31 years ago, Disney produced a cute little comedy called WHAT ABOUT BOB?, which starred the reliable Bill Murray as someone who simply wouldn’t go away, even when his analyst (the sardonic Richard Dreyfuss) tried to go on a family vacation. Ever popular among everyone else in his analyst’s circle of friends and family, Bob would endearingly show up, be appreciated, and leave viewers wonder how someone could be so selfish as to not want him around.
Bob Iger’s kind of had that sort of reputation among everyone who used to work with and for him at Disney since he ceded his CEO stripes eaerly in 2020, showing up at media conferences and during a tour for his autobiography THE RIDE OF A LIFETIME . In that book, Iger chronicles his rise through the ABC of the Roone Arledge and Capital Cities eras through its 1995 acquisition by the Walt Disney Company, one that he’d eventually wind up running a decade later and then spearhead through a 15-year tenure that saw, among other accomplishments, the acquisitions of Marvel, Pixar and, eventually, 20th Century Fox, not to mention a revolutionary content deal with Apple that all but created the concept of video content on devices and laid the foundation for multiscreen distribution as we know it.
His replacement, Bob Chapek, had the unfortunate timing of not only following such a prolific predecessor, but also had to face a global pandemic not too long after he took over, and was overseeing a much-awaited launch of a Disney-centric streaming service that was busy aggregating those brands which Iger acquired, as well as the valuable Disney brand he inherited, as the content pillars that would differentiate what became known as Disney+ from the Walmart-like platforms of Netflix, Prime Video, and even its quasi-corporate sibling, Hulu.
Chapek, who had risen through the theme parks division of Disney, had minimal creative experience on his resume, but could rely upon the walled garden of a theme park to drive price points upward and pad his accomplishments accordingly. So his way of approaching talent and content was understandably less sensitive than Iger’s, who began in production and is married to a journalist. He’s a different kind of Bob, to be sure. And, as his track record demonstrated, not necessarily as adept.
He was chosen for this gig by Iger, but only after Iger’s tebacity chased away the likes of Kevin Mayer, who merely developed the infrastructure of Disney+ and subsequently went on to bring Tik Tok to America. Chapek’s perceived strength was fiscal responsbility, and he immediately tried to exercise that power, impact be damned. He streamlined his distribution group and placed it under the leadership of a consumer product executive with neglible sales experience, unlike the ones he replaced who had driven billions of dollars in incremental income for decades. His determination to drive scale to streaming resulted in very public clashes with Scarlett Johanssen and several top animation directors, among others, who questioned both how much content was being pivoted to streaming and how much Disney was willing to pay them for it. And while he tenaciously continued to be pugnacious with creatives, he somehow remained silent while Florida governor Ron DeSantis rolled out a culture war agenda that eventually passed a “Don’t Say Gay” law that many of those already ticked off creatives urged that he SHOULD take an aggressive response to.
I, for one, previously argued that if for no other reason than to show solidarity for the people that are the actual chefs in the kitchen, not the waiters and busboys who serve it, that Chapek should have at least considered the potential of moving some of Disney World, and the thousands of well-paying jobs it provides Floridians, to another state that wasn’t as hell bent on writing into law such a politically motivated agenda. The timing of such a move with DeSantis seeking reelection would have, at the very least, perhaps slowed some of the momentum and traction DeSantis was gaining among his supporters. They may be fans of the kind of Disney that used to exist in a bubble, but they are far more likely to be fans of earning a living so they can afford to visit it.
Instead, Chapek, and the Disney he has overseen, remained silent, while DeSantis not only won reelection handily, but is now seeking the presidency as a leading candidate for the Replublican nomination, already a favorite among that company that owns what’s left of Fox that Disney didn’t acquire. Effectively giving DeSantis a wider pulpit for his “Don’t Say Gay” rhetoric.
Now Chapek, while CEO, answered into a board whose chairman, replacing Iger, was one Susan Arnold. Please read carefully the last line of her Wikipedia biography:
She is an operating executive of The Carlyle Group, an equity investment firm, since September 2013. She is based in New York. Arnold has served on the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company since 2007, as well as the Carlyle portfolio investments company NBTY, The Nature’s Bounty Co. She has also been a member of the Board of Directors of McDonald’s Co. since 2008. In 2004 she became Vice Chairman of Procter & Gamble and President of the company in 2007. She had joined Procter & Gamble in 1980 and held several management and marketing positions before becoming the manager of Procter & Gamble’s cosmetics business in Canada in 1990. In 1999, she assumed global responsibility for Procter & Gamble’s beauty business, thereby becoming the first woman to reach a president-level position in the company. She retired from Procter & Gamble on September 1, 2009. According to Forbes, Susan Arnold got her start as a brand assistant on the Dawn/Ivory Snow Group.
Since 2002, she has been listed on Fortune magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business as #7 in 2008. In 2004 and 2005, she was listed on the Wall Street Journal‘s 50 Women to Watch. She was listed multiple times on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Powerful Women and in 2005 she was #16 on Forbes‘ The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list. She served for several years on the executive committee of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization working toward the advancement of women in business. In June 2022, she was recognized by the International Hospitality Institute on the Global 100 in Hospitality as one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Global Hospitality.
Susan Arnold just happened to be the author of the release that shocked the media world last night announcing Bob Iger’s return to the CEO position of the Walt Disney Company for a minimum of two years, as well as thanking Bob Chapek for his service for the past three years.
I’m not necessarily implying that the silence that Chapek’s Disney chose to offer in light of Ron DeSantis’ culture wars was the last straw. Suffice to say, it likely didn’t help.
Rule One of any effective CEO is make your shareholders happy. Rule Two is make your boss happy. Rule Three is make your employees respect you. Chapek didn’t do all that hot on Two and Three.
Over the last 52 weeks, Disney’s stock price has dropped from $155.88 to $91.80. He didn’t do all that hot with Rule One, either, it would appear.
So new Bob is leaving, to be sure, with a freshly signed three-year contract that will be paid out, so he can afford his theme park’s prices even if he doesn’t get a lifetime pass as part of his exit packahe. And old Bob is back, with dozens of directors and performers, as well as some current Disney employees, believing this was as good a reason to give thanks than they could have hoped for from turkey and stuffing later this week.
This all doesn’t impact me directly, though many I know and like will be affected, hopefully positively. That said, I’m personally overjoyed that at least one company out there values the importance and value of someone with a proven track record of success who happens to share many of the same demographics and lifestyle choices that I do.
Maybe I’ll have a reason to give thanks soon as well?
Until next time…