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Behind the Scenes: Searching for Bob Iger’s Replacement in Disney’s Real-Life ‘Succession’ Drama

It’s a tale straight from the Disney playbook: an aging king in search of an heir to unite his kingdom and live happily ever after. But this is no fairytale, and the kingdom in question is one of the most successful entertainment companies in history, boasting a $238 billion market cap and global interests.

Bob Iger, Disney’s 75-year-old CEO, has made it his chief priority to finally find a suitable successor after one unsuccessful retirement, a global pandemic, and a series of struggling big-budget franchises. According to Vanity Fair, the entertainment giant has narrowed down Iger’s list of successors to four candidates, with plans to pass the mantle in 2026, aiming to avoid a repeat of the 2022 debacle when Iger returned to fix the chaos just three years after retiring.

Dubbed the real-life “Succession,” Iger extended his contract multiple times before finally retiring in 2020, handing over the reins to Bob Chapek just in time for the pandemic and subsequent global financial crisis. Chapek’s tenure was marked by a strained relationship with Iger, culminating in his ouster in 2022, with Iger stepping back in.

Jessica Reif Ehrlich, a Bank of America analyst, described Chapek as possibly Iger’s biggest mistake. Inside Disney, sentiments echoed this, with a source stating the board “royally f****d up” last time. Chapek’s focus on exclusive content for Disney+ coincided with several underwhelming box office releases, including Haunted Mansion, Indiana Jones: Dial of Destiny, The Marvels, and Wish, costing Disney millions.

This succession search comes amidst a challenging financial landscape. Disney is lagging behind Netflix and Amazon Prime in the streaming wars and is still about $170 billion short of its March 2021 market cap of $375.15 billion. In response, Iger is executing a major restructuring, including a $7.5 billion cost-cutting plan that has seen 8,000 positions axed since 2022.

Iger is reversing Chapek’s strategy, emphasizing quality over quantity and aiming for more productions to debut in cinemas before moving to Disney+. This approach aligns with Wall Street’s push for profitability.

The candidates to succeed Iger include Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Josh D’Amaro. Walden, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, is considered a favorite. She joined Disney from The Fox Television Group in 2019 and is known for her extensive experience and her close relationship with Iger.

Bergman, another co-chairman, is a finance expert who has impressed industry giants like James Cameron. Pitaro, responsible for Disney’s streaming and sports, might be an outlier, given Iger’s broader vision beyond Disney+. D’Amaro, chairman of Disney experiences, is known for his personable character but lacks experience in film and TV production.

Despite these clear frontrunners, Disney’s history of leadership transitions suggests that nothing is set in stone. Iger himself ascended to the top in 2005 after a shareholder revolt ousted Michael Eisner. Since then, Iger has steered Disney through major acquisitions, including Lucasfilm, Marvel, and most of 21st Century Fox, and navigated the rise of streaming. He also fended off billionaire investor Nelson Peltz from securing board seats.

As the world watches the next chapter in Disney’s leadership saga unfold, Bob Iger knows better than anyone that there’s far more at stake in this kingdom than just magical beans.

Sadhna B

Sadhna B

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