Disney Leadership Forced Out of Company, Restructuring Begins

in Disney, Entertainment

Disney CEO Bob Iger with Mickey Mouse

Credit: Inside the Magic

Ever since we saw Bob Iger return as Disney CEO, the executive team at The Walt Disney Company has undergone a massive shakeup. Now, another lead executive has been required to exit the company.

Bob Iger presenting at the D23 Expo 2019
Credit: Nagi Usano, Flickr

Bob Iger’s reign as CEO of The Walt Disney Company, stretching from 2005 to 2020 (with an initial end date), stands as a period of remarkable transformation and growth. His leadership secured Disney’s position as an undisputed titan of global entertainment through a series of strategic acquisitions and ambitious expansions.

One of Iger’s earliest triumphs was the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios in 2006. This masterstroke brought visionary talents like John Lasseter and Ed Catmull into the Disney fold, ushering in a new era of animated storytelling excellence.

Pixar’s immensely successful films, including Toy Story, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Inside Out, Coco, Up, Cars, and countless others, seamlessly integrate into the fabric of Disney’s global theme parks. Guests now experience these beloved characters and stories in immersive ways, solidifying the emotional connection between Disney and generations of audiences.

In 2009, Iger orchestrated another landmark acquisition – Marvel Entertainment. This strategic move not only bolstered Disney’s content library with a vast array of cherished characters and franchises but also laid the groundwork for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The MCU, a meticulously crafted and interconnected series of films and television shows, has become a juggernaut of global success. While the expansion of this universe onto Disney+ falls outside the scope of Iger’s initial tenure, it serves as a testament to the enduring power of his vision.

Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Current Disney CEO Bob Iger in front of a blue background saying The Walt Disney Company
Credit: Disney

The acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012 further expanded Disney’s content library with the iconic Star Wars franchise. This move unlocked a treasure trove of storytelling opportunities across various media platforms. Today, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Batuu (both at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disneyland Park) allows fans to physically immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe.

Additionally, in-depth explorations of beloved characters through shows like Ahsoka, The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and more, have further enriched the Star Wars legacy.

Beyond content creation, Iger’s leadership extended to significant expansions in Disney’s theme park business. The opening of the Shanghai Disney Resort in 2016 marked Disney’s successful entry into the massive mainland Chinese market. While this landmark opening stands as a major achievement in itself, Iger’s tenure also saw the development and launch of numerous new lands, attractions, and shows across Disney’s global parks.

One of the most transformative moves of Iger’s later years involved a strategic shift towards a direct-to-consumer approach. This vision materialized in the launch of Disney+ in 2019, Disney’s own streaming service. Under Iger’s leadership, Disney+ has established itself as a major player in the streaming landscape, currently ranking as the third-largest platform behind Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Despite these accomplishments, Iger’s tenure was not without challenges. Succession planning became a focal point, with the initial announcement of his retirement in 2016 followed by a delay in the transition. This period of uncertainty cast a shadow over the future leadership of the company.

Bob Iger (L) and Bob Chapek (R) at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
Credit: Disney

In 2020, Bob Chapek took the reins as CEO, with Iger transitioning to the role of Executive Chairman. However, in a surprising turn of events, the Disney community received a shock in November 2022 with the announcement of Iger’s return as CEO. As it stands currently, his tenure will extend through 2026.

Upon his return to the CEO position in 2023, Bob Iger oversaw a company-wide workforce reduction initiative aimed at streamlining operations and achieving significant cost savings. This initiative resulted in the elimination of approximately 7,000 positions, representing 3.2% of Disney’s global workforce of roughly 220,000 employees as of October 1, 2022.

The focus of these layoffs primarily fell on the media divisions, with the theme park sector largely unaffected. While the company acknowledges plans for further international workforce reductions in the future, the initial benchmark established in February 2023 has now been completed.

This initiative aligns with Disney’s broader goal of achieving $5.5 billion in cost savings. Of this target, $2.5 billion is attributed to “non-content costs,” which encompass labor expenses. Importantly, $1 billion of these targeted cost reductions were already underway prior to Iger’s return in February.

Iger’s return also confirmed the leave of Kareem Daniel, previously chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. Daniel was seen as a close ally of Chapek and left the company shortly after Iger’s return. Also, Arthur Bochner, Chapek’s former chief of staff and vice president of strategic communications, exited Disney following Iger’s return. These are two of many leaves that have taken place over the past year.

Credit: Disney (left and right)

Now, it has been confirmed that Lisa Valentino, a senior executive at Disney Advertising Sales known for spearheading several of the division’s digital initiatives, has departed from the company, according to sources familiar with the situation. This change comes amid Disney’s ongoing “upfront” discussions with advertisers.

Valentino was in her second tenure at Disney, most recently serving as executive vice president of category sales and client solutions. She had been instrumental in promoting Disney’s latest ad-tech innovations to clients, including new methods for measuring audiences and enhancing advertisers’ ability to reach these audiences with precision through “addressable” formats.

Her departure is reportedly part of a planned reorganization of the advertising sales team, according to one of the sources.

“Any employee impacted by a reorganization that has access to confidential information would be required to exit,” Disney Advertising said in a statement provided to Variety.

From this, it seems that Lisa had no choice but to leave.

Billionaire Nelson Peltz looking angry at Disney CEO Bob Iger in front of the Disney Board of Directors building.
Image Credit: Inside The Magic

Disney has been having issues when it comes to their leadership team a lot this year, especially after the coup from Nelson Peltz.

In early 2024, Nelson Peltz, an activist investor, and The Walt Disney Company became embroiled in a public dispute. Peltz, who owns a sizeable stake in Disney through his firm Trian Partners, believed the company needed a leadership shakeup. He criticized Disney’s performance in areas like streaming and its plans for CEO succession after Bob Iger.

Peltz’s campaign culminated in a proxy fight. This is a process where shareholders vote on who will sit on the company’s board of directors. Disney, unsurprisingly, defended its leadership and vision for the future.

In April 2024, shareholders overwhelmingly sided with Disney, rejecting Peltz’s bid for a board seat. This was a significant victory for CEO Bob Iger and the current board.

While Peltz didn’t win a board seat, the entire saga did have a positive financial impact for him. Disney’s stock price rose considerably during the campaign, meaning Peltz likely saw a substantial gain on his investment despite the defeat.

Now, the focus has shifted back to Disney. The company has promised to improve its streaming service, boost box office performance, and develop a clear strategy for ESPN’s digital future. Investors will be watching closely to see if Disney can deliver on these promises.

Who do you think will replace Bob Iger when he leaves Disney for good?

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