- Bob Iger returns to lead Disney as it faces significant pressures on its businesses.
- The returning CEO will have to unwind the business structure implemented by Bob Chapek while finding a successor.
- Insider identified the top Disney insiders who’ll help Iger tackle those challenges.
Disney CEO Bob Iger returns to a company facing significant pressures on its linear and streaming businesses. On top of jumpstarting growth while cutting losses in streaming, he’s tasked with finding and developing his successor.
He’ll also need to unwind the business structure implemented in 2020 by his short-lived predecessor, Bob Chapek — which separated budgeting and distribution decisions from creative content development.
Insider talked to a number of senior company insiders and advisors to identify the key people Iger will lean on as he tackles those challenges.
While Iger during his previous 15-year run as Disney’s CEO sought advice from the likes of Steve Lipin of Gladstone Place Partners and branding and political consultant Scott Miller, he’s said to lean mainly on company insiders he’s cultivated during his decades with Disney, including 15 years as CEO.
Chief among those people are the four he’s tapped to work on “a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalizes costs,” as Iger wrote in a note to employees last week: Dana Walden, Alan Bergman, Jimmy Pitaro, and Christine McCarthy. In that same note, Iger announced the departure of Kareem Daniel, the exec who led DMED, the distribution division under Chapek’s structure.
With the exception of CFO McCarthy, all of these insiders have strong ties to content, which speaks to Iger’s desire to restore power to the creative side that was eroded under Chapek. And with the exception of Walden — who led DGE, the creative hub under Chapek’s structure — each of them boasts at least a decade at Disney, a company that places a high value on tenure.
These six names, listed alphabetically, came up the most in Insider’s reporting as confidants and people whose star could rise now that Iger is back, and insiders also are betting that he’ll lean on and perhaps even bring back Zenia Mucha, the company’s former powerful and fierce PR chief, who retired in early 2022 alongside Iger. Nancy Lee, who was his chief of staff, has returned to that role.
Alan Bergman, chairman, Disney Studios Content
While not a creative himself, Bergman leads all aspects of the vaunted Studios division, whose vast array of output includes such recent hits as Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Frozen” films, Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” and Lucasfilm’s “The Mandalorian.” He also led the integration of key Iger acquisitions — Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and the Fox film studios — and supported Disney’s push into streaming.
Joining Disney in 1996, Bergman rose up through the business side and served as Studios president from 2005 to 2019, when he became co-chairman alongside Alan Horn, then sole chairman in December 2020. Horn — another close Iger confidant — stayed on through October 2021 as the Studios’ chief creative officer and is now in a consulting role at Warner Bros. Discovery.
Rebecca Campbell, chairman, International Content and Operations
Campbell’s career soared during Iger’s previous reign, with leadership roles spanning a variety of business segments including theme parks, streaming, and international. Starting at Disney 25 years ago on the TV side, she served seven years as president of the ABC-owned station group. In 2020, Iger gave her a big vote of confidence when he named her chairman of the Direct-to-Consumer & International unit that’s key to Disney’s growth as it looks abroad to fuel its streaming business and compete with Netflix.
She added more responsibility under Chapek, in January taking on oversight of a new international content group charged with developing local and regional content for Disney’s streaming services Disney+, Hulu, and Star, its general entertainment streaming brand outside the US.
“She’s definitely one of his people; she came out of the local station group, he plucked her, made her head of international, the head of Disneyland. Once you get to a certain level and the CEO likes you, they’re going to find something for you to do,” said a senior Disney executive. “Rebecca’s been that person.”
Justin Connolly, president, Platform Distribution for Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution
Another longtime exec who’s considered positioned for success, Connolly significantly expanded his role in 2019 when he gained responsibility for all the company’s media sales and TV channel distribution operations under Kevin Mayer, then chief strategy officer.
Connolly, who came up the ESPN side, was also among Chapek’s trusted circle, according to a 2021 Insider report. He’s very well-liked and “really bright” when it comes to distribution, said a second Disney insider; as the exec overseeing Disney’s content sales agreements and distribution strategy and affiliate marketing operations for the direct-to-consumer services and traditional media networks, his negotiating skills are crucial to helping Disney reach new audiences and new streaming subscribers.
Christine McCarthy, senior EVP, CFO
McCarthy attracted unusual attention for a CFO when, according to a Wall Street Journal report, she raised concerns about Chapek to Disney’s board weeks before the company’s disastrous earnings call and the CEO’s subsequent ouster. She has respect on Wall Street, which will make her instrumental to regaining investor confidence in Disney.
McCarthy, who joined Disney in 2000 and served as treasurer before becoming CFO in 2015, has also long had Iger’s confidence. According to a high-level source, she played an unusually significant role in deciding Disney’s multibillion-dollar 2019 global media review, where the company picked ad agencies to handle its $2.2 billion in annual advertising spending.
Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content
Pitaro is close to Iger, has a long tenure at Disney, and has a foot in both creative and business sides. His domain, sports, is a key to driving the company’s streaming bundle, and he’s known as a team player who also operated successfully under Chapek.
Before joining ESPN in 2018, Pitaro was chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, where he led the creation of digital games and branded Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and Marvel products.
Dana Walden, chairman, Disney General Entertainment Content
One of the top female execs in all of Hollywood, Walden has oversight for a huge array of content and boasts deep respect in the creative community — she’ll be instrumental to helping Iger figure out a new structure that’ll tilt the balance back to the creative side.
After stepping up as chairman of DGE in the wake of Chapek’s unceremonious firing of Peter Rice, Walden is also speculated as a potential CEO, though at a company that values tenure, she is a relative newbie. She joined Disney in 2019 with its acquisition of 21st Century Fox and lacks experience running its other businesses. It’ll be telling if Iger gives her a different role at the company, one that could add to her résumé for the top role, in the months ahead.