Bob Iger ran Disney for 15 years during a beloved period of the company’s history. After Bob Chapek (Iger’s pick for CEO) was aggressively ousted on November 20, 2022, Iger is back to retake the helm.
Iger has signed a 2-year contract to be CEO at The Walt Disney Company, with the understanding that he would use this time to “groom” his new successor. Everyone is hopeful that he will help remediate Chapek’s “irreparable” damage.
Many names are being bandied about for Disney’s top role, but here are 5 of the most likely picks:
1. Dana Walden
When Bob Chapek was fired in November, Dana Walden (as well as Josh D’Amaro) was seriously considered for the CEO job. Still, the board ultimately decided she was too inexperienced to take over at the time. Dana Walden is currently the Head of General Entertainment Content. However, she took over this relatively new position in June 2020 when Peter Rice was fired. Rice and Walden joined the Mouse House when Disney acquired 20th Century Fox in 2019.
In addition to her newer role, Walden is in charge of creating original entertainment and news programming. She has shown incredible leadership over her extensive portfolio, including Disney+, Hulu, and Star streamers. She also spearheads cable and broadcasting ventures: ABC Entertainment, ABC News, Disney Branded Television, Freeform, FX, Hulu Originals, National Geographic, and Disney’s television studios.
Dana Walden is generally well-liked within Hollywood. An attribute that former CEO, Bob Chapek, noticeably lacked. He received significant negative media attention due to his poor handling of the Black Widow star, Scarlett Johansson, pay dispute. However, as a former Communications Executive at 20th Century Fox, Walden has repeatedly proven that she is adept at communications, marketing, and brand strategy.
Her skills have not gone unnoticed by Bob Iger. In his very first memo to the company, he mentions Walden as someone he intends to rely on:
I’ve asked Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Christine McCarthy to work together on the design of a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs… I fundamentally believe that storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the center of how we organize our businesses.
Further reading: Kareem Daniels fired by Bob Iger
Note Iger’s emphasis on pursuing creative endeavors and giving power to the leadership in those spheres. Walden seems poised to take on a more prominent role in creative, but will her lack of financial and business experience make her lose out to someone else?
2. Josh D’Amaro
When Disney’s Board fired Bob Chapek, another name seriously considered was Josh D’Amaro. While he is considered too green to take the helm, D’Amaro has been with the Company for over 24 years, serving as President of both Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort in that time. D’Amaro currently holds the position of Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, which the previous CEO, Bob Chapek, had before taking CEO. Whether the board would consider this similarity, a positive has yet to be seen.
Under the leadership of Josh D’Amaro, the Parks have become the center of many fans’ grievances. But much of the blame for the confusing ticketing system and steep prices fell to D’Amaro’s boss, Chapek. The reason? It is unclear, but many postulate that Josh D’Amaro simply has more charisma.
Sadly, even under Iger’s renewed management, Park ticket prices are set to continue their increase. D’Amaro’s future could be determined by how Guests react to this. Will they continue to shunt blame to the CEO, or will it be D’Amaro’s turn to burn?
3. Kevin Mayer
Before Bob Chapek ever took the title of Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Mayer was seriously examined for the job. He had it all: business experience, Hollywood connections, and likeability. But when Bob Iger tapped Bob Chapek, Mayer left Disney for a different CEO position. Mayer became head of the popular social media platform TikTok.
His impressive resume doesn’t stop there. Mayer has degrees in mechanical engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. With Disney, Mayer oversaw the purchases of Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 21st Century Fox, Hulu, and more. In 2018 he was named Chairman of Walt Disney’s Direct-to-Consumer & International to head its streaming, ad sales, distribution, and studio operations. In that position, he launched Disney+ and ESPN+.
Kevin Mayer recently teamed up with former Disney employee Tom Staggs (see below) to found Candle Media. Under their leadership, they’ve acquired Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and the hit children’s show CoComelon.
Before renewing Chapek’s contract this summer, the board asked Mayer and Staggs if they would return to Disney. They declined, citing legal obligations to Candle Media. Thus, for either Staggs or Mayer to run the Mouse House, Disney would need to acquire Candle Media. While this could seem like a no-brainer given the company’s synergistic holdings, Mayer has publicly declared that he would not sell. It is unclear if this is due to bitterness for Iger’s earlier oversight or love for his current position. Only time will tell.
4. Tom Staggs
We can’t talk about Kevin Mayer without talking about Tom Staggs. The two were both passed over for CEO in 2020 in favor of Bob Chapek. They both left the company shortly after that. And they both founded Candle Media, of which they are Co-CEOs.
Staggs’ incredible 27-year run at Disney is the longest of anyone on this list. Before leaving, Tom Staggs held the position of Chief Financial Officer, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and Chief Operating Officer, the latter of which was previously held by Bob Iger. So, Staggs certainly has the leadership skills necessary for the position.
Many thought Staggs was the “heir apparent” when Iger had announced he was initially stepping down. While Staggs might not need the “grooming” many have said Dana Walden and Josh D’Amaro need, Staggs and Mayer both would need to agree to sell Candle Media, which currently does not look likely.
5. Christine McCarthy
An early contender for the Top Dog position is Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy. After taking the role in 2015, people have pointed to her as a guiding hand in Disney’s survival through the pandemic. McCarthy was one of only a few names listed on Bob Iger’s first memo as someone he would be relying on (see above).
Since the decision is ultimately made by the Board of Directors, it will eventually come down to who they like. And they seem to like McCarthy. She became the face of Bob Chapek’s ousting in many ways, indicating that the board listens thoughtfully to her. In fact, it was McCarthy who went to Chairman Susan Arnold to sound off the alarm on Chapek.
If either McCarthy or Walden is tapped for the job, they would be the first females to hold the position.
Who do you think should be Disney’s next CEO?