Disney’s parks head Bob Chapek officially — and quite suddenly — took the seat of power Tuesday afternoon, with the announcement that the charismatic, longtime Disney CEO Bob Iger would be handing over the reins and shifting to an executive chairman position, where he will now steer Disney’s creative direction.
Despite Chapek’s 27 years at the company, he is lesser known than other Disney executives among Hollywood creatives.
Sources describe Chapek to Variety as a devoted company man and strong operator who can handle anything that’s thrown at him, and has a knack for building solid executive teams. That should perhaps come as no surprise, given his experience across numerous divisions of this massive conglomerate.
His decades-long career includes tenures as chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division for the past two years, and as chairman of parks and resorts since 2015. Chapek also has lengthy experience in home entertainment and distribution, having headed both divisions for Walt Disney Studios, respectively.
Iger’s predecessor, Michael Eisner, offered his congratulations on Twitter to Disney’s new chief executive, noting Chapek’s “vast experience over multiple leadership roles at Disney.”
— Michael Eisner (@Michael_Eisner) February 25, 2020
Chapek came of age in the Midwest, where he first discovered his love of Disney through family trips to Florida.
“When I was growing up in Hammond, Ind., the son of a World War II veteran and working mother, my parents would take us on a family vacation to Walt Disney World every year,” he said during the investor call Tuesday afternoon. “That’s where I developed a deep love for Disney and all that it stands for. That young boy could’ve never imagined that one day he would get the chance to lead this extraordinary company as the seventh CEO in its nearly 100-year history.”
The 60-year-old, who has been married to his college sweetheart for more than 40 years, has three children and three grandchildren. A first-generation college graduate, Chapek attended Indiana University Bloomington and received his MBA from Michigan State, where he was in 2015 awarded an honorary doctorate in business. Prior to his time at Disney, Chapek had stints in advertising at J. Walter Thompson and in brand management at H.J. Heinz.
Notably, Chapek does not have content experience. But given the creative ranks that surround him — an executive suite that includes Disney TV chairman and Disney media networks co-chair Peter Rice, Disney Television Studios head Dana Walden, Disney Studios chief creative officer Alan Horn, et. al. — industry insiders are not immediately concerned by a potential impact to the company’s creative prowess.
Additionally, sources say Chapek ‘s experience in home entertainment — staying ahead of consumer trends and interacting with the television studios division through that lens — has offered him a great deal of exposure to Disney’s TV world. And his experience managing theme parks and resorts — a massive part of the business that Wall Street has long hailed as a solid performer — means that Chapek is well-versed in knowing how the consumer interacts with Disney on a ground level.
“I intend to double down on the exact same strategies that Bob [Iger] has established 15 years ago that have served us so well,” Chapek told Bloomberg TV after the news had been announced, adding that the “core of everything… is really our creative storytelling.”
“And if the creative storytelling is right, then everything else is right, no matter what distribution channel you put it in, the way you put it in the theatrical channel, whether you put it in Disney Plus or whether you put it in theme parks,” he said. “So the thing I’ve really taken away from Bob Iger’s legacy is: get the content right and everything else kind of follows suit.”