As controversy continues to surround The Walt Disney Company, its current leadership is standing on increasingly shaky ground.
While The Walt Disney Company has dealt with its fair share of trials, tribulations, and controversies, the firestorm surrounding it right now regarding Florida’s new bill has reached an unprecedented level, with the current CEO’s position possibly hanging in the balance.
As Disney continues to make efforts to further support the LGBTQ+ community after hurting so many in that same community just weeks ago, leadership at the company is in question or at the very least, being criticized. While the Disney Park community has been skeptical of Bob Chapek since the get-go, with new additions like Genie+ not helping, his takeover couldn’t have come at a worse time. Taking the reigns from former CEO Bob Iger in early 2020, folks could’ve settled and given Chapek the benefit of the doubt, after all, running one of the largest corporations in the entire world with a pandemic breaking out is no easy task. But recently, the shadows and legacy of previous CEOs are further looming over Chapek, with the current CEO’s future being brought into question.
For almost four decades, only two CEOs served The Walt Disney Company, being Michael Eisner from 1984 to 2005 and Bob Iger from 2005 to 2020. Now with two years on the job under his belt, Bob Chapek is facing a crisis that has the potential to rival or even topple the issues Eisner faced throughout the 80s and ’90s at the company. After fierce opposition to Chapek’s handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, nearly every facet of the company came out in firm opposition to the bill, making Chapek’s original memo look lackluster, to say the least.
Hundreds of employees also expressed how they felt about Chapek’s stance on the bill, hosting a company-wide walkout. Now, according to The Hollywood Reporter, insiders are speculating about his longevity in the job and who could succeed him (entertainment chief Peter Rice and ex-CFO Tom Staggs would seem to be favorites). The current CEO’s contract is up in 11 months and to put it bluntly, Chapek is not in the best position to be negotiating an extension.
At this point, the controversy and history Chapek has created up until this point seems irredeemable, making it unclear at this point whether Chapek can execute a reset with Disney, staff, and the general public at large. Reportedly, a cartoon hanging in the production offices of The Simpsons seems to suggest a dark fate for Chapek as the leader of The Walt Disney Company, having Chapek in the “In Memoriam” section of the Oscars show. While rather grim, this attitude toward the troubled CEO is not a rare one these days. Our team at Inside the Magic has covered all of the different ways “passionate” Disney fans have shown their love, and hate, for the CEO inside the Parks themselves.
Disney recently postponed an important conference for the company’s management, a retreat if you will, which was set for the last week of March in Orlando, Florida. Coming from The Hollywood Reporter, “This was Chapek’s big moment, post-Iger, to assert his leadership and vision in front of the top 300 execs worldwide,” this person says. “These events at Disney are like political rallies, coronations, sports camps and proms all in one.” The postponement is “not necessarily fatal but very serious and destabilizing,” he says. The event has yet to be rescheduled, but Chapek still held a two-day meeting for investors.
While Chapek and Co. have done a lot to ensure the general public knows how it feels about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the controversy shows no signs of stopping. Just recently, a few Florida legislators got together to discuss repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act of 1967. The Reedy Creek Improvement Act essentially allows Walt Disney World to reside in Florida unregulated, acting as its own “government” in a way. The act involved creating a special taxing district that acts with the same authority as a county government. The legislation made the claim that landowners within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, primarily Walt Disney World, could be allowed to be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc. Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.
Chapek has a critical role to play in the controversy, starting with his memo which did not satisfy the outspoken fans, Guests, and employees when the news of Disney actually backing the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill first broke. Disney preaches inclusivity within its Parks, movies, entertainment, and advertisement, so it may come as a surprise that the company has actually helped to fund supporters of this “don’t say gay” bill. The Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has actually backed anti-gay legislation in Florida for years. Baxley once compared kids with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and abusers, saying: “I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality.”
The next year, The Walt Disney Company wrote Baxley a check, with the most recent one coming in last year.
The degree and specificity to which Disney’s 11-member board is concerned at this point aren’t known. Their numbers include the CEOs of General Motors, Oracle, Nike, Lululemon Athletica and Illumina. “None of them come from the media business,” says a Disney source. “It’s not like [former Warners chairman] Bob Daly or [former Time Warner CEO] Richard Parsons is on the board. I imagine they’d be scared” to replace Chapek. But a longtime executive at the company isn’t so sure. “They’ve got some CEOs on there that I think know when someone’s a problem,” he says, adding pointedly, “The chairman of the board is gay.” (Susan Arnold is the board’s first openly gay chairman.)
With Iger’s departure as executive chairman toward the very end of 2021, Chapek clearly felt that it was time to assert his control. The relationship between Chapek and his fellow employees isn’t the only one strained, with reports coming out that Chapek and former CEO Bob Iger do not exactly get along.
Before he had a chance to really accomplish anything or accumulate a great amount of goodwill, the Florida legislation spearheaded by Gov. Ron DeSantis posed a test. Chapek’s statement that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and that the way to bring about change was “through the inspiring content we produce’’ sparked an immediate backlash, as stated earlier.
Chapek has since then pivoted quite stupendously, now firmly coming out against the new legislation. While one may chalk all this talk about his future at the company to speculation, there is no denying the mark Chapek has left on the company during his two years as CEO. With the company gearing up for the future, Chapek’s role in it is becoming less “set in stone” and more like how a fine drink is often served: on the rocks.
How do you feel about Bob Chapek’s leadership up until this point?
Let the expert team at Academy Travel help you plan your next magical vacation to Disneyland Resort, including Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, and the Downtown Disney District. Or what about Walt Disney World Resort’s four theme parks — Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios — and the Disney Springs shopping and dining district!