In February 2020, Bob Iger officially stepped down from his role as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. In his place was Bob Chapek — the former Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Bob Iger was one of the most popular CEOs Disney had ever had, so Chapek had some pretty big shoes to fill. Chapek’s appointment was questioned from the start, as some believed that it was a hindrance that he had no creative experience and was going to lead one of the most creative companies in the world.
Unfortunately, Chapek’s two years with the company have been marred by a pandemic and a series of missteps that have made him increasingly unpopular with Cast Members and Guests alike.
Chapek’s contract will be up with Disney in just eleven months, and there are some Disney insiders who think that, if Chapek continues down the path he is currently on, his contract will not be renewed. Those insiders spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on the condition of anonymity and spoke about how Chapek was viewed within the company. Per The Hollywood Reporter:
The last-minute postponement of the company’s management retreat, set for Orlando the last week of March, struck one Disney veteran as ominous. “This was Chapek’s big moment, post Iger, to assert his leadership and vision in front of the top 300 execs worldwide,” this person says. “These events at Disney are like political rallies, coronations, sports camps and proms all in one.” The postponement is “not necessarily fatal but very serious and destabilizing,” he says. The event has yet to be rescheduled, but Chapek still held a two-day meeting for investors.
The fallout over Chapek’s initial position on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which was to not take a position, added to the growing unease within Disney and in the creative community about Chapek’s leadership. He is known as a top-down manager, more of a talker than a listener. “It’s funny how many people have said to me, ‘It’s such a giant mess, but I’m not surprised,’” says another longtime Disney insider. “That’s part of what makes it difficult to recover from.”
While many Guests, Disney fans, and Cast Members may want to see Disney CEO gone — a Change.org petition for his removal has over 100,000 signatures — that decision ultimately lies with Disney’s Board of Directors. The Board is made up of mainly former CEOs who have never run a creative media company. However, according to one of the insiders, some of those same CEOs are well aware that there is a problem with Chapek’s leadership.
One of the biggest issues facing Chapek right now is his handling of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill — also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. The company’s original decision to remain quiet was the first major decision Chapek made after Bob Iger fully retired, and no longer had the title of Executive Chairman. The move angered thousands of Cast Members, who walked off of the job in protest. The insider also pointed out the issues that Chapek’s decision had on the Board — which is run by Susan Arnold, who is openly gay.
While Chapek eventually backtracked and said that Disney was opposed to the bill from the start, that only happened after other major Disney players — including former CEO Bob Iger — spoke out against the bill. Disney’s eventual statement has put Bob Chapek in the position of having both sides angry at him at the same time. One unnamed executive — not associated with Disney — said that Disney could have spoken up since the beginning because there was really nothing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis could do about it.
There is a lot on the line for CEO Bob Chapek over these next eleven months. Many feel that, if he truly wants to be the LGBTQ+ ally he claims to be, then he will stop the company’s move from California to Lake Nona, Florida. Lake Nona is set to be Disney’s new Imagineering hub, and Florida was going to give the company a huge tax break for moving. However, many Imagineers and fellow Disney employees spoke out against the move, and some major creatives at Disney quit.
Chapek has not indicated that he intends to pause the Lake Nona move. But with his career with Disney on the line — as these insiders believe it is — it would not be surprising to imagine that he is carefully thinking about all of his options.