DIS & Dreams Event - Disneyland Resort in California
August 4 - 5, 2023

A CEO with One Foot Out the Door; Disney’s Hero or Hindrance?


Bob Iger has been squarely anchored back in the big chair for a while now at the Walt Disney Company, with almost two months under his belt as the returning hero in Disney’s PR nightmare story. However, as many have been rejoicing in his presence, or should I say, a lack of Bob Chapek’s presence, I’ve stopped to wonder if this is the big shake-up Disney fans were hoping for or perhaps a hindrance in the grand scheme of things. Let me explain.

In those first moments of last November’s shock (then, thought to be) resignation (now known to be) firing, Iger’s familiar face appeared when the news broke about the management change at Disney. That warm-hearted smile had a few fans believing that some delusional version of Disney Parks would soon be on its way.

One where Genie+ is never seen again, ticket prices are lowered to an all-time, impossible low, and crowd management prevents lines from being too long. That is, while simultaneously removing reservations and all crowd-control tactics.

Bob Iger and Bob Chapek

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Disney isn’t in a position to do a double take on the last ten years of investment, especially when the parks are currently the only profitable avenue for the company. Instead, they are making a combination of token changes in the parks and shaking things up in-house, with Iger attempting the impossible; to effect the most significant amount of change without upsetting anyone or attracting any negative press. The whole situation had me looking at Iger himself and wondering, why?

Even though some underrated stylists out there made the decision several years ago to soften Iger’s public image, taking off the sharp suit of corporate status and replacing it with a personable and familiar warmth of a cable-knit sweater, the Disney CEO’s position and responsibilities have not changed.

The job is to manage a company across the entertainment sector in all avenues and support its financial advancement into the future. And it’s a role that will never look pretty from the outside, even if the lead character is played by someone who looks like everyone’s favorite stylish Grandfather.

I never thought much of Chapek’s specific business decisions, though one thing I can say for the guy is that he did seem to be traveling in a forward-thinking direction, albeit an unpopular one. Chapek’s Disney wasn’t the version we see now, but a future one less inhibited by today’s financial struggles. The expectations and needs of the market he served changed so drastically from his appointment pre-covid to his later demise that I think it would have been interesting to see his strategy play out in a non-pandemic world.

On the other hand, Iger enjoyed the glory of skipping that, not tarred with being the uncomfortable face of a corporation that had to disappoint its client base with closures, restrictions, and changes. While he now sits back on the throne, I’m curious about how far-reaching Iger’s recovery plan is. As people, we historically don’t enjoy a grand-scale change making adjusting the rudder on this enormous corporation’s ship a scary one in the public eye.

Since Iger already had his foot out the door several times before Chapek was appointed successor, I worry that the new Bob’s input will be limited to a stop-gap solution rather than the ground-up style change needed to take Disney into the next generation. How much change can Iger implement in this short two-year term while being scrutinized in every step he takes? Even an argyle sweater vest can’t soften the blow of public opinion.

The Walt Disney Company

If reports are accurate and Iger has been swayed back into the Disney fold with an overinflated bonus paycheck, then exactly how different to Chapek is he? The tale of two Bobs is a complicated one, especially when you consider the viewpoint of the current/former CEO, who had a birdseye view of exactly how his replacement conducted business when he was chosen to lead the company into the future. Bob Iger now has a very short-term reprisal with a seemingly Teflon shield regarding responsibility for his choice of replacement.

One question still remains, are these problematic changes a necessary evil? Iger’s Disney just yesterday announced the return of free resort parking, though this was one of many perks taken away under his own watch back in 2018. These small tokens of Disney affection are appreciated, absolutely. Still, they are they really making the big changes that will bring Disney into a new era with all their fans in tow, or are they biding time until the next CEO makes a big move?

Josh D’Amaro, Disney Parks Chairman, told the New York Times about the changes, “This is not necessarily about a change in leadership. I have a lot of face-to-face conversations with guests when I’m walking the parks, and I read a lot of their comments online.” D’Amaro went on to say that he had been listening to guests, and the company was making changes in line with guest feedback. To me, this reinforces that while Iger has made his golden return, he has the pleasure of enjoying the spotlight in announcing these positive changes while having what seems to be little to do with their implementation.

Josh DAmaro at D23

The shortlist of those on track to potentially take the reins from Iger is long and somewhat speculative. Some say Christine McCarthy is a top contender for the spot, while some fans are pushing for younger blood with a passion for the parks, like Josh D’Amaro. Whatever direction Disney decide to go, they need someone who is committed for the long haul to make slow and meaningful changes for a steady and supported result.

Disney needs to stop exploiting the profit margin on the parks to cope with the over-expenditure in its content creation departments, and I believe they are taking steps to do so. However, I can’t help but wonder if the significant changes required to make this move are possible under a returning CEO with his eyes already on the door. When will we see a steady, long-term leadership system in place that starts acting, instead of reacting?

Zoë Wood is a travel writer from Sydney, Australia. Since her first visit to Disneyland at the age of 6, she has spent her years frequently visiting Disney Parks and traveling around the world.

Join Zoë as she lets you in on all the tips, tricks, anecdotes, and embarrassments that arise from her family adventures.


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