Disney CEO Bob Iger announced Tuesday that he will step down and become executive chairman through 2021, effective immediately.
Bob Chapek, who most recently served as chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products, will succeed him.
Though Iger, who has been at the helm of Disney for 15 years, has pushed back his retirement several times in recent years, the announcement caught many by surprise. He wasn’t expected to retire until the end of next year.
Iger said he decided to step down now because he wanted to focus on the creative side of Disney now that major projects like the launch of Disney+, which already has nearly 29 million subscribers, and the Fox merger were completed.
"With the successful launch of Disney's direct-to-consumer businesses and the integration of Twenty-First Century Fox well underway, I believe this is an optimal time to transition to a new CEO," Iger said in a statement. "I have the utmost confidence in Bob and look forward to working closely with him over the next 22 months as he assumes this new role and delves deeper into Disney's multifaceted global businesses and operations, while I continue to focus on the company's creative endeavors."
Iger first joined ABC in 1974 and later served as president of the network when it was bought by Disney in 1996. He later became chief operating officer in 2000, followed by CEO in 2005.
During Iger's tenure as CEO, Disney took over Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment and Lucasfilm. He also spearheaded Disney’s $71 billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment business last year, which brought the 20th Century Fox movie and TV studios along with cable channels such as FX under the company's wing.
These acquisitions, combined with the launch of Disney+ and amusement park openings, saw the company's market value increase five-fold.
Chapek, a longtime Disney executive, served as president of distribution for the company's movie studio, president of its home entertainment business, and president of consumer products. He went on to become chairman of parks and resorts. Following Disney's divisional restructuring in 2018, he became chairman of parks, experiences, and products, where he led growth across Disney’s six resort destinations, several theme parks, cruise line and other travel businesses.
Under his leadership, the Shanghai Disney Resort opened in 2016, Disneyland Paris underwent massive development projects, and Marvel-inspired attractions were integrated across Disney’s parks worldwide. Chapek developed the recently opened 14-acre Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge themed-lands in Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort.
Chapek was unanimously elected as the next CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Susan Arnold, an independent lead director of the Disney Board, said in a statement, adding that a succession plan had been ongoing for several years.
Chapek will be only the seventh CEO in Disney history.