Bob Chapek knew he faced a challenge worthy of any Marvel superhero when he was named chief executive of Walt Disney.
Chapek, the little-known head of the entertainment giant’s parks and travel business, succeeded Bob Iger, the 15-year-old boss who led Disney through a series of transformational acquisitions, including Pixar in 2006 and 21st Century Fox in 2019.
In February 2020, Chapek became just the seventh chief executive in the company’s 97-year history, a lineage that included corporate legends such as Michael Eisner, Donn Tatum and Roy Disney, Walt’s older brother. .
On Tuesday, Disney’s board backed Chapek and renewed a contract that was eight months older by three years, despite a damaging row over his handling of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Florida.
The embattled boss is now tasked with steering the entertainment giant through the twin challenges of America’s culture war and a squeeze on demand for online video.
Chapek’s rise had been a surprise. Kevin Mayer, the charismatic head of Disney’s streaming business, was overlooked and left the company soon after. Iger had abruptly resigned as chief executive in February 2020.
The 61-year-old kept a low profile building a career in areas including home video before heading the parks division. He didn’t have the magic touch of Iger or Eisner, who were at home in Hollywood and spearheaded Disney’s creative efforts.
Although Iger promised to stay on as executive chairman to ensure a smooth transition, Chapek’s first few weeks were anything but smooth. The pandemic shuttered cruises, theme parks and movie theaters that collectively accounted for the majority of Disney’s sales, and the cancellation of live sports hit its ESPN business.
In its first set of financial results, Disney’s profits fell 90% and in its second it posted its first loss in two decades. The company has cut tens of thousands of jobs for “actors” at its theme parks.
Yet when Disney’s board met this week to discuss Chapek’s future, it was the company’s post-pandemic actions that raised the biggest questions. Its parks may be packed again – and cruise ships are no longer docked – but Disney has been a magnet for controversies inconsistent with its fairytale branding in recent months.
Chapek has come under fire for his handling of a controversial law in Florida, the home of his Disney World theme park, arguments with actress Scarlett Johansson and slowing growth of the Disney Plus streaming service.
“Disney has been hit hard by the pandemic, but with Bob at the helm, our businesses — from parks to streaming — have not only weathered the storm, but emerged into a position of strength,” President Susan Arnold said Tuesday.
Chapek’s future would not have been in question 18 months ago. In November 2019, the company launched Disney Plus, its answer to Netflix, with a goal of reaching 60-90 million subscribers within five years. He surpassed this goal in a year and took the goal between 230m and 260m.
In what was seen as a sign of flexibility, he pledged to release several of his new movies directly to streamers. Shares hit an all-time high in March 2021, even as its California and Paris theme parks remained closed.