The board of the Walt Disney Company ousted Bob Chapek as chief executive on Sunday after concluding that various missteps had done irreparable damage to his ability to lead and abruptly announced that Robert A. Iger would return to run the company, effective immediately, for two years.
“We thank Bob Chapek for his service,” Susan Arnold, the board chair, said in a statement. “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.” The Disney board is next set to meet in person in New York in December.
She added that Mr. Iger had “the deep respect” of Disney’s senior leadership team.
Mr. Iger, 71, said in a statement that he was “extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the board to return as CEO.” Mr. Iger ran Disney as chief executive between 2005 and 2020. At that point he handed the day-to-day running of the company to Mr. Chapek, his handpicked successor, while staying on as executive chairman. Mr. Iger departed the company entirely in January.
Mr. Chapek could not immediately be reached for comment.
The surprise reinstatement of Mr. Iger and ouster of Mr. Chapek comes in the wake of a disastrous earnings announcement on Nov. 8. Disney blindsided Wall Street by reporting $1.5 billion in losses at its fledgling streaming division, up from $630 million a year earlier. Mr. Chapek said that higher Disney+ production, marketing and technology costs had contributed to the “peak” losses.
Disney shares dropped 12 percent the next morning, in part because investors — and many people inside Disney — were shocked by the happy-go-lucky tone that Mr. Chapek struck while discussing the earnings report on a conference call with analysts. Mr. Chapek’s demeanor struck many as tone deaf.
Immediately, the CNBC host Jim Cramer began to call for Mr. Chapek’s firing during comments on his show. On Friday, Mr. Cramer said that Mr. Chapek was “incapable of running a fantastic company” and “we need someone new at Disney.”
Mr. Cramer added, “That balance sheet is the balance sheet from hell.”
Mr. Chapek, 62, was named C.E.O. in February 2020, taking over from the exceedingly popular Mr. Iger. The handoff did not go smoothly. The coronavirus pandemic forced Mr. Chapek to close most of the company. This year, Mr. Chapek contended with one crisis after another, some of his own making.
In March, Disney became entangled in a heated dispute with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican, over legislation meant to prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through the third grade. Mr. Chapek tried not to take a side at first, at least publicly, which prompted an employee revolt. Mr. Chapek then denounced the bill, setting off a political firestorm, with right-wing figures railing against “woke Disney.”
In June, Mr. Chapek abruptly fired Disney’s top television executive, to howls of disapproval from Hollywood. In August, the activist investor Dan Loeb pushed Mr. Chapek to consider a range of changes, including shaking up the board and spinning off ESPN. (Mr. Loeb later backtracked on a spinoff, saying on Twitter that he had learned more about Disney’s “growth and innovation plans” for ESPN.)
All the while, some of Disney’s most dedicated theme park customers have been growing indignant over price increases they see as nickel and diming. Last month, Disney told investors that theme park profits would have been even higher if not for an “unfavorable attendance mix” at Disneyland, which annual pass holders took as an affront. T-shirts, mugs and stickers began selling online bearing the word “Unfavorables” in Disneyland’s signature calligraphy.