Tribune News Service
Walt Disney Co.’s appointment of theme parks boss Bob Chapek as its new chief executive, replacing Bob Iger, took Hollywood and Wall Street by surprise. The decision, announced Tuesday, ended nagging speculation about the succession plan for Iger.
But the sudden move also raised new questions — why now, and why Chapek? Many analysts and Hollywood insiders had thought the job would go to Disney’s hard-charging direct-to-consumer chairman, Kevin Mayer, who oversees the company’s streaming efforts, including Disney+, ESPN+ and Hulu.
But the Disney board instead chose Chapek, a 27-year veteran of the Burbank-based company, who brings a straightforward managerial style and deep operational experience across key Disney businesses, including theme parks, consumer products, home entertainment and film distribution.
People who have worked with Chapek said that he is focused, driven and passionate about Disney’s products and culture.
As head of Disney’s parks, experiences and products segment, Chapek (pronounced Chay-peck) oversaw 170,000 employees and led massive expansions with “Star Wars” attractions in Anaheim and Orlando. His portfolio also included a global cruise ship business and toys. He speaks fluent Disney, having spent three decades immersed in the company’s brands and iconic culture.
In a call with analysts, Chapek said his parents, a World War II veteran and a working mother in Hammond, Ind., took him to Walt Disney World in Orlando every year. “That’s where I first developed a deep love for Disney and all that it stands for,” he said. He’s now become only the seventh chief executive in the 100-year history of the company.
Despite the surprise of the announcement, analysts praised Chapek as a logical choice.
“He understands the business from an international perspective, an operating perspective, the development side, and from a business perspective,” said Bill Coan, chief executive of Itec Entertainment, a developer of theme park attractions and a former Walt Disney Imagineering employee. “It’s been his job to take the Pixar brand, the Marvel brand and the ‘Star Wars’ brand, and make it function across all these businesses, and we think he’s been very successful at that.” Yet, the 60-year-old executive, who studied microbiology in college and got an MBA from Michigan State University, lacks direct experience with two of the company’s most important segments: television and streaming. Chapek faces several immediate challenges on both fronts, including the expansion of its streaming services and the continued erosion of the traditional television business, long fueled by ESPN profits.
And while he’s held major roles on the business end of the company’s film studio, he has not overseen the creative parts of movie-making. On the parks side, the coronavirus is expected to hit profits at Disney’s parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong, Disney has said. The outbreak also has raised questions about next month’s release of the much-anticipated live action remake of “Mulan.” Additionally, Chapek will have to deal with the pressure of living up to Iger, who is leaving on a high note. Disney’s movie studio posted a record year at the box office. Iger transformed the company through acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.