The abruptness and timing of Peter Rice’s firing last week by Disney CEO Bob Chapek remains a complete mystery to many, including Rice, I’m told. The move came as a total shock to the industry and to the well-respected media executive, who is unusual in having spent his entire industry career at one studio, 20th Century Fox, and then its successor company, Disney.
As everyone now knows, Rice had absolutely no idea what was about to happen when his boss called him into a meeting on June 8, and I hear he was told that Chapek wanted to discuss the Disney board meeting taking place in Orlando later this month, at which Rice was scheduled to make a presentation.
Instead, in a conversation that lasted all of seven minutes, Chapek informed Rice that he was letting him go because he wasn’t a good fit for him or the “new culture” at Disney. Rice pushed for specific examples of what Chapek was unhappy with, but no such answers were forthcoming and the meeting was ended.
“Chapek just didn’t think he was his guy,” says a top industry source who is close with Rice.
Rice was flummoxed, according to other people I spoke with, because ever since Chapek took over the CEO reins from Bob Iger in February 2020, he apparently has done nothing but praise Rice, repeatedly telling him how important he was to Chapek and to the Disney company. Rice supposedly never even received any constructive criticism.
Some press reports have suggested that Chapek didn’t feel that Rice was collaborative enough, but if true, that was never directly communicated to his underling, according to those I spoke with.
In fact, last August, Chapek extended Rice’s contract for three more years based on how well the businesses Rice was overseeing had done under his leadership. Typically, people don’t get fired when things are going well. But, of course, there are exceptions to any rule.
And when top executives do get fired, companies typically go out of their way to make it appear that the person is “stepping down” or “resigning.” Not so with Rice.
“It was very odd,” says a source who is very familiar with the corporate machinations at Disney. “Usually, somebody gets to choose the narrative.”
Another source remarked how highly nonstandard it also was for Disney’s board to release a vote of confidence in Chapek and his top lieutenants the very day it was reported that Rice was out. “The strength of the Walt Disney Co.’s businesses coming out of the pandemic is a testament to Bob’s leadership and vision for the company’s future,” stated board chair Susan Arnold, further noting, “Bob and his leadership team have the support and confidence of the board.”
Again, weird timing. Why not just make that statement when Disney renews Chapek’s contract, as is expected any day. Then again, Chapek himself has made questionable, highly controversial moves since becoming CEO — think the release strategy for “Black Widow” that resulted in a suit against the company by Scarlett Johansson for breach of contract; and for not immediately taking a hard stance against Florida’s homophobic “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. All of Rice’s supporters in Hollywood believe, as I do, that the executive will absolutely land another great job in no time.
“Bar none, Peter is the best media executive in the last 25 years,” says one pal, assuring, “He’ll be fine.