LOS ANGELES: Former Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Iger is returning to the media company as CEO less than a year after he retired, a surprise appointment that comes as the entertainment company struggles to turn its streaming TV services into a profitable business.
The change, a dramatic turn of events for the world's largest media company, was effective immediately, Disney said in a statement late on Sunday (Nov 20).
Iger, who served as Disney's CEO for 15 years and increased the company's market capitalisation five-fold during that period, has pledged to return as CEO for at least two years, the statement said. He will replace Bob Chapek, who took over as Disney CEO in Feb 2020.
Iger had promoted Chapek as his replacement in 2020 but the two later had a falling out.
While Chapek steered Disney through the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney disappointed investors this month with an earnings report that showed continued losses at its streaming media unit that includes Disney+. Disney's stock has fallen 41 per cent this year.
"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," Susan Arnold, chair of Disney's board, said in the statement.
"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career," she added.
In June, Disney's board voted unanimously to extend Chapek's contract for three years.
Through Chapek's short tenure, Disney became engulfed in an internal culture war after being accused of remaining silent on a Florida legislation that would bar public school teachers from offering instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Iger exited Disney on a high note as the company led the entertainment industry's battle against Netflix in the streaming wars. The economic slowdown and high-interest rates have hurt Disney+ as the company prepares for deep cost cuts.
"I am deeply honoured to be asked to again lead this remarkable team ... through unrivalled, bold storytelling," Iger said.
Under Iger's leadership, Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox. It also opened its first theme park in China - the Shanghai Disney Resort - and launched the Disney+ and ESPN+ streaming services.
"I am an optimist, and if I learned one thing from my years at Disney, it is that even in the face of uncertainty -perhaps especially in the face of uncertainty - our employees and Cast Members achieve the impossible," Iger said in a memo to employees seen by Reuters.
The leadership change caught employees by surprise, one company source said.