Disney stock soars after Bob Iger returns as CEO

Wall Street seems to love this comeback story.

Disney (DIS) stock soared early Monday, rising as much as 9% in early trading, after the media giant announced that former CEO Bob Iger will return to lead the company as its chief executive officer, effective immediately.

Iger replaces Bob Chapek, who has stepped down from his position after less than three years on the job.

Wall Street analysts, at first glance, appear optimistic the decision will improve the fortunes for a stock that has lagged the market during Chapek’s tenure.

Wells Fargo’s Steve Cahall wrote in a note to investors that “while Chapek’s departure is not a surprise due to recent turmoil and the stock’s decline, Iger’s resurgence is a positive surprise.”

“Iger will be viewed as a catalyst to improve the content aspects of DIS, and we expect bigger potential strategic changes around the long-term shape of [direct-to-consumer],” Cahall continued. “While the announcement doesn’t solve all of Disney’s problems, we think investors will embrace it as it puts perhaps the best leader in Media at the helm with a mandate to shake things up.”

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Needham’s Laura Martin added Iger’s return aids shareholder value, noting his calming leadership style and ability to handle difficult external issues, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” fallout, will prove beneficial when it comes to maintaining and attracting talent.

Furthermore, Martin argued Iger will reestablish profit accountability, moderate streaming losses at a faster pace, and aid Disney’s ability to negotiate deals and partnerships.

Iger spent more than four decades at Disney, including 15 years as CEO.

According to the company, Iger will serve as CEO for two years, with a mandate from the Board to “set the strategic direction for renewed growth and to work closely with the Board in developing a successor to lead the Company at the completion of his term.”

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“The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period,” Susan Arnold, Disney’s chairman of the board, said in a press release.

The news comes just months after Disney’s board of directors unanimously voted in June to extend Chapek’s contract for another three years, through 2025. At the time, the board noted Chapek’s leadership was essential in helping the company overcome pandemic headwinds.

Nevertheless, his tenure has been riddled in controversy — from political battles and A-list talent problems to controversial reorganizations and the ever-looming shadow of Iger, who has spoken out against some of Chapek’s decisions.

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Since Chapek took over as Disney CEO in late February 2020, Disney shares are down about 19%; the S&P 500 is up around 34% over that same period.

Disney underperformed the S&P 500 by a wide margin during former CEO Bob Chapek's tenure. (Source: Yahoo Finance)
Disney underperformed the S&P 500 by a wide margin during former CEO Bob Chapek’s tenure. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

“I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the Board to return as its CEO,” Iger said in the release.

“Disney and its incomparable brands and franchises hold a special place in the hearts of so many people around the globe—most especially in the hearts of our employees, whose dedication to this company and its mission is an inspiration,” he added. “I am deeply honored to be asked to again lead this remarkable team, with a clear mission focused on creative excellence to inspire generations through unrivaled, bold storytelling.”

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