Bob Iger will remain at the helm of Walt Disney Co. through 2026, fulfilling a prediction from many in the industry that he would not step down as CEO at the end of next year as originally planned.
Disney shocked the entertainment business in November 2022 when it opted to bring Iger back as CEO, less than a year after he stepped down after a storied run 15-year run. At that time Disney emphasized that Iger’s top priority would be finding a suitable successor. In February 2020, Disney veteran Bob Chapek took the reins from Iger as CEO, while Iger remained chairman. Chapek had a famously rocky run in the job, which led to the Disney board’s decision to re-recruit Iger.
“Time and again, Bob has shown an unparalleled ability to successfully transform Disney to drive future growth and financial returns, earning him a reputation as one of the world’s best CEOs,” said Disney chairman Mark G. Parker. “Bob has once again set Disney on the right strategic path for ongoing value creation, and to ensure the successful completion of this transformation while also allowing ample time to position a new CEO for long-term success, the Board determined it is in the best interest of shareholders to extend his tenure, and he has agreed to our request to remain Chief Executive Officer through the end of 2026.”
From the moment Iger returned, Disney watchers were expecting the news that his tenure would be extended. Disney at present is in dealing with a host of internal issues in addition to the urgency to reinvent its linear TV businesses for the streaming era. Disney has been awash in losses for the past few years as it invested big in direct-to-consumer streaming platforms Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. The softening of the global streaming marketplace over the past two years has forced Disney and other Hollywood content giants to rethink the gung-ho pivot to streaming even as cord-cutting takes its toll on legacy linear networks like ESPN and Disney Channel that was churned out profits for the Mouse House.
“Since my return to Disney just seven months ago, I’ve examined virtually every facet of our businesses to fully understand the tremendous opportunities before us, as well as the challenges we’ve been facing from the broader economic environment and the tectonic shifts in our industry,” Iger said. “On my first day back, we began making important and sometimes difficult decisions to address some existing structural and efficiency issues, and despite the challenges, I believe Disney’s long-term future is incredibly bright. But there is more to accomplish before this transformative work is complete, and because I want to ensure Disney is strongly positioned when my successor takes the helm, I have agreed to the Board’s request to remain CEO for an additional two years.”
Iger nodded to the challenge that Disney has faced in finding a new leader for its C-suite.
“The importance of the succession process cannot be overstated, and as the Board continues to evaluate a highly qualified slate of internal and external candidates, I remain intensely focused on a successful transition,” he said.
The decision to add another three and a half years to Iger’s tenure will take some pressure off of the company. The two-year timeline set with his return last November immediately ignited speculation about who would succeed him a second time, and whether the person would come from the inside or the outside. Iger quickly initiated a restructuring of Disney operations, which were dramatically realigned under Chapek into separate units for content creation and content distribution.
Iger quickly did away with that structure that was unpopular within Disney, re-integrating content and distribution operations. The promotion of Dana Walden to the top TV post and Alan Bergman to lead film spurred internal speculation of a “bake off” brewing between the two executives, who jointly serve as co-chair of Disney Entertainment. Now the palace intrigue will likely tamp down with Iger staying firmly at the helm through Dec. 31, 2026.
Disney’s recent travails have been reflected in its stock price which was approaching the $190 mark in early 2021 but has traded under $100 since March. For the year to date, Disney shares are down 14%, closing Wednesday at $90.15. News of Iger’s extension came after the market close. In after-hours trading, Disney shares perked up about 1%.