The company's stock jumped on the news, which one analyst described as "magic is back."
Joan E. SolsmanFormer Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
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In a surprise move late Sunday, Walt Disney Co.'s board of directors said it had installed the company's former chief Iger to replace Bob Chapek as CEO, effective immediately. Iger will fill the role for two years, the board said, to "set the strategic direction for renewed growth" and to work with the board, once again, in finding his successor to take over in late 2024.
For audiences, park-goers, families and other Disney fans, Iger's comeback may signal the recovery of some of Disney's classic magical appeal, with proven leadership returning to the company after more than two years of upheaval.
Iger, who spent nearly his entire career at Disney and served as its CEO for 15 years, handed the reins to Chapek in February 2020 -- just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. Iger continued to advise the company as its executive chairman through the end of last year. But in appointing Chapek as CEO, Disney picked the head of its Parks division to lead the company -- unaware that just three weeks later, all its parks and cruises would shut down, movie theaters for its blockbuster films would go dark and Disney Plus, its streaming service launched only four months earlier, would immediately be thrust into greater prominence.
(The Disney executive who spearheaded the development and launch of Disney Plus, which one analyst called "one of the greatest product launches of all time," quit the company a few months after Chapek was chosen as successor.)
Disney's stock leapt Monday morning on the news. Shares were up 10% at $100.54 in recent trading. Like most entertainment and tech stocks, Disney share price has plunged recently, down 40% in the 12 months through Friday's close.
Wall Street analysts were already applauding Iger's return. Michael Nathanson, a widely followed entertainment analyst at MoffettNathanson, upgraded his rating on Disney hours after Iger's return was announced in a note titled "Magic is back."
Chapek's tenure as CEO was marked by not only by unprecedented challenges but also strategic fumbles. Chapek performed an "expert job in managing Disney's Parks through the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic," Nathanson wrote Monday. Chapek brought the Parks business roaring back to become one of the company's most successful divisions most recently, but price increases and other measures there chaffed at some customers who turned to a Disney vacation for a respite during inflation.
Nathanson and other analysts noted that, among Chapek's shortcomings, he oversaw: a misguided move into more general entertainment fare, an internal restructuring that hurt morale and complicated bureaucracy, ham-handed responses to contentious issues like anti-LGBTQ bill in Florida, lethargy coping with cord-cutting's assault on ESPN's business and a failure to adapt Disney's streaming strategy to focus on earning returns on the billions of dollars poured into it.
"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," Susan Arnold, chairman of the board, said in a release announcing the leadership change. "The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period."
Iger, in the same release, said he was "extremely optimistic for the future of this great company."
He added: "Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe -- most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration."