Disney CEO Bob Chapek and former CEO Bob Iger have had a falling out and aren’t even on speaking terms, according to CNBC, and their relationship has been unraveling for almost two years.
In February 2020, then-CEO Bob Iger left everyone with their jaws on the floor as he announced his retirement, effective immediately. Though Iger had been working an exit strategy since before 2018, the suddenness of his announcement stunned the world.
— CNBC (@CNBC) February 25, 2020
Having been the long-time front-runner in the search for a successor for the position, Bob Chapek was simultaneously installed as the new CEO of the House of Mouse.
The plan was for Iger to stick around as the company’s executive chairman, directing Disney’s “creative endeavors,” in an effort to help with Chapek’s transition.
“I can’t think of a better person to succeed me in this role,” said Iger on March 11, 2020, during Disney’s annual shareholder meeting. The very next day, the company announced park closures in the United States.
“I’ve watched Bob [Iger] lead this company to amazing new heights,” Chapek said as he returned the compliment, “and I’ve learned an enormous amount from that experience.”
No one could have known that just weeks after Iger’s announcement, Disney would begin to cease operations at its domestic theme parks as the coronavirus pandemic reached the United States.
In mid-April 2020, a post by New York Times media columnist Ben Smith was published after Smith reached Iger by email. According to email communications with Iger, Smith learned that the veteran CEO would stick around to play a role in helping to run the company, rather than throwing Chapek to the wolves.
“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” said Iger in an email to Smith.
But the post made Chapek furious, according to three different sources, per CNBC. Perhaps it came as a complete surprise to the newly-installed CEO. Chapek hadn’t asked for help, and he didn’t want the help. This was the fourth time Iger had postponed his retirement.
Only three days after the New York Times post was published, Disney named Chapek to its board, presumably to help ease tension over Iger’s continued presence and appease the company’s newest top dog.
“Since [the New York Times post was published,] Iger and Chapek haven’t been able to mend their relationship, according to about a dozen people familiar with the matter who spoke with CNBC for this story,” reads a post from CNBC. “The people asked to remain anonymous because the relationship and discussions about it are private.”
CNBC goes on to say that Chapek began making decisions without consulting Iger, even though Chapek was still directly reporting to Iger:
“Chapek began making key decisions about Disney’s future — including a dramatic reorganization of the company and outing actress Scarlett Johansson’s salary following a dispute over her Marvel movie“Black Widow — without Iger’s input. Internal messages about business strategy from both men would sometimes conflict, as it became clear the executives weren’t speaking with one voice, several people noted.”
It’s possible that in “normal” times (a.k.a., “non-COVID” times), Iger and Chapek would have worked more closely together. But the opposite was true, as they barely spoke to each other. Chapek reportedly only trusts a small group of confidants, and they are the ones with whom he makes decisions. They include Kareem Daniel, Chief of Staff Arthur Bochner, and Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy.
Bob Iger, however, was not part of that group.
Before his New Year’s Eve departure from Disney, Iger reportedly threw a going-away party for himself, which was held at his home in Brentwood in Los Angeles. Chapek was in attendance, but there was very little interaction between the two, according to other guests in attendance. Iger and Chapek were seated at opposite tables. Iger sat close to Steven Spielberg, while Chapek sat close to those who report directly to him, including Kareem Daniel.
Iger spoke about his career at Disney in front of his guests. As he praised former colleagues, he barely mentioned Chapek.
“It was extremely awkward,” said one of the guests, again asking to remain anonymous. “The tension was palpable.”
Neither Iger nor Chapek has commented on the status of their relationship to each other.
According to CNBC, Chapek struggles in areas in which Iger has noticeable strength.
“Anyone succeeding Iger, who had been Disney’s CEO since 2005, was going to have a difficult time filling his shoes. Iger was generally beloved by Hollywood and highly respected as a CEO, particularly after orchestrating a series of intellectual property acquisitions — of PIXAR, Marvel, and Lucasfilm — which will likely go down in media history as three of the smartest deals ever.
Chapek, meanwhile, has a harder exterior and at times, according to colleagues, struggles with emotional intelligence — which happens to be Iger’s strength.”
It remains to be seen what will come of the falling out between the only two people to have run the Walt Disney Company since Michael Eisner’s departure in 2005 (sans send-off party). But Iger continues to be well-liked among Disney fans and among Hollywood celebrities. Chapek, on the other hand, has already found himself in a battle with Disney fans who want him gone immediately.