As the Walt Disney Company and Parks find themselves surrounded by seemingly endless controversy, CEO Bob Chapek maintains the helm of the ship, either successfully making it through the treacherous waves of backlash or going down with the ship.
If you have visited the Disney Parks and Resorts in the last few years or been a part of the Disney community in general you will surely know the name, Bob Chapek. Chapek serves as the company’s current CEO, taking over Bob Iger’s multi-decade tenure in early 2020, perhaps the worst time to take over one o the largest corporations in the world.
The exchange of power between Iger and Chapek was swift and came as a bit of a surprise, especially since Bob Chapek ended his position with the company earlier than expected. Now, as reported by CNBC, the relationship between Chapek and Iger is strained after the two had a falling out.
Of course, some of this can be attributed to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulties it caused. Normal times would have most likely allowed Iger and Chapek to work more closely. Iger and Chapek seemed to be ready for the difficult challenge of dealing with a global pandemic together. Back in 2020 during the Walt Disney Company’s Annual Shareholder meeting, Iger said “I can’t think of a better person to succeed me in this role”. Chapek returned the same optimistic view of the future.
One month after these positive comments, then-New York Times columnist Ben Smith published a story after reaching Iger by email where Iger told Smith he would stick around to help run the company, saying “A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!”
Allegedly Chapek was furious when he saw the story and comments. He had not expressed a need or desire for extra help and had not asked for any. At this point, Iger had postponed his retirement as Disney CEO three times already and Chapek felt he was essentially doing it again.
Although a joint effort in running a company during a pandemic would certainly help, “the two executives barely spoke to each other” after this. Apparently, Chapek has a small circle of close confidants with whom he makes and discusses major decisions including longtime right-hand man Kareem Daniel, chief of staff Arthur Bochner, and, to some degree, Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy, whom Iger promoted to the role in 2015, according to people familiar with the situation.
Former CEO Bob Iger was not so lucky as to be included in this circle. Back in December, Iger threw a little “going away” type of party, inviting over 50 people to his Brentwood home in suburban Los Angeles. Iger spoke about and discussed his time at the company among other matters. Also in attendance was Chapek, but according to sources, there was little interaction between the two men during the event.
Guests, including veteran Disney executives and television talents such as broadcasters Robin Roberts, David Muir, and Al Michaels were in attendance with Iger and Chapek reportedly sitting at opposite tables. Chapek sat near several of his direct reports, including Daniel. Iger sat next to film director and mogul Steven Spielberg. While Iger spent about 10 minutes publicly praising former colleagues, he barely mentioned Chapek, said the people.
“It was extremely awkward,” said one of the guests, asking to remain anonymous. “The tension was palpable.” According to CNBC, both Iger and Chapek declined to comment on their relationship with each other.
Bob Iger had an accomplished time at the company and any replacement was surely going to have a difficult time replacing him. Iger was beloved by Hollywood and highly respected as a CEO, both by higher-ups and the Disney community in general. Leading the company during the acquisition of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm also helped solidify Iger as the leader Disney needed at the time.
Chapek, meanwhile, has a harder exterior and at times, according to colleagues, struggles with emotional intelligence — which happens to be Iger’s strength. The fan reception to Chapk has also been quite strained, with many criticizing his choices as CEO and stances on recent controversies like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill.
Although Walt Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida, a majority-conservative state, the Disney theme Parks tend to stay as non-political as possible. Recently, however, there was a bill passed in the Florida House that has the potential to affect thousands of LBGTQ youth in the state, which Disney seemingly and backhandedly supported.
Known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill”, this piece of legislation is as simple as the title. As stated by NPR, “The legislation prohibits any instruction about sexuality or gender between kindergarten and third grade, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
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. A few weeks ago Bob Chapek finally addressed how The Walt Disney Company felt about this bill, saying he and the rest of the company do not support it. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he wanted to address the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying that Disney was “opposed to the bill from the outset”. Chapek also announced the company was pledging $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign in order to help further protect LGBTQ+ communities. In a wild turn of events, the Human Rights Campaign actually announced that it would be rejecting this sizable donation until “more meaningful action was taken” by the company.
The Walt Disney Company is also dealing with the controversy and backlash after a cheer team performed a racist and offensive chant on Main Street U.S.A. in Disney World. While the future looks pretty bright at the DIsney company, especially with the Disney Parks receiving a few brand new rides and attractions, whether or not Chapek will win any more fans over remains to be seen.
How do you feel about the current leadership at The Walt Disney Company? Let us know in the comments below.
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