago, Staggs famously won a bake-off and emerged as THE successor as Disney CEO.
At the time, Bob Iger intended to retire in 2014, something that didn’t actually happen until 2021. And then it stopped happening in 2022.
Why didn’t Staggs get the job? Well, that topic has come up again recently because Disney is once again speaking with the highly successful co-CEO.
Staggs runs Candle Media alongside another former Disney executive, Kevin Mayer. Iger recently brought back both as consultants.
Naturally, speculation has ensued about whether one of them may earn the job after all. And I was onboard that train long before it left the station.
However, Sherman indicates that Staggs, in particular, “failed the audition” to replace Iger.
Also, the author’s interviews indicated that Iger brought back the Candle Media leaders “for consulting, not succession.”
At the moment, Staggs doesn’t strike me as one of the likeliest candidates.
4) Jimmy Pitaro
I’ve largely avoided detailed discussions regarding Jimmy Pitaro’s candidacy.
That’s primarily because the perception within ESPN and Disney hasn’t favored Pitaro.
Instead, the current Chairman of ESPN benefitted by the sudden resignation of John Skipper, an industry icon, in 2017.
Pitaro followed six months later and has faced the frequent criticism that he’s steering an un-crash-able ship. Then again, so did Edward Smith on the Titanic.
In my latest evaluation, Pitaro probably claims the second-best news update overall.
That’s because Sherman believes Pitaro possesses solid odds of becoming CEO…just not at Disney.
The author believes the current rumor that Disney will spin off ESPN into a standalone entity.
Should that occur, Pitaro would likely earn the title of CEO of Flagship or ESPN or whatever Disney calls the new entity.
3) Kevin Mayer
Sherman spoke at length about the various reasons Kevin Mayer lost the battle to Bob Chapek.
Disney had clearly shortlisted both individuals as Iger’s successor.
Frustratingly, the Board of Directors expressed more concern about Mayer. Whoops.
The primary criticisms of Mayer came in two forms. First, Mayer “didn’t run anything of scale.”
Second, “he didn’t have the right bedside manner.” In Sherman’s CNBC article, he referenced the Disney Way of communicating with co-workers.
Obviously, Mayer struggled with that particular skill, which worried the board.
Also, for whatever reason, Disney’s Board failed to reward Mayer for all the acquisitions he worked hard to bring to reality.
That’s the remarkable part to me. The Board gave Mayer no credit for buying BAMTech, creating three streaming services, or working on the Marvel/Star Wars/Fox purchases.
Obviously, everyone involved recognizes the mistake now, which could yet bring Mayer back to Disney as CEO.
Still, Sherman’s comments about Staggs apply to Mayer as well. Disney apparently isn’t working with them again to find a successor.
Instead, the Candle Media duo is apparently only helping their mentor, Iger, in a time of need. Do I believe that? Not really.
Even so, I think Disney holds two current employees in higher esteem, at least for the moment.
2) Josh D’Amaro
I previously made the argument that Disney should promote Josh D’Amaro to CEO.
I stand behind that assertion, but I’ll admit I’m saying it more as a fan than due to D’Amaro’s qualifications.
This executive loves Disney the way that its leader should, the way that Walt Disney did. That matters to me.
As a candidate, D’Amaro’s acumen in running Disney theme parks is unassailable.
Unfortunately, the same criticism of Pitaro applies to D’Amaro. The specific reason he’s done so well is that Bob Chapek had positioned the parks well.
That job performance explains how Chapek eventually became Iger’s successor in the first place.
In fact, that’s the overriding problem with Chapek’s candidacy. He looks a whole lot like Bob Chapek on paper.
D’Amaro lacks experience on the storytelling side of Disney’s business, just as Chapek did.
As Sherman notes, D’Amaro’s weakness there would likely require Bob Iger to say and run creative for a time.
You may feel your skin crawling at that statement, as it’s exactly the setup Disney had when the Iger/Chapek feud started.
Nobody wants to relive that horror show, even though it would turn out better since D’Amaro and Iger like each other.
Still, as much as I love D’Amaro as a candidate, I must admit that Disney’s Board of Directors would be taking a lot on faith in hiring him.
1) Dana Walden
A while ago, I suggested that Walden had become the leader in the clubhouse.
I based that more on my outside perspective of the matter than anything tangible.
Once Disney listed Alan Bergman as the Co-Chairman of Disney Entertainment alongside her, I no longer viewed her as the top candidate.
After all, Pitaro and D’Amaro don’t share their job titles with anyone else. Thus, they’re in a stronger position, right?
Well, Sherman’s gut instinct tells him otherwise. According to the author, Disney’s Board chose Walden for a vital role.
Specifically, the Board used her to reach out to Bob Iger about the possibility of returning to Disney.
Later, Walden onboarded Iger about the new Disney after he came back as CEO.
So, the Board of Directors likes her enough to trust her with negotiating a secret succession plan.
Meanwhile, Iger knows she can keep a secret and understands all phases of the Disney empire enough to re-train him.
The other person on the podcast notes that many of the connections are somewhat superficial, though.
Walden lives in the same area of Brentwood as Iger. That allowed them to communicate more frequently by eating lunch together at a popular spot.
However, the author counters by saying that Bergman also lives in this area. Iger and the Board trusted Walden more.
For this reason, Sherman believes that when Disney names a successor to Bob Iger, it’s most likely to be Dana Walden.
How Would the Promotion Work?
Both podcast participants suggest that the most likely step to prove this would be for Disney to name Walden (or some other candidate) as COO.
Then, the newly promoted candidate would spend a year or so learning from Iger.
If that process sounds familiar to you, it’s the one that Disney employed with Thomas Staggs. Its abject failure caused Disney to skip it with Chapek.
So, that strategy may not be ideal, but here we are anyway.
Since Bob Iger recently extended his contract through 2026, nothing is likely to happen until 2024 at the earliest.
Stay tuned to find out how the current succession plan falls apart this time! It’s the Groundhog Day of Bob Iger’s tenure as Disney CEO.
Thanks for visiting MickeyBlog.com! Want to go to Disney? For a FREE quote on your next Disney vacation, please fill out the form below, and one of the agents from MickeyTravels, a Diamond Level Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, will be in touch soon!
Feature PhotoJUSTIN LANE/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock