Peter Rice Fallout: All Eyes on the Disney Board

Bob Chapek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/GettyImages
Matthew Belloni
June 13, 2022

The Walt Disney Co. board of directors is scheduled to meet later this month, I’m told, and I imagine one topic will dominate: What to do with C.E.O. Bob Chapek? I wasn’t the only observer to note how bizarre it was to issue a vote of confidence in Chapek on Thursday as he fired Peter Rice, his top TV and streaming content executive, but not indicate whether Chapek will be retained before his contract expires in 8 months.

Maybe the board will offer more clarity after its formal meeting. Until then, the town is still perplexed by the Rice sacking, and how ham-fistedly Chapek seemed to handle it. Perhaps there is more to the backstory, and rumors are flying about which Disney executives may have been whispering in Chapek’s mouse ears, but the makeup of the board is certainly a factor here.   

Let’s take a quick look at Disney’s 10 non-Chapek board members and their backgrounds:

Susan Arnold (chair)
P&G, Carlyle Group

Mary Barra
General Motors

Amy Chang
Cisco, Google, eBay, McKinsey

Michael Froman
Mastercard, CitiGroup

Calvin McDonald
Lululemon, Sephora

Safra Catz

Francis Desouza
Illumina, Symantec

Maria Elena Lagomasino
WE Family Offices, SunTrust Banks, Chase Manhattan

Mark Parker

Derica Rice
CVS, Eli Lilly, Target

See a pattern here? Retail, automotive, biotech, stretchy pants—but not a single independent director with extensive media or entertainment experience. It’s pretty amazing. A board like this can’t really be expected to understand how Hollywood works, right? How much of a people- and relationship-based business it is, how the gatekeepers of the talent community must at least be placated, how much optics matter, and how the “chatter” around town can ultimately doom a leader. The entertainment business is a unique animal, and given the way it’s covered by the media, things like issuing a vote of confidence in a C.E.O. without actually renewing his deal can easily create a narrative that is exactly the opposite of what is intended.

The board composition wasn’t necessarily an issue when the C.E.O was Bob Iger, the ultimate entertainment insider. But Chapek is a Disney guy, not a Hollywood guy, so as of now, effectively none of the decision-makers at the world’s biggest entertainment company have a meaningful background in entertainment. That seems like a problem.