As controversy continues to surround The Walt Disney Company, its current leadership stands on increasingly shaky ground.
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While The Walt Disney Company has faced its fair share of trials, tribulations, and controversies, the firestorm surrounding it right now over Florida’s new bill has reached an all-time high. the CEO’s current position may be at stake.
As Disney continues to make efforts to further support the LGBTQ+ community after hurting so many in that same community just a few weeks ago, the company’s leadership is in question or, at the very least, critical. While the Disney Parks community has been skeptical of Bob Chapek from the start, with new additions like Genie+ not helping, his takeover couldn’t have come at a worse time. Taking the reins from former CEO Bob Iger in early 2020, people could have settled in and given Chapek the benefit of the doubt, after all running one of the biggest companies in the world with a pandemic breaking out n is not an easy task. But lately, the shadows and legacy of previous CEOs are hanging more heavily over Chapek, with the current CEO’s future in question.
For nearly four decades, only two CEOs have served The Walt Disney Company, namely Michael Eisner from 1984 to 2005 and Bob Iger from 2005 to 2020. Now with two years of work under his belt, Bob Chapek faces a crisis that has the potential to rival or even reverse the issues that Eisner faced throughout his 80s and 90s in the business. After fierce opposition to Chapek’s handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, nearly every facet of the company strongly opposed the bill, making Chapek’s original memo lackluster, it’s the least we can say.
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Hundreds of employees also expressed their views on Chapek’s position on the bill, staging a company-wide strike. Now, according to Hollywood journalist, insiders are speculating about his longevity in the job and who might succeed him (entertainment chief Peter Rice and former chief financial officer Tom Staggs are believed to be favorites). The current CEO’s contract is up in 11 months and to put it bluntly, Chapek is not in the best position to negotiate an extension.
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At this point, the controversy and history Chapek has created so far seems irredeemable, making it unclear if Chapek can execute a reset with Disney, the staff, and the general public. Apparently, a cartoon hanging in the production offices of The simpsons seems to suggest a dark fate for Chapek as the leader of The Walt Disney Company, having Chapek in the “In Memoriam” section of the Oscar show. Although rather grim, this attitude towards the struggling CEO is not uncommon these days. Our team at Inside the Magic has covered all the different ways “passionate” Disney fans have shown their love and hate for the CEO inside the parks themselves.
Disney recently postponed a major conference for the company’s leadership, a retreat if you will, that was scheduled for the last week of March in Orlando, Florida. Derived from Hollywood journalist, “It was Chapek’s big moment, after Iger, to assert his leadership and vision in front of the top 300 leaders in the world,” the person said. “These events at Disney are like political rallies, coronations, sports camps and balls rolled into one.” The postponement is “not necessarily fatal but very serious and destabilizing”, he says. The event has not yet been postponed, but Chapek has held a two-day meeting for investors anyway.
Although Chapek and Co. have done a lot to make sure the general public knows what they think of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the controversy shows no signs of stopping. Just recently, a few Florida lawmakers got together to discuss repealing the Reedy Creek Improvement Act of 1967. The Reedy Creek Improvement Act essentially allows Walt Disney World to reside in Florida without regulation, sort of acting as its own ” government”. The law involved the creation of a special tax district which acts with the same authority as a county government. The legislation affirmed that landowners in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, primarily Walt Disney World, could be allowed to be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services such as electricity, water, roads, fire protection, etc. Local ratepayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for the construction or maintenance of these services.
Chapek has a vital role to play in the controversy, starting with his memo that did not satisfy outspoken fans, guests and employees when news of Disney supporting the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” broke for the first time. Disney preaches inclusivity in its parks, movies, entertainment, and advertising, so it may come as a surprise that the company actually helped fund supporters of this “don’t say gay” bill. Senate sponsor Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley has actually supported anti-gay legislation in Florida for years. Baxley once compared kids with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and molesters, saying, “I’m not phobic, but I just can’t affirm homosexuality.”
The following year, The Walt Disney Company wrote Baxley a check, the most recent of which arrived last year.
The degree and specificity to which Disney’s 11-member board is concerned at this point is unknown. Among them are the CEOs of General Motors, Oracle, Nike, Lululemon Athletica and Illumina. “None of them are from the media industry,” a Disney source explains. “It’s not like [former Warners chairman] Bob Daly or [former Time Warner CEO] Richard Parsons is a member of the Board of Directors. I imagine they would be scared” to replace Chapek. But a longtime company executive isn’t so sure. “They have CEOs there who I think know when someone is a problem,” he says, adding pointedly, “The chairman of the board is gay.” (Susan Arnold is the council’s first openly gay chairwoman.)
With Iger stepping down as executive chairman towards the very end of 2021, Chapek clearly felt it was time to assert his control. The relationship between Chapek and his colleagues isn’t the only strained one, with reports that Chapek and former CEO Bob Iger don’t exactly get along.
Before he had a chance to really accomplish anything or accumulate a large amount of goodwill, Florida legislation led by Governor Ron DeSantis posed a test. Chapek’s statement that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and that the way to bring about change was “through the inspirational content we produce” sparked an immediate backlash, as noted previously.
Chapek has since pivoted quite prodigiously, now speaking out strongly against the new legislation. While all of this talk of his future with the company can be chalked up to speculation, there’s no denying the mark Chapek left on the company during his two years as CEO. As the company prepares for the future, Chapek’s role in it is becoming less “set in stone” and more like how a fine drink is often served: on the rocks.
What do you think of Bob Chapek’s leadership so far?
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