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Bob Iger returns as Disney CEO effective immediately, replacing Bob Chapek; shares spike

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Bob Iger poses with Mickey Mouse attends Mickey’s 90th Spectacular at The Shrine Auditorium on October 6, 2018 in Los Angeles.
Valerie Macon | AFP | Getty Images

Bob Iger is back.

Disneycame under fire for his management of the entertainment giant.

“It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement — that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer,” Iger wrote to employees in an email, which was obtained by CNBC.

The dramatic upheaval comes 11 months after Iger left Disney, and days after Chapek said he planned to cut costs at the company, which had been burdened by swelling costs at its streaming service, Disney+. Earlier this month, the company’s earnings vastly underperformed Wall Street’s expectations. Even its theme park business, which reported a surge in revenue, delivered less than what analysts had projected.

Iger’s return also comes as legacy media companies contend with a rapidly shifting landscape, as ad dollars dry up and consumers increasingly cut off their cable subscriptions in favor of streaming.

Iger will help the company’s board develop a new successor, Disney said in a release.

Chapek was named chief executive in February 2020, succeeding Iger, who had previously said he wouldn’t return to the role.

Shares of Disney have fallen about 41% so far this year, as of Friday’s close. The stock hit a 52-week low Nov. 9.

Iger has signed on to work as CEO for two years, Disney said Sunday, “with a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term.”

The company said Chapek stepped down. Soon after Chapek took over in 2020, Covid-19 became a pandemic and forced the shutdown of Disney’s theme parks and prevented it, for a time, from releasing movies in theaters. Nevertheless, the company’s stock soared in 2021, before crashing down to earth in recent months.

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Disney’s board chair. She will remain in that role.

Chapek, whose contract as CEO was extended earlier this year, planned a hiring freeze, cost cuts and layoffs across the company, according to a memo CNBC obtained earlier this month. The internal memo came three days after the company’s poor quarterly earnings report.

Iger, who held the CEO role for 15 years at Disney, had favored Chapek as his successor. The two ultimately had a falling out, and their conflict cast a shadow over the company’s future. Chapek distanced himself from Iger with a series of decisions, including his new approach to streaming prices for Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+.

Iger is a widely respected and liked figure at Disney. He oversaw its deals to acquire Pixar, Lucasfilm and its “Star Wars” properties, and Marvel – all of which have become multi-billion-dollar intellectual property behemoths.

Chapek, meanwhile, angered employees with his initial silence about the “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida, where the company’s Walt Disney World resort is located. He then received blowback from Republican politicians, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for opposing it. Earlier this month, CNBC reported that Chapek had been in touch with Republican leaders in preparation for the GOP taking over the House.

Chapek also was criticized for his handling of the controversy over Scarlett Johansson’s pay for her work in the Marvel movie “Black Widow.”

Read Iger’s email to Disney employees here:

Dear Fellow Employees and Cast Members,

It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility–and, I must admit, a bit of amazement–that I write to you this evening with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as Chief Executive Officer.

When I look at the creative success of our teams across our Studios, Disney General Entertainment, ESPN and International, the rapid growth of our streaming services, the phenomenal reimagining and rebound of our Parks, the continued great work of ABC News, and so many other achievements across our businesses, I am in awe of your accomplishments and I am excited to embark with you on many new endeavors.

I know this company has asked so much of you during the past three years, and these times certainly remain quite challenging, but as you have heard me say before, I am an optimist, and if I learned one thing from my years at Disney, it is that even in the face of uncertainty–perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty–our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible.

You will be hearing more from me and your leaders tomorrow and in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, allow me to express my deep gratitude for all that you do. Disney holds a special place in the hearts of people around the globe thanks to you, and your dedication to this company and its mission to bring joy to people through great storytelling is an inspiration to me every single day.

Bob Iger

Read Disney’s full announcement here:

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) announced today that Robert A. Iger is returning to lead Disney as Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately. Mr. Iger, who spent more than four decades at the Company, including 15 years as its CEO, has agreed to serve as Disney’s CEO for two years, with a mandate from the Board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term. Mr. Iger succeeds Bob Chapek, who has stepped down from his position.

“We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic,” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board. “The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period.”

“Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide–all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,” she said.

The position of Chairman of the Board remains unchanged, with Ms. Arnold serving in that capacity.

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Mr. Iger said. “Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe–most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration. I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.

“During his 15 years as CEO, from 2005 to 2020, Mr. Iger helped build Disney into one of the world’s most successful and admired media and entertainment companies with a strategic vision focused on creative excellence, technological innovation and international growth. He expanded on Disney’s legacy of unparalleled storytelling with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company’s market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO. Mr. Iger continued to direct Disney’s creative endeavors until his departure as Executive Chairman last December, and the Company’s robust pipeline of content is a testament to his leadership and vision.”

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