Late in 2019, during a a conversation with TIME, longtime Disney CEO Bob Iger outlined the key qualities he believes his successor will need. By then, several of his future successors had already outlived — or moved on — and he was tight-lipped about who would replace him when his contract expires in 2020.
His last choice, Bob Chapek, who was previously in charge of Disney’s parks division, abruptly left the company on Nov. 20 after less than three years and was replaced by Iger, surprising everyone — including, reported, Iger. But looking back at his words from three years ago, Iger seems to have predicted quite clearly why Capek didn’t work out.
He suggested that there are four key qualities that Disney’s new chief needs.
The ability to keep creators at bay
“Obviously, it’s very important to appreciate the creators and the creative process,” Iger told TIME in 2019. “Most of the value proposition, or the whole of this company, comes from creativity. So one has to appreciate it.”
Shortly after Čapek took over, he became involved in a public dispute with black Widow star scarlett johansson, ruffled feathers on Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu and supervised a corporate reorganization that gave the company’s creatives less freedom of action. He also suggested in an interview that cartoons are not for adults, which was news to the Pixar team.
“Capek … made controversial management and reporting changes that appear to have disrupted the culture at Disney,” Macquarie Capital analyst Tim Nolen wrote in a research note on Disney’s changing of the guard.
Good PR chops
“I think it probably takes a person who is able to be on stage a lot, that is, a public-facing person,” Iger said. “Disney has a place on the world stage, and the person who runs Disney usually has a place on the world stage as the face and spokesperson of the company.”
Chapek seemed to be doing well with it until recently. Just five months ago, Čapek’s contract was renewed for a further three years and until last month, Iger was still denying any possibility of returning to his old job, despite rumors of discontent within the ranks. But then came the fourth-quarter earnings call, during which some investors felt Capek didn’t set the right tone when he announced an unexpected burst of spending on the company’s Disney+ streaming service, which led to a disastrous balance sheet. The stock fell sharply and the board felt it had to act.
A knack for balancing legacy and advancement
“There’s a set of values that someone has to have,” Iger said. “I think there’s value in appreciating the heritage and legacy of the company and its place in the world without letting it get in the way of innovation.” Customers objected to the cost of visiting Disney parks, which Capek previously managed, and the introduction through October 2021 of Genie, a new app designed to help guests navigate the park. Some visitors found Genie cumbersome and inefficient and objected to being on their phones when they’d rather be communicating with their families. The app’s upgraded sibling Genie+ allows guests to skip the lines, but it’s expensive and doesn’t cover every trip – access to others must be purchased at even more additional cost. Before Iger was reinstated, the parks announced plans to raise prices; the most expensive entrance fee will be $189 per day.
Ruthless prioritization skills
“It’s someone who has to have the ability to manage just an enormous amount of responsibility at once,” Iger noted, noting that Disney is a complex business; it has tentacles in sports, movies, parks, cruises, hospitality, merchandise and television, among other things, several hundred thousand employees and a global reach. “It takes energy, it takes the ability to prioritize, to compartmentalize. It takes the ability to really know what’s important and what’s not.”
Chapek’s rejection of Florida state education legislation, which many saw as anti-LGBT, demonstrates that he lacks a clear vision of his priorities. “One of Iger’s strengths is his people skills; Capek’s work with ‘don’t say gay’ controversy alienated many employees and consumers,” Nolen wrote.
And in an era when it’s all about politics, Nolan suggested that might have played a role, too: “Maybe it’s just interesting timing, but after the Republicans won the House,” he wrote, “Iger could be considered more -very experienced in managing the social problems in which Čapek was involved.
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