Another one bites the dust. After just four months with The Walt Disney Company, Geoff Morrell is out as Disney’s Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer. According to a memo sent to employees, the role will now be filled by relative Disney newcomer, Kristina Schake. Schake made headlines earlier this month when she was named Disney’s Head of Global Communications. She was originally going to report directly to Morrell, but we are now learning that she will be taking his place.
While some may not know Morrell by name, they may know him as the person who leaked the opening of Walt Disney World’s newest roller coaster, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. As an Executive, Morrell was able to ride the attraction early. He shared his excitement for the ride on Twitter in February and said that it would be opening Memorial Day Weekend. Disney had not announced an opening at the time and Morrell quickly deleted the tweet, then sent out the same tweet, without the opening date. Disney did not confirm the Memorial Day Weekend opening until April.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek sent the following memo to employees, announcing Morrell’s departure. The memo was shared with Deadline:
I am writing to share the news that Geoff Morrell, our Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing leadership team—including relatively new all-star hires—means there is no shortage of talent to guide our reputation-driving functions. With Geoff’s departure, I am pleased to share the following changes:
First, Kristina Schake will lead The Walt Disney Company’s communications efforts, serving as our Executive Vice President, Global Communications reporting directly to me. In this expanded role, Kristina will have oversight for corporate and segment communications and continue to be our chief spokesperson. Our business segment and content communications leads will continue to dual report to both division leadership and corporate communications, now led by Kristina.
We are incredibly fortunate to have Kristina with us at this important time. Her 30-plus years of experience includes roles leading President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine education program, communications for Instagram, and leadership positions in political campaigns and the Obama White House. Kristina has a strategic approach and collaborative style, as well as relentless optimism and a strong appreciation of our brand and its place in the world. These attributes will be invaluable as she works to protect and enhance our reputation, and I am thrilled to be working with her more closely.
Next, Government Relations and Global Public Policy will now be led by our General Counsel, Horacio Gutierrez. Since joining the company earlier this year, Horacio has integrated seamlessly into the Disney family, and has quickly become a valued advisor to me and the leadership team on a wide range of issues. His extensive experience leading these areas will be incredibly useful in driving our efforts.
In addition to his current direct reports, Susan Fox, Senior Vice President for Government Relations, and Yvonne Pei, Senior Vice President, External Relations, Greater China, will join Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy, in reporting directly to Horacio.
Finally, Jenny Cohen, Executive Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, will now report solely to me in her role leading our CSR and ESG efforts. Jenny is a strong leader, and has done incredible work modernizing our approach in key areas like environmental sustainability, community investment, and philanthropy.
I am incredibly confident in this team, and look forward to working with them and all of our leadership to set Disney’s course for the next 100 years of extraordinary entertainment and experiences.
Disney’s communications team, which until now was led by Morrell, had been struggling for weeks. Many were criticizing the company for its lack of a statement on Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill — also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The company stayed quiet and only spoke out after mounting pressure. Even though they spoke out, many felt that it was too late and that the company they loved didn’t support them. There were a number of walkouts and protests.
Disney’s choice to make a firm statement against the bill only led to a new set of problems. Its denunciation of the bill angered Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his fellow Florida Republicans. They were so upset that they created and passed a bill dissolving Reedy Creek and stripping Disney of its self-governing powers starting in 2023. The legality of the bill is still being debated. To many insiders, Morrell’s departure had been looming on the horizon for some time.
Morrell also sent an email to employees, saying, “After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons it is not the right fit.”