When former Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger returned to the position in November 2022, replacing his own successor Bob Chapek in acrimonious circumstances, the development promised great things for gossip and drama lovers. And since the CEO shakeup, there have been plenty of exposes and reports into what was going on at the House of Mouse, alternatively portraying Chapek as a poor leader or Iger as obsessed with criticizing Chapek’s tenure.
But the latest is maybe the juiciest. On Wednesday, CNBC published an extensive, lengthy piece going behind the scenes of the succession crisis at Disney, and the issues between Iger and Chapek. The report, from CNBC media reporter Alex Sherman, is based on interviews conducted with over two dozen people who worked with the CEOs between 2020 and 2022, and took three months to report. The end result makes neither Bob look particularly good, with Iger in particular coming across as childish, petty, and egotistical; Chapek allegedly told friends that his tenure at Disney was “three years of hell,” while Iger allegedly confided in colleagues he returned to Disney to correct handpicking Chapek as his successor, which he regards as one of his biggest career mistakes.
Here’s a rundown of the more dramatic details to come from the CNBC report:
- In 2020, after he announced he would step down from the CEO position, Iger — who was set to continue at the company for 22 months as executive chairman — had a conversation with Chapek in which he allegedly refused to give up his office in Disney’s Burbank, California office. The office contained a private shower built for prior CEO Michael Eisner, and Iger allegedly told Chapek he “lived for two-shower days” where he would use the shower before attending a nighttime event. Chapek instead moved into a smaller office in the same floor.
- In his announcement of his departure as CEO in 2020, Iger allegedly jokingly called himself “Big Bob” and Chapek “Little Bob.”
- In March 2020, during a flight to Disney’s annual meeting in Raleigh, North Carolina, Iger allegedly caught Chapek off guard by telling the new CEO — who at the time had only attended the meeting once as a guest — that he would lead a question-and-answer section of the event. Chapek chose to study background materials in a private section of the plane, which Iger — who expected that they would prep together — took offense to, and later spoke about the exchange as his first sign that his replacement wasn’t the collaborative CEO he was hoping to replace him at the company.
- On the flight back from the event, during chaos over the developing COVID-19 pandemic, Chapek held his first CFO-CEO meeting with then-CFO Christine M. McCarthy. Iger reportedly snapped at the two, calling it “disrespectful,” to him to hold the meeting in front of him; Chapek would speak to this as the first sign Iger regretted stepping down.
- In April of that year, Iger — who had disagreed with Chapek on when to furlough employees at Disney World — gave a statement in a New York Times story admitting to keeping an active role at the company during the pandemic. Chapek was reportedly furious, and called Iger saying he “didn’t need a savior;” Iger told friends no colleague had ever spoken to him like Chapek did in his life. Chapek later demanded to be given an immediate seat on Disney’s Board of Shareholders, in order to avoid situations where Iger and the board would talk about him when he wasn’t present. He received a board seat three days after the New York Times story ran.
- As Chapek and Iger’s relationship continued to deteriorate due to Chapek’s controversial reorganization of Disney’s distribution strategy, he grew paranoid about working with people he saw as close to Iger. One executive he didn’t trust was Disney head of communications head Zenia Mucha, who some referred to as Iger’s second-in-command. In 2021, he began soliciting advice from external communications firm Brunswick Group, without informing Mucha.
- The Scarlett Johansson Disney lawsuit in 2021 over the Disney+ release of “Black Widow” was allegedly the result of miscommunication over who, between Iger or Chapek, should handle her agent’s attempts to negotiate her contract. Chapek viewed it as a “creative issue” and therefore Iger’s problem, while Iger viewed it as a business matter Chapek should handle. When the lawsuit happened, Iger and Chapek both signed off on an aggressive public statement that accused Johansson of greed; both reportedly disagreed with the tone of the statement, but believed the other should be in charge of objecting to it. Iger reportedly called Chapek advising him to give a public apology, which Chapek refused to do; Iger himself never considered apologizing.
- In November 2021, Iger threw a retirement party at his home, and reluctantly invited Chapek; he was reportedly relieved when he learned Chapek had a speaking engagement in Orlando that night. Chapek canceled his plans because of the optics of not attending, and showed up at the party, where Iger omitted him from his speech, where he thanked dozens of people.
- In Fall 2022, prior to the November 2022 quarterly earnings report, Chapek was blindsided by McCarthy when she went off script during a board preparation meeting to share her concerns that the earnings would fall short of Wall Street predictions, and that Disney needed to retool its strategy after the 2022 Netflix stock fall caused a massive shift in how analysts prioritized results from companies. Chapek largely downplayed McCarthy’s predictions, and during a Disney World retreat weeks before the earnings report, opted to spend most of his time taking part in activities at the Animal Kingdom theme park rather than attend a strategy meaning, causing resentment among executives.
- When the meetings ended, Chief Communications Officer Kristina Schake and head of investor relations Alexia Quadrani told Chapek the reaction to the quarter could be devastating. Chapek reportedly reacted by referring to the two and McCarthy as “the mean girls,” and anyone who felt trepidation about Disney’s prospects “Eeyores.” He ignored the financial team’s advice to deliver a message acknowledging the company’s losses during the quarter, and his cheerful speech during the earning’s call permanently turned most of the executive team against him. In December, after Chapek was fired and replaced with Iger, Schake, Quadrani, and McCarthy reportedly received pink sweaters from a colleague as an in-joke to Chapek’s “mean girls” comment.
After his dismissal, Chapek reportedly received an exit package north of $20 million. Iger is aid to have a committee vetting a (second) successor in the CEO role, though his contract for the position was renewed through 2026. Recently, Iger has gotten into hot water over disparaging comments made about the SAG and WGA strikes, although he later walked back on them following backlash.