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Welcome, World Travelers! Is Bob Chapek the Worst Disney CEO?

by James Coulter

Originally, I was going to write a review of Disenchanted, the new made-for-streaming sequel to the 2008 movie Enchanted; but, to paraphrase the Aragon meme: one does not simply dedicate a biweekly column to Disney and refuse to say anything about the resignation of its most infamous CEO.

Last Sunday, in a move that shocked the entertainment industry, the Walt Disney Company announced Bob Chapek would be stepping down from his role as CEO and that his predecessor, Bob Iger, will return to serve as his replacement with plans to head the company over the next two years.

I’m not giving a comprehensive history of Chapek’s career. TL;DR: After being appointed CEO in 2020, he made a series of very bad business decisions and public relations faux pas—the most infamous of which was his inaction towards Florida’s Don’t Say Gay Bill—and after his company experienced record low profits and stock earnings, which prompted him to suggest massive layoffs, hiring freezes, and other drastic cost-cutting measures, he was removed from his position and replaced by the very guy he replaced.

I know I wrote the title of this column as a question. I often do that to maintain objectivity by posing an open-ended question to help prompt discussion and encourage readers to draw their own conclusions and come up with their own opinions. But believe me when I say that the question to this column is purely rhetorical. Because there is no doubt about it: Bob Chapek is the worst CEO in the history of the Walt Disney Company.

Many Disney fans love to joke how Michael Eisner was the worst Disney CEO, but give Eisner some credit: the man managed to turn the company around for the better in the 1980s during a time when the Disney brand was not doing well financially or publicly, to the point where many executives conspired hostile takeovers of the company. (Yes, that really did happen!)

Yes, Eisner was infamous for saying Disney was in the business of making money not art, but at least his shrewd yet savvy business-making decisions did not prevent the company from creating some of the best-animated movies of all time, and it wasn’t until the tragic passing of the company’s then president and his closest colleague Frank Wells and the financial failure of Disneyland Paris that led Eisner to his series of bad decisions that utterly tarnished his legacy.

Say what you want about Eisner: the man ended his career with a simpering whimper, but at least he started his career with a bang—at least he made contributions that were overall net positives to the company, achieving accomplishments that both he and others could be proud of. Chapek, on the other hand, has contributed nothing of value to the company, and everything he did was a net negative.

Does that sound hyperbolic? Sure. But it’s hard to look back at the man’s legacy as Disney CEO and deduce that his career was a positive one. Again, I’m not rehashing history, but Mickey Blog recently wrote a comprehensive blog post highlighting “The Worst Mistakes Bob Chapek Made As Disney CEO.” These mistakes, according to Mickey Blog, include:

· Breaking ties with Iger, especially during the onset of the pandemic, when Chapek could have utilized Iger’s experience and counsel for guidance.

· Promoted many of his “closest confidants to positions of power” within the company out of pure nepotism, friends who served as “the perceived yes men [who] couldn’t be honest with their boss about his more questionable decisions.”

· Making the Disney theme park experience more expensive and less “magical” by raising park prices, eliminating programs like Magical Express, and replacing the free FastPass system with the pay-as-you-go Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.

· Changing Disney’s base of operations from California to Florida, which “forced its California employees to commit to moving to Florida to keep their jobs” and “effectively forced out many longtime Imagineers.”

· Refusing to consult with Scarlett Johansson in the decision to release her movie Black Widow simultaneously in theaters and onto Disney Plus, a move that violated her contract by affecting the percentage she earned from box office receipts, and worse, “arrogantly called her out for wanting her money.”

· Refusing to say or do anything when Florida was passing the infamous “Don’t Say Gay Bill”, which had been created by politicians whom Disney had financed, only to decide too little too late to freeze political contributions to Florida lawmakers after they passed the bill into law.

As David Mumpower wrote in his blog: “In totality, all these singular mistakes add up to one glaring issue Chapek could never overcome. He didn’t care enough about people and was too fixated on the bottom line.”

So, yes, calling Chapek the worst CEO is over-the-top hyperbole, but considering his many blunders, it’s also not untrue. After all, it does say something when a man messes up so badly that his predecessor had to come out of retirement just to fix the mess he made. All I can say is goodbye and good riddance to Chapek!

What do you think? Do you think Iger can fix the mess Chapek created? Do you think the Disney company can recover from his blunders? Leave your comments on Facebook.

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