Hollywood skeptical Disney CEO Bob Iger will step down in 2026

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The seek for Disney’s subsequent CEO has develop into a chaotic mess as activist buyers push for seats on the corporate’s board — and Hollywood insiders are skeptical that any of the highest contenders will likely be prepared when Bob Iger is slated to step down in 2026.

The Mouse Home is hoping to fend off billionaire Nelson Peltz and his firm Trian Fund Management, who’re demanding two board seats in a fierce proxy battle that may come to a head on the firm’s annual shareholder assembly on Wednesday.

The warmth is on to get the plan proper this time — and Disney’s murky succession plan is enjoying into the arms of the activists: Critics notice that Iger returned as Disney’s CEO in late 2022 as a way to undo the harm from the two-year, volatile tenure Bob Chapek — his personal, handpicked successor.

Disney is in the course of a chaotic seek for its new CEO in 2026 — though some consider Bob Iger will stick with the corporate.
The warmth is on for Disney to choose a successor for CEO Bob Iger, who’s slated to step down in 2026. Los Angeles Occasions by way of Getty Photographs

Sources level out that one frontrunner within the race, Dana Walden, the corporate’s extremely revered head of TV, can be the primary feminine CEO of Disney in its 100-year historical past — giving the transfer a sense of turning the web page on the Iger period.

“Dana [Walden] is an actual participant,” mentioned a studio exec, who praised the TV boss’ relationships with expertise, and known as her a number one contender.

“She can be essentially the most Hollywood and entertainment-industry pleasant,” chimed in one other supply near Walden. “She is a deep state Hollywood insider, born and raised in Studio Metropolis, holidays with different TV moguls.”

Nonetheless, the 59-year-old, former CEO of Fox Television Group additionally has “only a few {qualifications} to run a worldwide, 250,000-employee enterprise with advanced monetary, strategic and geopolitical challenges,” the supply added. 

Certainly, some insiders are candidly hoping that 73-year-old Iger extends his contract yet one more time earlier than hanging up his Mouse ears for good. Reps for Disney, Iger and Walden didn’t remark.

Dana Walden, the TV boss, is the frontrunner for Iger’s job, however sources mentioned she isn’t able to run a multi-dimensional enterprise. FilmMagic

“It wouldn’t shock me if he stays,” the Disney supply mentioned of Iger. “He’s ageless and there aren’t many inner successors who’re prepared.”

Nevertheless, a supply near Disney identified that Walden’s expertise is much like what Iger’s was earlier than he was named CEO.

Along with Walden, the corporate is reportedly contemplating three different inner candidates — ESPN’s Jimmy Pitaro, theme parks boss Josh D’Amaro and movie head Alan Bergman — to raise to the position of president or chief working officer, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

Iger plans to call a successor and assist prepare them earlier than departing in two years, CNBC reported on Monday. However a former Disney exec mentioned the transfer is “traditional Disney” and that it doesn’t essentially imply that any of the 4 will clinch the highest job — or that Iger received’t prolong his deal for one more time period.

“It’s the Disney succession playbook. [Former CEO Michael] Eisner made Iger president and COO. Iger made [chief financial officer Tom] Staggs COO and then dumped him,” the supply mentioned, including that it might give the promoted exec “time to be tutored and examined, and jettisoned if mandatory.”

Activist investor Nelson Peltz and Trian Fund Administration are pushing for 2 board seats, as a way to weigh in on the corporate’s CEO succession planning. REUTERS

Insiders say Staggs additionally has reemerged as a possible successor, as has his partner at media firm Candle Media, Kevin Mayer, who helmed Disney’s streaming enterprise. Mayer additionally was handed over for Iger’s job in favor of Chapek. Mayer left Disney shortly after.

Two sources near Iger informed The Publish that the exec is adamant about retiring in 2026 — however each added that the sentiment sounds all too acquainted. Iger initially deliberate to retire in 2015, however he renewed his contract 4 occasions earlier than handing the reins to Chapek. 

“It’s actually onerous to inform what Bob thinks. He’s a really disciplined company participant,” a supply with data informed The Publish. “This final time round was one thing he felt he needed to do as a result of he f–ked up the succession the primary time round.”

