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Bob Chapek

Image: Disney

Bob Chapek is a pretty stark contrast to Bob Iger. Chapek has been with Disney just as long – 26 years – but a bulk of his experience was actually in Disney’s home entertainment division. As President of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Chapek oversaw Disney and ABC home media releases, navigating the transition from VHS to DVD.

In 2011, Chapek moved into his most often-discussed role as President of Disney Consumer Products (DCP). The DCP division was, of course, responsible for the manufacturing of Disney merchandise (think: toys, games, costumes, and other accessories) but – more importantly – licensing Disney’s characters and likenesses (think: Star Wars LEGO sets, Frozen Vitamins, Mattel Disney Princess dolls, Finding Nemo Crayola coloring books, Indiana Jones Funko Pops, and seemingly about ten trillion other licensing deals). After Disney purchased Lucasfilm, Chapek’s DCP division became the most profitable merchandise licensor in the world. Given that DCP was a highly, highly important – but fairly un-sexy – division of Disney, Chapek didn’t register on many fans’ radar… 

Image: Disney

Then, in 2015, Tom Staggs announced his exit from the company (allegedly because the Board signaled he was not a shoo-in to replace Iger as CEO like he’d believed) and “effective immediately,” Chapek was named the new Chairman of Parks & Resorts. Given that Staggs had overseen the development of Disney’s Avatar and Star Wars lands plus Shanghai Disney, Chapek saw them through to completion. But among fans, the “numbers guy” from Consumer Products started his term on “thin ice.” 

In 2018, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts was “fused” with Disney Consumer Products, leaving Chapek as the lead of a vaguely-nefarious, late-stage-capitalism-sounding combined division – Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products (DPEP). Explicitly painting the theme parks as part of Disney’s retail strategy is a pretty perfect representation of Chapek’s M.O. – overseeing an era defined by “cheap and cheerful” additions, an emphasis on retail and upcharges, the end of many longtime Parks perks, and wedging in lots and lots of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. 

Even when he represented Disney Parks at celebratory D23 Expos, there was never really a sense that Chapek specifically cared about the Parks, knew anything about them, or had a long-term vision for them. Instead, it felt like Chapek was dutifully trying to optimize the area of the company he’d been assigned to in the way he knew how – maximizing revenues and minimizing expenses while leveraging Disney’s brands, characters, partnerships, and products.

Image: CNBC, via Inside the Magic

Chapek was unexpectedly named Chief Executive Officer, “effectively immediately,” when Bob Iger stepped down in February 2020 – long envisioned as a "code red," “worst case scenario” by many fans. Insiders allege that rather than sticking to the status quo as many (maybe including Bob Iger) hoped, Chapek allegedly raced headlong into the role by cutting off many “Iger-loyalist” creatives, surrounding himself in financial advisors, and restructuring the entire company with content, licensing, and streaming as its core business. 

There’s no denying that Chapek is a very different leader and personality than Iger. Clearly much less comfortable in the spotlight, Chapek comes off as much less self-assured and even defensive in interviews. He definitely drew the ire of fans when, at the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, an awkward, somewhat artificial, and almost-indignant Chapek infamously responded to gathered fans' questions about Disney's IP obsession by insisting "We don't want to do anything that anybody else can do. A lot of times, people say 'Why don't you do something – why does everything have to be franchise-oriented?' [...] Because if any of our competitors had our intellectual property, guess what they'd be doing? The same thing we're doing. But they don't have it. And we do."

Image: Disney

He’s also ruffled feathers in Hollywood and made several significant PR faux pas  (Scarlet Johannsen) given his lack of experience with the studio side of the business. In what many suggest is a thinly viewed repudiation of his own successor, Iger allegedly urged Disney's leadership not "to use data to answer all of our questions, including creative questions."

Putting a "numbers guy" in charge of a fundamentally creative business will certainly be an interesting story to follow…

 
 
 
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