When Bob Iger suddenly announced that he was stepping down from his longtime role as Disney CEO in February, it seemed to mark the end of an era. But that era is stretching on a little longer than its anticipated end-date, as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic rocks Hollywood. Iger, who was set to be immediately succeeded by Disney parks chief Bob Chapek, is finding himself “reasserting control” at Disney to steer the company through the coronavirus crisis.
Bob Iger announced his sudden exit as Disney CEO at the end of February with Chapek set to immediately take over duties as the chief of the massive conglomerate. And it seemed like that was that. But then, the coronavirus pandemic reached U.S. shores and brought all of Hollywood grinding to a halt. In the month that followed, Disney would delay its major releases, shutter productions, close its theme parks, and furlough thousands of workers. And Iger would be brought out of his semi-retirement (he had stayed on as executive chairman and was set to lead the board until his contract ends on December 31, 2021) to “reassert control” over Disney again, according to a lengthy new profile in The New York Times.
“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob [Chapek] and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” Iger said in an email to New York Times reporter Ben Smith.
It’s unclear in what capacity Iger is back to working at Disney, but the New York Times reports that Iger is working hand-in-hand with Chapek to manage Disney’s various crises. Following a March 11 annual shareholder gathering in Raleigh, N.C., which was set to act as the handoff between Iger and Chapek, the two men flew to Walt Disney World in Orlando to meet with executives worried about the effects of social distancing and to announce the park’s closing the next day. “Mr. Iger made clear that he would remain closely involved,” the New York Times reported.
On the PR front, it seems that Iger is taking the lead, still granting interviews to talk about the future of the company and park reopenings, while Chapek has not given an interview since the pandemic began, The Hollywood Reporter noted. Both Iger and Chapek earned some goodwill by foregoing all or part of their salaries, respectively, amid mass layoffs and furloughs.
The New York Times adds that Iger is “trying to figure out what the company will look like after the crisis.” That includes deciding when to reopen parks and what measures can be put in place to avoid further spread of the virus, like taking visitors’ temperatures. But Iger shot down reports that Disney would be operating with less space and fewer people when the company is back in working order. Iger told the New York Times he he had “no recollection of ever having said” that he expected a smaller work force: “Regardless, any decision about staff reductions will be made by my successor and not me.”
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