Disney Boss Brings Blunt Attitude -- WSJ

Date : 02/27/2020 @ 8:02AM
Source : Dow Jones News
Stock : Walt Disney Co (DIS)
Quote : 94.5484  -2.0516 (-2.12%) @ 7:56PM

Disney Boss Brings Blunt Attitude -- WSJ

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By Joe Flint and R.T. Watson 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (February 27, 2020).

They may share the same first name, but there are few other similarities between Disney Chairman Bob Iger and his successor as chief executive, Bob Chapek.

While Mr. Iger is known for being charismatic and cosmopolitan and loves to hobnob, Mr. Chapek is all business with little time or interest in niceties, people who have worked closely with both say.

"A meal with Bob Chapek is one minute and 30 seconds of pleasantries and 58 minutes and 30 seconds of business," said a former high-ranking Disney executive.

Current and former Walt Disney Co. executives agree that Mr. Chapek, 60 years old, has the experience and skill set to succeed Mr. Iger at the Magic Kingdom.

"Bob Chapek doesn't fail. He is incredibly disciplined about doing what it takes to deliver the numbers," the former executive said. "He is relentless in that regard."

As a skilled tactician, Mr. Chapek (pronounced "CHAY-peck") clearly identifies targets and looks for ways to achieve his metrics.

During Mr. Chapek's tenure as head of the parks and resorts division, from 2015 until earlier this week, he amassed five consecutive years of growth, thanks to a combination of historic expansion and strategic cost reductions. He prioritized double-digit annual growth, according to one former colleague, a goal he achieved in all but one year, when the division's operating income grew 9%.

Announcing Mr. Chapek's elevation a little more than two weeks before the company's annual meeting, scheduled for March 11, means the company won't have to answer questions from shareholders about succession planning.

Many who have worked closely with Mr. Chapek during his 27 years at Disney appreciate what they describe as his direct and blunt personality.

"There's no drama," another former Disney executive said.

Like Mr. Iger, Mr. Chapek shares a love for all things Disney. At a town hall welcoming Fox employees after Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox's entertainment assets, Mr. Chapek's enthusiasm made a strong impression on the newest "cast members," as the company calls employees. He spoke passionately about the theme parks and the Disney brand with an energy that was matched only by Mr. Iger's, one attendee said.

Mr., Chapek's résumé doesn't include oversight of as many creative parts of the company as Mr. Iger's did when he landed the top job in 2005. But during the course of his career, he has worked closely with both the movie and television teams at Disney when he headed home entertainment.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Chapek acknowledged that film and television production was one area in which he would have to immerse himself. His theme-park and home-entertainment stints provided an education, he said.

"Given that our only product is a creative product, I've been completely immersed in editing and looking at product and giving notes on product my entire Disney career," he said. Storytelling, he added, is "actually something I feel very comfortable with."

In his 18 years at Disney's film studio, Mr. Chapek was known among colleagues and others in the industry for a focus on data and business execution, rather than worrying about relationships with the creative community and business partners. When he ran home video from 2006 to 2009, he championed a highly lucrative "moratorium" strategy in which Disney would make movies unavailable for a while and then rerelease them with much fanfare.

In recent years, Mr. Iger communicated to Mr. Chapek that he might be in line to become CEO, according to another former senior executive. Mr. Chapek emerged as the clear choice for the top job, beating out at least one potential rival inside the company: Kevin Mayer, who now oversees Disney's direct-to-consumer operations, including its Disney+ streaming service.

Some believe that when it comes to creative matters, Mr. Chapek will be in a listen-and-learn mode for the next 22 months, while Mr. Iger remains as executive chairman, focusing on Disney's creative operations until his employment contract ends in December 2021.

"In many respects, it's like Iger named a COO," said Peter Crist, chairman of executive recruitment firm Crist Kolder Associates.

In a conference call Tuesday with analysts, Mr. Iger dismissed the notion of naming a permanent head of creative affairs to manage Disney's various brands, including Pixar and Marvel.

"If we named a chief creative officer, that would imply we had a need, and I don't think that's the case," he said.

Mr. Chapek, who has been married for 38 years, has three adult children and three grandchildren. His son has worked at Marvel Studios since 2013, according to a regulatory disclosure from the company.

Many who have worked closely with Mr. Chapek say that he lets his guard down around those he is familiar with and trusts. One former subordinate said despite the "external veneer of seriousness, he's a nice, fun guy."

Mr. Chapek said on the call with analysts that his relationship with Disney started during his childhood in Hammond, Ind. His parents would take the family on annual vacations at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

"That's where I first developed a deep love for Disney and what it stands for," he said.

--Ben Fritz and Chip Cutter contributed to this article.

Write to Joe Flint at joe.flint@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 27, 2020 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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