Feb 26, 2020 - Economy

Bob Iger stuns media world with sudden departure as Disney CEO

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

In a move that shocked the media industry, Bob Iger said Tuesday he would step down from his role as CEO of the Walt Disney Company after leading the entertainment giant to unprecedented success during his 15-year run in the job.

Why it matters: Iger is credited with having successfully led Disney through a series of risky but highly successful acquisitions that not only solidified the company's entertainment dominance, but also ultimately reshaped the entire media landscape.

Data: Yahoo Finance; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The big picture: Iger successfully turned around Disney’s animation and studio businesses — and led it through the strategic acquisition of Marvel, Pixar, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.

  • Most recently, he was the person behind its foray into the streaming era through the creation of the company's Netflix rival, Disney+.
  • He also launched Disney's largest theme park in Shanghai, further expanding the company's global footprint. He worked to build up its business in China, where the country now gets a sizable chunk of its box office revenues.

Iger, originally a weatherman turned ABC sports producer, also leaves a lasting sports legacy, having led ESPN through the cord-cutting era.

  • He is responsible for bringing ESPN to streaming, launching ESPN+ in April 2018. 
  • Today, it boasts more than 7 million subscribers, a feat for any subscription service, let alone one that focuses solely on sports. 

Be smart: Iger touched nearly every part of Disney over his tenure, and now says he's handing over the reins to an unexpected successor, naming longtime parks and resorts executive Bob Chapek as the next chief executive, effective immediately.

  • Chapek was hardly considered a shoo-in for the role. Kevin Mayer, who runs Disney's streaming business, was considered to be a logical successor to Iger, given the current media landscape.

Yes, but: Iger isn't leaving the entertainment giant just yet, staying on as executive chairman through 2021. He said he would use that time to lead Disney's "creative endeavors" while helping Chapek transition into his former role.

  • In a call with investors, Iger said that the news only came as a shock to outsiders — and that internally, these plans had been in the works for some time.

The bottom line: The long transition means that Disney isn't planning a major business shakeup anytime soon, as Iger had been clear that he was working on a succession plan for some time and was supposed to retire at the end of 2021,

  • But Wall Street was still shaken by the news, bringing Disney's stock down nearly 5% after the announcement.
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