'New structures' | Disney's returning CEO plans big shake-up for firm - here's what he should leave alone

Disney's returning CEO plans big shake-up for firm - here's what he should leave alone

The Walt Disney Company has reappointed Bob Iger as CEO, less than one year after leaving the company.

Effective immediately, Iger, who spent more than four decades at the Company, including 15 years in a previous stint as CEO, has replaced Bob Chapek as chief and will serve in the role for two years, with a mandate from the Board to drive company growth and identify his own successor.

“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.” said Susan Arnold, Chairman of the Board.

The company had endured a tough few months, resulting in share prices nosediving and financial losses in the billions.

“Mr. Iger has the deep respect of Disney’s senior leadership team, most of whom he worked closely with until his departure as executive chairman 11 months ago, and he is greatly admired by Disney employees worldwide–all of which will allow for a seamless transition of leadership,” Arnold went on.

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

“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.”

During his 15 years as CEO, from 2005 to 2020, Iger helped build Disney into one of the world’s most successful entertainment companies. He expanded on Disney’s portfolio with the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox and increased the Company’s market capitalization fivefold during his time as CEO.

After stepping down as CEO in 2020, Iger served as Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board through 2021 until his retirement in December of last year. From 2000-2005, he was also President and Chief Operating Officer.

Following his reinstatement, Iger told employees, in a message seen by the BBC: "It is my intention to restructure things in a way that honours and respects creativity as the heart and soul of who we are."

"I fundamentally believe storytelling is what fuels this company, and it belongs at the centre of how we organise our business," he said in the email.

He said he had tasked a group of executives with designing "a new structure that puts more decision-making back in the hands of our creative teams and rationalises costs".

While it remains ambiguous what this restructuring might entail, there are several elements of Disney’s HR operations that should be towards the top end of Iger’s to-do list.

Keep up the culture

In 2021, Disney Parks (a subsidiary of the Iger-headed Walt Disney Company) announced an overhaul of its working rules after staff asked for more inclusion and autonomy at the famous brand.

As the result of a 16-month focus group, employees were permitted to show tattoos, wear their hair as they like, and take back control over how they dress.

This was a massive step change from how rules used to be at the firm, with various reports stating that staff were prohibited from sporting facial hair as recently as 2012.

The Disney Parks Chairman, Josh D’Amaro, explained that the focus group of workers suggested adding inclusion to the organisation's set of core values. He said that the new addition will be “essential to our culture and leads us forwards”.

D’Amaro said in a statement: “Our new approach provides greater flexibility with respect to forms of personal expression surrounding gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewellery, nail styles and costume choices; and allowing appropriate visible tattoos.

“We’re updating them to not only remain relevant in today’s workplace, but also enable our cast members to better express their cultures and individuality at work,” D’Amaro said in a statement.

Supporting safe abortions

Earlier this year, Disney was one of several major US firms pledging to cover travel expenses for staff who may have to cross state lines for an abortion, after a controversial law change.

The Supreme Court voted to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalised abortions nationwide. This is expected to result in potentially millions of American women crossing state lines to access abortions, as many states have taken the opportunity to effectively ban abortion.

Disney joined firms including Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JP Morgan in covering travel expenses for any employees seeking an abortion as part of their medical benefits, where legally possible. A

Disney also told employees it is committed to giving them "comprehensive access" to affordable healthcare, including family planning and reproductive care, "no matter where they live". The company employs around 80,000 people at its resort in Florida, where a new law begins in July, banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

What needs fixing

However, the final few months of Chapek’s reign at Disney chief saw controversial moments, one of which Iger must surely set out tackling right away – that being the company’s support for LGBT colleagues.

Chapek faced months of pressure from the company’s LGBTQ+ employees, as well as the public, for not publicly denouncing the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, heavily promoted by the Republicans in Florida, which limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida schools.

However, while Chapek prevaricated over the decision to make a public statement, one of Disney’s top TV execs, Peter Rice, called the law “a violation of fundamental human rights” – after which Florida governor Ron DeSantis denounced Disney as a “woke” organisation and stripped it of its special tax district around the Disney World theme park in Orlando.

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Rice was subsequently sacked from his post.

Chapek later announced the corporation’s plans to “pause” its political donations in Florida and suggested that Disney should respond by “creating a more inclusive world...through the inspiring content we produce."

However, Disney activists criticised the idea, saying: “subpar representation in the content produced and donations to well-meaning organisations are simply not enough.”

Chapek later apologised for his comments, saying: “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.

“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

Succession planning

Iger may only be days into his role, but part of his mandate as the new boss involved choosing his own successor, to assume the role when he departs again in two years.

Easier said than done. Talent insight experts Armstrong Craven recently found that the vast majority of HR leaders are facing challenges in succession planning. According to the data, a whopping 93% of HR and talent teams are experiencing issues when it comes to succession planning – something which could have multiple implications for businesses.

A 2021 Robert Half blog post outlined some of the crucial steps when it comes to succession planning. In some instances, companies may know in advance that a high-level staffer is going to leave, for example if the individual is soon to retire. But, other times, employers will be caught off-guard and the staff member will be exiting in pursuit of a new role elsewhere. The blog post said that employers should consider how the person in question leaving would impact operations and the impact that their role has on the day-to-day running of the company or department.

Additionally, HR and talent professionals need to consider the team members that have the potential to step up into these positions. It might be tempting to look at who is naturally next in line in the organisational chart, though the blog post said to look for colleagues who have the needed skills to thrive in these higher up positions. Letting prospective candidates know that they are being considered for these positions – but also letting them know that there are no guarantees – is also key.

What does the future hold?

As Disney pointed out in their statement, Iger is in a unique position to understand the needs of the business and steer it in the direction the Board wants to go. But at the same time, the world of work has changed a lot, not just in the years since Iger was last CEO, but even since his retirement as Chairman last year.

Ensuring that employees continue to feel empowered to be themselves at work should be an obvious move for Iger. The impact of inclusion and strong community culture on business performance and staff retention is widely known, and with Disney on a tough path to financial recovery, steps such as those above will go a long way to making his second tenure as CEO as smooth as possible.

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