Year of the Iger

What remains to be seen is whether Bob Iger has one more big M&A deal left up his sleeve.
What remains to be seen is whether Bob Iger has one more big M&A deal left up his sleeve. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
William D. Cohan
September 13, 2023

It’s been nearly a year since Bob Iger orchestrated his own rather questionable return, at 71, to the corner office of The Walt Disney Company, and since then everything appears to be coming apart at the seams—the stock price, the succession drama, the deteriorating macroeconomic conditions, the ongoing work stoppages, and even the recent ugly dispute with Charter, where both sides emerged battle-scarred and claiming a Pyrrhic victory. (We don’t know yet the economics of the Disney+ revenue sharing agreement, but Disney essentially waved a white flag on its third tier channels. Meanwhile, 15 million viewers in L.A. and New York were seriously pissed about not getting to watch the second week of the U.S. Open.) There’s more, obviously: the ill-advised CNBC interview at Sun Valley; the impolitic commentary about the strikes; the sputtering quality of the movie production. I could go on. 

Since Iger’s return to the Burbank headquarters last November, Disney’s stock is down roughly 30 percent while the broader S&P 500 index is up nearly 9 percent in the same time period. (By comparison, in the last year, Warner Bros. Discovery’s stock is down 10 percent and Paramount Global’s stock is down 41 percent.) That’s not typically the type of performance that gets its architect rewarded with a two-year contract extension, potentially worth some $30 million a year. I spoke recently with one Disney board member who told me that Bob saw the challenges at Disney “clearly” and wanted to come back to try to fix them. The contract extension, the board member said, gives both Disney and Iger more breathing room to try to solve the myriad of problems, which Iger believes he can fix.

But ticking through the parade of horribles provides little comfort to Disney shareholders, employees, executives or board members. Iger’s chief responsibility as C.E.O., of course, is to find his successor. He blew that assignment the first time around when he chose the wrong guy, Bob Chapek, the head of the parks division, in February 2020, and then proceeded to remain as executive chairman of the Disney board until the end of 2021, all before orchestrating the public defenestration of Chapek last November, some five months after the Disney board gave the guy a three-year contract extension. Then, Iger was only supposed to stay for two years, during which time he was to find his successor. But less than a year into the new tenure—in July—somehow Iger got the Disney board to extend that deal for another two years, when Iger will be 75 years old.