Walt Disney Co. named Bob Chapek as its new chief executive officer, abruptly ending years of speculation over who would succeed Bob Iger atop the world’s largest entertainment company.
Chapek, 60, who led the company’s theme parks and consumer products businesses, takes over immediately, according to a statement Tuesday. Iger will stay to direct the company’s creative endeavors as executive chairman through 2021.
With the appointment, Chapek lands one of the most coveted jobs in entertainment business. He’s a 27-year company veteran who led Disney’s home entertainment business during the DVD era, before transitioning to consumer products. In that role, he reorganized the business to to cut costs and oversaw a wave of popular products including the “Frozen” toy craze.
“It’s a huge surprise,” said Laura Martin, a Needham & Co. analyst. “The suddenness of it, the fact that it’s as of today and they don’t have a new parks head yet makes it feel like it’s all very sudden.”
The change jolted investors, who sent the shares down as much as 4.3% to $122.69. The stock had fallen 11% this year through Tuesday’s close.
Iger handed Chapek the job of parks chief five years ago, a role Disney’s outgoing CEO has long deemed crucial because it represents daily interaction with fans around the world.
In that post, Chapek supervised the launch of the new Avatar-themed land in Orlando, Florida, the $5.5 billion Disney Shanghai resort, as well as two Star Wars-themed lands that opened last year in California and Florida.
Chapek also redesigned pricing in the parks, selling higher-priced tickets on peak travel days in an effort to manage capacity. Theme-park attendance was flat last year, but revenue and profit rose under the new model.
Iger, 69, steered the company through several multibillion-dollar acquisitions, including the $71 billion takeover of Fox’s entertainment assets last year.
He set the industry standard for managing in the film business, cutting back on the number of one-off pictures the company releases to focus on established characters and franchises that could be marketed around the world.
Along those lines, he acquired Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm, building the most successful studio in Hollywood history. His acquisition of Fox gave the company more than one-third of all U.S. box office revenue last year.
Iger postponed his retirement multiple times as he pondered life after Disney and stuck around, most recently, to supervise the Fox deal. The announcement is a setback for some Disney insiders, most notably TV streaming chief Kevin Mayer, who was considered a contender.