Bob Iger’s return as Disney CEO on Sunday night came as a complete surprise to his handpicked successor, Bob Chapek — who was in the dark about his looming exit as recently as last week, sources told The Post.
Chapek was “blindsided by the move” as “at the end of last week he did not know what was about to happen,” according to a source close to the situation.
“It was definitely a shock to Chapek,” the source added.
Iger’s talks with the board to return as CEO were initiated only in recent days, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources. Iger returned to the Mouse House less than one year after he retired as Disney’s executive chairman and roughly two years after he ceded the CEO gig to Chapek.
Iger “found retirement challenging,” a source told The Post.
“Missed the limelight. Was outshone by wife. Very alpha male activity,” the source added.
Other top Disney executives were unaware of the leadership change until they received Iger’s email announcing his return Sunday night. Some of the executives learned the news while attending an Elton John concert at Dodger Stadium that was being livestreamed on the Disney+ streaming service, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Meanwhile, Disney employees were reportedly so perplexed upon receiving Iger’s email that some wondered if it was a legitimate message or had come from a hacked account.
Chapek had been expected to attend the concert and the company had even planned for him to introduce John on stage, sources told the Journal. It’s unclear if he actually attended the event.
The Post has reached out to Disney for comment.
Chapek’s ouster came just a few months after Disney’s board gave him a three-year contract extension — coupled with an annual bonus of at least $20 million. In January, Disney disclosed that Chapek’s pay had doubled to $32.5 million in 2021.
Disney board chair Susan Arnold also publicly gave Chapek a vote of confidence after he shocked company insiders by firing Peter Rice, the company’s top TV executive who was widely considered to be his potential successor.
“The strength of The Walt Disney Company’s businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future,” Arnold said in a June statement. “In this important time of business growth and transformation, we are committed to keeping Disney on the successful path it is on today, and Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the board.”
But internally, questions about Chapek’s leadership reportedly grew even after he received the contract extension
Some unnamed senior Disney executives have told co-workers that they were losing confidence in Chapek’s management of the company, sources told the Wall Street Journal. Chapek purportedly struggled to build a rapport with creative leaders within Disney, including executives in its film and TV segment and its theme parks division.
Chapek faced intense pressure this year after Disney’s botched response to Florida’s Republican-backed “Don’t Say Gay” law rankled critics on both sides of the aisle.
Chapek’s initial silence on the matter prompted protests from its left-leaning employees as well as a public rebuke from Iger himself — who said he agreed with President Biden’s criticism of the legislation.
Chapek eventually issued a statement condemning the law’s passage — a move that infuriated Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who led an effort to revoke Disney’s special tax status within the state.
Disney’s business has also suffered this year — with a 41% stock plunge, which has outpaced losses in the broader market during the current economic downturn.
The company’s stock plunged earlier this month after it fell short of Wall Street’s expectations for both earnings and revenue during the fourth quarter. Despite its subscriber gains, Disney’s streaming segment lost a whopping $1.47 billion during the three-month period.
Chapek gave little hint of any trouble during his appearance earlier this month at the Paley Center for Media’s International Council Summit in New York.
During a Q&A session, Chapek touted the success of the Disney+ streaming service, which has topped 160 million global subscribers, even as he equated Disney’s operations to that of a “manual car” that require constant adjustments in the current environment.
“We are looking at making Disney+ all that it can be, but at the same time know that shorter term our investors expect us to have a return on that investment,” Chapek said at the time.
But tensions among Chapek, Iger and Disney’s board had simmered for years prior to the latest C-suite shakeup. The 71-year-old Iger had steadily undermined Chapek — both publicly and privately — in the days prior to his comeback, sources said.
In July, Insider reported that Iger considered his naming of Chapek as his successor one of his “worst business decisions.”
The relationship between Iger and Chapek reportedly soured while the latter was serving as executive chairman of the board. The two executives clashed over Disney’s internal structure, its political activity and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.