The Untold Truth Of Disney's New CEO Bob Chapek

Disney dropped a bomb on the corporate world in February 2020 by announcing that Bob Iger, the CEO who had run the company for fifteen years and guided them through four major studio acquisitions, was stepping down from the position (via The Hollywood Reporter). Stepping in will be Bob Chapek, the now-former Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. It's been known for some time that Iger was preparing to step down and ultimately retire, but his contract doesn't expire until the end of 2021, so this announcement comes a little earlier than many anticipated. Iger will be acting as executive chairman until the end of his contract.

The change appears to be moving up Iger's departure timeline so he can back off the day-to-day work in favor of other pursuits, and give Chapek some time to, well, train into this gigantic position with some backup from Iger. Being CEO of Disney is one of the highest-profile jobs in the world, and one of the most scrutinized quarter by grinding quarter — especially with the rise of franchise films that must make all of the money, or be considered less-than-successful. Who is Bob Chapek, and what can we anticipate from this whole new world we're all entering as Iger takes his final bow?

Bob Chapek is a midwestern boy with a long history at the House of Mouse

Chapek is from Hammond, Indiana, and in the call to shareholders announcing his ascension to the Disney throne, he described a life-long love affair with all things Disney, borne of his parents taking him to Walt Disney World in Orlando every year when he was a child (via Variety). Being a midwestern boy through and through, Chapek earned his undergrad in (curiously enough) microbiology at Indiana University Bloomington, and then an MBA at Michigan State; he worked in brand management and advertising for H.J. Heinz and J. Walter Thompson before joining Disney in 1993. He started off as an executive for Buena Vista Home Entertainment, at the time the Mouse House's home video arm.

In 2015, Chapek received an honorary doctorate from MSU. He is 60 years old, he's been married for 40 of those years, and has three children. With Iger letting go of the wheel at the age of 69, Chapek has plenty of time to chip out a legacy of his own. Disney has never been bigger or more difficult to conceive as a whole, so one can only hope that the salt-of-the-earth levelheadedness we associate with the midwest will benefit Chapek as he takes the helm.

Bob Chapek has worn many hats at Disney

In his 27 years at the House of Mouse, Chapek has worn many different internal hats. A large chunk of his experience comes from the home entertainment sector of the business, first as president of Buena Vista, and then as president of distribution at Walt Disney Studios overall. This experience will likely assist Chapek in continuing to build Disney+ into a major streaming player, what with streaming being the next evolution of direct-to-consumer content distribution. From there, he ascended to chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media (the retail product and licensing division) in 2011.

All this time, he remained pretty under the radar, as these are lower-level executive positions in nitty-gritty divisions of Disney. That changed in 2015 when he was made chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (this title was changed after a  restructuring in 2018 to Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, when the parks division was merged with Chapek's former division, Consumer Products). Landing that job is what began garnering him major business press. (If you watched any of the big promo videos for the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge installation as it prepared to open, you probably saw Bob Chapek in there somewhere.) This broad base of internal management positions is reportedly considered his greatest strength stepping into the big boss role.

Bob Chapek will have plenty of time to acclimate himself to his new role

Iger may be departing the big job, but his contract with Disney runs through December 31st, 2021. In an interview with CNBC, Iger said that leaving the CEO position now will give him time to put more energy into creative endeavors — like, for example, the massively-important Disney+ MCU slate set to begin in the latter half of 2020 — without having to deal with the day-to-day executive work keeping him busy. Chapek will report directly to Iger until the latter's contract ends, at which time Chapek will be added to the board of directors to make his promotion official.

If there's one glaring gap in Chapek's resume, it's in administration of content creation, so this year-plus that Iger is taking to personally shore up the still-nascent content streams on Disney+ — as well as the new universe phase 4 of the MCU intends to enter — is probably time well spent, and will help teach Chapek these critically important ropes. The parks are very important to the long-term revenue stream at Disney, but the content it owns and generates is what will bring people in and create the demand to add to the parks over time, like it is doing now by overhauling Disney's California Adventure with Marvel and Pixar IP. 

Chapek seems to understand that important correlation well in today's viciously-competitive theme park industry. For all these changes, however, Chapek made sure to note that the ship of Disney state will remain steady: "I intend to double down on the exact same strategies that Bob [Iger] has established 15 years ago that have served us so well," Chapek told Bloomberg TV. "[The] core of everything... is really our creative storytelling." It's a new day at Disney, but it's looking like the more things change, the more they'll remain the same.