With Bob Iger agreeing to stay on as Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company for a few more years, Disney has bought itself some time to find a new executive, but the search for an heir apparent has been unsuccessful thus far, as evidenced by Iger having lengthened his time on multiple occasions (he was originally slated to step down later this year, before his term was extended to 2019 and then again to 2021 or 2022). Here are some things the board should be looking for in its next leader, from the point of view of a Disney fan:
1) Understanding the Beast
Running Disney is not like running just any other major corporation. The history and wide-ranging enterprises of the company are such that it is vital for the next CEO to understand exactly what Disney means to people. While other companies make movies and have theme parks, there is nothing on the level of Disney when it comes to film, television, music, consumer products, theme parks, hotels, cruise ships, and other vacation experiences — all with family-friendly entertainment values in mind. The CEO of Disney needs to be fully aware of the nostalgia and excitement millions of people feel when they hear “Disney” or “Mickey Mouse;” in essence, the next Disney CEO needs to be a Disney fan and have an idea of what the entire brand represents to people around the world.
2) Business Strength
With all that being said, Disney is first and foremost a profit-seeking business entity. The next chief executive will need to be someone who can give shareholders a positive return on investment. Bob Iger brought in Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm to the Disney fold, generating billions of dollars at the box office and creating opportunities for global marketing and park attractions, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pixar-themed attractions and lands seemingly everywhere, and the expansion of Marvel’s presence on both coasts; not to mention the recently announced acquisition of Fox’s movie studio and the implementation of MyMagic+ at Walt Disney World. The next CEO will have big shoes to fill in growing the Disney umbrella and continuing the innovation for which Disney has been famous for years.
3) Commitment to Employee Welfare
Even though profits are hitting all-time highs and the parks are now crowded almost every single day of the year, Disney has conveniently forgotten who truly makes the magic for families on their vacations: Cast Members. From disputes over raising hourly wages by 50 cents because of a difference between dancing and “stylized walking,” to laughable offers in the ongoing union negotiations while executives in Burbank are making millions of dollars in bonuses, Disney’s true colors are beginning to show in its treatment of front-line employees. The Disney experience would be nothing for families if not for Cast Member interactions. People love coming to Disney parks and resorts for theming and storytelling, but nothing quite tops seeing a Cast Member go above and beyond to help make someone’s visit a little more magical. Disney holds its employees to an incredibly high standard of service and friendliness yet continues to pay them insufficient wages. The next CEO needs to stand firm with the Cast Members and offer real wage increases and increased perks and benefits, not just one-time bonuses to sweeten the pot during union negotiations.
4) Stop the Cost-Cutting and Upselling in the Parks
As mentioned earlier, Disney’s profits have never been stronger, yet there has been growing outrage about the company’s cost-cutting tactics coupled with dramatic price increases and add-on experiences. For example, the Tomorrowland FEMA tent fiasco caused tremendous uproar among the fan community, and the ripoff nature of the overpriced buffet at Hollywood and Slime with character interaction has been well-documented on the DIS Unplugged for quite some time. Upsells like extra Fastpass+ selections for club level guests and expensive nighttime spectacular dinner packages have priced out many people from being able to have various #AmazingExperiences in the parks. Meanwhile, monorail doors are failing to close, pieces of the monorail are falling off and almost hitting people, and animatronics in Disney’s theme parks around the world are literally losing their heads. Disney needs to recommit itself to providing the best family entertainment and vacation experience to its customers and allowing more people to enjoy all that its parks have had to offer for generations of families.
Of course, there are other qualities that the board should review in potential CEO candidates, but this list is simply from a fan’s perspective after seeing what has happened — the good and the bad — during the tenure of Bob Iger. Hopefully these attributes are on the list, but Iger has made clear that he will not leave until a suitable replacement is determined, meaning we can all breathe a little bit more easily with the thought of a high-character person taking over the largest media and entertainment company in the world.