Not even three months ago Bob Iger appeared at a popular tech and media conference, casually extolling the benefits of being retired. After delaying his retirement for several years, the mogul had stepped down as Disney’s CEO at the height of its success and installed Lt. Bob Chapek as his successor. But Iger, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard at the Code conference in September, didn’t seem to regret leaving the job he’d held for 15 years — which may have something to do with the fact that he left the role less than a month earlier but COVID-19 created unprecedented chaos in Hollywood. “Retirements are great,” he said. “I have a completely different life than I had before. So a shock wave sent across Hollywood on Sunday night when Disney announced that Iger would be returning to lead the company.
“The board has determined that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely positioned to lead the company through this critical period,” Disney’s chairman said. Susan Arnold said in a statement. She also thanked Chapek, who retired immediately, for his service to Disney.
The past few years haven’t been nearly as zen for Chapek, who had to navigate a pandemic that forced movie theaters to close, cruise ships to dock and theme parks to turn away visitors. More recently, investors have been frustrated by mounting losses at Disney’s streaming business, an initiative Iger led before his departure. After the company reported a $1.5 billion loss for its streaming division, which includes Disney+, its stock plummeted. Disney shares are down more than 41% since the start of the year.
Iger handpicked Chapek to succeed him, but it is well known in Hollywood that he has not always agreed with the latter’s decisions. Still, it was considered unlikely that he would return to Disney. In June, the administration reinstated Chapek for three more years in a move that seemed intended to show they were behind him despite public missteps, including his handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
In a memo to Disney employees sent Sunday night, Iger himself expressed surprise at the move. “It is with an incredible sense of gratitude and humility — and I must admit to being a little surprised — that I write to you tonight with the news that I am returning to The Walt Disney Company as a CEO offer,” he said. .
Iger was named Disney’s CEO for the first time in 2005. He tried to quit the job four times before finally relinquishing the role to Chapek. But even after he stepped down as CEO, he stayed on as CEO until last December. Indeed, in April 2020, New York Times reported that Iger had “effectively returned to running the company” as it responded to the pandemic.
Disney’s board has signed the 71-year-old Iger to a two-year contract and plans to work with him to find a successor when his term ends. Iger told staff in his memo that they would hear more from him soon. “I know the company has asked so much of you over the past three years, and these times are certainly quite challenging,” he wrote, “but as you’ve heard me say before, I’m optimistic and if I learned one thing. From my years at Disney, even in the face of uncertainty—perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty—our employees and actors achieve the impossible.”
This story will be updated.