The Walt Disney Company: the story of the CEOs

            On November 20th, a press release from California announced the departure of Bob Chapek, former CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and the return of Robert Iger as president. Despite having held this position for 15 years, the return of Bob Iger intrigues Disneyphiles. This is our opportunity to look back at the history of the CEOs of The Walt Disney Company.

From Walt to Roy :

            Is it really necessary to name the first? TWDC was founded by the one and only Walt Disney in 1923 under the name Disney Brothers Studios. Walt Disney served as president until 1966. Creator of the world we love so much, first cartoons, first theme park, first unforgettable films. Walt embodies the soul of TWDC and is irreplaceable. Even today, his extraordinary imagination and innovative ideas remain the foundation of The Walt Disney Company‘s decisions.

Walt Disney

            In 1966, Walt’s older brother took over the company. Until then he had been in charge of the company’s finances. It was only logical that he should take over from his brother. During his four years as president, he continued to keep Walt’s ideas alive. He was especially involved in finalising the Walt Disney World project in Florida.

A succession of CEOs from 1971 to 2004:

            In 1971, after the death of the second Disney brother, Donn Tatum succeeded the founding siblings. What a task it was to take over from the company’s founders. His commitment to the development of the Disney Foundation, the CalArts School of Art (created by Walt himself) and his key role in the development of the Japanese park are all worthy of note. His motto: stay in the Disney tradition. 

            In 1980, Card Walker took over the reins. Of all the company’s CEOs, he has had the most successful development within TWDC. He started as a mail clerk and worked his way up to the presidency. Card Walker was responsible for the opening of Tokyo Disneyland and the creation of the Disney Channel. He retired in 1983. Raymond Waston took over for a year, but his time as president was not very successful. 

            In 1984, Michael Eisner took over the company. This marked the beginning of an era that would last 20 years. While the company was going through difficult times, Michael Eisner brought a new lease of life and launched many new projects. Under his leadership, The Walt Disney Company became increasingly international and diversified. First of all, he focuses on the world of theme parks. The Walt Disney Imageeniring (entity dedicated to theme parks) takes on a whole new dimension. With the development of our wonderful Euro Disney Resort in 1987 and its opening on April 12 in 1992. The studios also returned to the success of the animated films The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994). Michael Eisner’s presidency also saw the launch of Disney Cruise Line and the purchase of the American television channel ABC in 1996. The first collaborations with Pixar and the opening of the first Disney Store. However, in 2004, the company experienced management problems which led the board of directors not to renew Michael Eisner’s presidency. 

From Bob Iger to Bob Chapek to Bob Iger :

  It was then in 2005 that Robert, Bob, Iger took over as head of the company where he remained for 16 years. Bob Iger is the one who will truly bring the Disney ship into the 21st century. He successively bought Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, LucasFilm and the 21st Century Fox group. Under Bob Iger’s presidency, the well-known franchises of Toy Story, the Avengers, Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Avatar were born. But Bob Iger’s greatest achievement is certainly the launch of Disney+ in 2019. It makes Disney Studio the first old world company to follow in the footsteps of Netflix. He will relinquish the presidency in 2020 and choose Bob Chapek himself to succeed him.

Bob iger and bob chapek

  Since taking up his post, Chapek has had to deal with the consequences of the pandemic. This has meant park closures and cruise shutdowns. The rise of streaming competition (Amazon Prime, HBO Max) is also one of the obstacles Chapek has faced. In 2020, revenues from theme parks, Disney cruises and all merchandise dropped by 85%. So the company’s economic morale is at half mast. Added to this is a controversial anti-LGBT law in Florida that is causing Walt Disney World to lose the privileged status it had in Florida, a potential hiring freeze within the company, and customer dissatisfaction with price hikes at the parks and Disney+. Strategic decisions increasingly questioned by TWDC’s board of directors and employees will result in the departure of Bob Chapek in favour of Bob Iger, back for his second term. 

            Bob Iger, an emblematic figure of The Walt Disney Company, is taking over the reins today for a two-year mission with the ambition of a strategy whose goal is “renewed growth”. If the coming years are anything like his first mandate, we have a lot to look forward to when Bob Iger returns to the helm of the Walt Disney Company.