Iger handpicked Bob Chapek as his successor in 2020. However Chapeak’s run as CEO was unstable and he was pushed out two years later when Iger retook the helm. REUTERS

“He says, ‘I need out. I’m drained. It’s depressing, it’s no enjoyable,’” the supply continued. “Perhaps. Or perhaps he desires to remain endlessly? I don’t know as a result of he’s mentioned that to me earlier than. He mentioned ‘I wish to get out however then he stayed.’”

Iger’s spouse, Willow Bay, who’s the dean of College of Southern California’s Annenberg College for Communication and Journalism, simply renewed her five-year deal, and Iger isn’t nice at having fun with his free time for very lengthy, a supply mentioned. Ultimately, most consider that nobody can do the job like Iger can — and that anybody who tries will most likely fail. 

“It’s like making an attempt to observe Michael Jordan,” a supply mentioned.

Sources pointed to D’Amaro as a powerful contender due to his important expertise operating Disney’s all-important parks, experiences and merchandise enterprise.

Former Disney exec Tom Staggs was elevated to COO in a transfer that many noticed as a trial-run to take over as CEO. Iger handed over Staggs, and renewed his contract as a substitute. REUTERS

“The primary time round, it was a parks man,” a Disney insider mentioned, referring to Chapek. “It didn’t work out too properly however that doesn’t imply that parks guys as a gaggle are horrible executives and may’t run the Walt Disney firm.”

The “well-liked, pleasant exec” could have deep “operational expertise” however he has little artistic expertise, a second Disney supply mentioned. 

“He’s Chapek 2.0,” the supply deadpanned. “He doesn’t know Hollywood or the leisure and sports activities companies which make up greater than two-thirds of the corporate.”

The supply near Disney disputed that D’Amaro lacked artistic expertise, noting his work with the Disney Imagineering program.

Bergman, the corporate’s CFO, additionally might have hassle being considered as a reputable candidate, with insiders calling him a “bean counter” who’s “not properly favored or in any respect artistic.”

Josh D’Amaro, the pinnacle of Disney’s parks enterprise, is seen by some as a powerful contender for Iger’s job. Getty Photographs for SXSW

Pitaro, however, has been profitable operating three segments of the corporate, digital, client merchandise and now ESPN. Regardless of his broad vary of senior management expertise, in addition to his acumen for working with expertise and sealing huge offers, he “isn’t seen as a visionary or an enormous image strategist,” the supply mentioned.

“I believe he’s pigeonholed as a sports activities man and I don’t assume he’s seen as Disney CEO materials – no matter meaning,” the supply mentioned.

Forward of Wednesday’s huge assembly, Trian has been lobbying for Peltz and former Disney chief monetary officer Jay Rasulo to seize board seats and play an lively position in selecting the Mouse Home’s subsequent CEO.

Sources near Trian informed The Publish that Disney’s board hasn’t modified from when Chapek was chosen as CEO. They added that the particular committee that’s overseeing the succession planning must spend “high quality time” with the 4 candidates.

ESPN boss Jimmy Pitaro arguably has essentially the most expertise to run Disney however a supply mentioned he isn’t considered internally as a critical contender. AP

“This stuff take time. Having Nelson and Jay be a part of the method would make sure that the interior candidates are vetted,” a supply near Trian mentioned, noting that the method must be open to exterior candidates, too.

Trian declined to remark.

Influential proxy advisory service ISS has backed Trian, citing “strategic missteps” main as much as Disney’s prior botched CEO transition, including that Peltz’s “appreciable expertise” on different boards can be useful.

Proxy advisors Egan-Jones and Glass Lewis have additionally backed Trian, whereas Iger and Disney have obtained public backing from George Lucas, Laurene Powell Jobs and several other members of the Disney household.

The chaotic succession race has develop into one of many central points within the bitter proxy battle, which can come to an finish this week. AP

They’re assured that Iger and the Disney board will keep away from selecting one other Chapek, who bungled the corporate’s response to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ so-called “Don’t Say Homosexual” laws, botched negotiations with Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson and hiked costs to excessive at Disney’s theme parks. 

No matter will get selected Wednesday, the stakes are excessive not just for Disney, however for Hollywood on the whole, based on well-placed sources.

“Disney is absolutely vital to us as an {industry},” mentioned a CEO at a rival media firm. “An {industry} is sort of a river. When issues are going properly for an {industry}, the present is with you. As a lot as we’re opponents, we’d like the {industry} to get its act collectively.”

These bigger components additionally might maintain Iger on the helm of Disney for years to come back, the supply added.

“I believe he’ll keep,” the exec mentioned with a smile.

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