Ex-Disney CEO: Working There Was '3 Years of Hell'

CNBC reports on friction between former chief Bob Chapek, former/current chief Bob Iger
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 7, 2023 9:55 AM CDT
Ex-Disney CEO: Working There Was '3 Years of Hell'
Then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek, left, and Bob Iger, executive chairman, are seen at the Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on Sept. 30, 2021.   (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

When Bob Chapek assumed the leadership mantle at Disney in early 2020, it was no secret there was some friction between himself and former CEO Bob Iger—and in late 2022, the Disney board fired Chapek amid criticisms of his management, and Iger came out of retirement and reassumed his CEO seat. Now, CNBC is out with a lengthy report on what it deems Disney's "epic succession mess," describing "a cautionary tale about ego and hubris at the highest levels of corporate America." "We really didn't know just how bad—and how petty—some of the things Iger did to express his unhappiness with Chapek's decisions were until now," the Verge notes of the CNBC expose, which was based on chats the outlet had with dozens of people who worked with "Big Bob" (Iger) and "Little Bob" (Chapek) during Chapek's brief tenure. Just how bad was it? Chapek himself told a friend that working during that time was "three years of hell," and that he had an "unrelenting fear" that Iger wanted his old job back. He wasn't wrong. More on what went on behind the scenes:

  • CEO perks: Fox Business pinpoints one snippet in particular from the report that's drawing a lot of buzz—the fact that Iger refused to give up his office, complete with shower and shaving vanity, to Chapek when the latter took over. Sources say Iger told Chapek he looked forward to "two-shower days," and the men apparently agreed Iger could stay in that office, while Chapek moved into a smaller one on the same floor of Disney's headquarters in Burbank, California.
  • Lots of tension: The Verge bullet-points a series of other "pettiest moments," including Iger's retirement party, where a "visibly miserable" Chapek didn't get any kind of mention from his predecessor. Iger was also reportedly ticked off at Chapek for not more intimately involving him in company decisions as executive chair (the role he assumed before he officially retired), and he started thinking he'd made a mistake entrusting CEO duties to Chapek just two weeks after Chapek's appointment.

  • Scarlett Johansson tiff: The Black Widow actor sued Disney in 2021 for breach of contract after the company released her movie to streaming services. A settlement was reached in October of that year, but by the time this all went down, "Chapek and Iger were barely speaking to each other."
  • Other complaints: Vulture details all of Disney's other current court battles, including those pushing back against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' Parental Rights in Education Act, aka the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
  • Iger's master plan? Per the CNBC report, more than a dozen current and former Disney execs think Iger eventually wants to sell Disney to Apple—an idea that Inside the Magic calls "a wild idea at first," but not an "entirely implausible" one. However, that outlet also lays out "even more reasons for the current Disney CEO not to sell the House of Mouse."
  • Response from the Bobs: A Chapek rep sent a statement to CNBC noting Chapek was "proud" of his time as CEO, during which time he'd "[steered] the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, and [set] the course for business transformation." Iger declined to comment.
Read much more about the behind-the-scenes infighting here. (More Disney stories.)

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