Disney’s Visionaries: Which CEO Had the Biggest Impact on the Entertainment Giant?

Since taking over as chief executive officer in 2020, it’s no secret that many fans of The Walt Disney Company have been frustrated by Bob Chapek. That has us wondering, is Disney’s Chief Mouseketeer the worst CEO in the company’s history? Which CEO was the most innovative during Disney’s tenure? We give you our take on how each CEO of The Walt Disney Company has impacted the company.

Bob Chapek on stage
Photo credit: Disney

Is Bob Chapek the worst CEO in Disney history?

It’s no secret that Bob Chapek has received a ton of criticism for the many controversial strategic directions he has taken during his tenure to date. The people who took over the reins of government from former CEO Bob Iger in early 2020 could have come to an agreement and voted Chapek right if there was a doubt; After all, running one of the largest companies in the world while a pandemic strikes is no easy task.

Everyone has questioned their every move: Disney enthusiasts, pundits, journalists, officials, and even here at Inside the Magic. Not a day seems to go by that Mr. Chapek is not publicly questioned about a decision or comment and the backlash that follows his moves. Maybe it’s just me and my age, or maybe I wasn’t aware of it, but I never recall that evilness in Bob Iger or Michael Eisner. The only more controversial CEO of a public company is the richest man in the world, Elon Musk.

A large crowd stands in front of a building
Photo credit: Disney

Is every complaint really fair? I’ll let you, the audience, decide for yourself. However, it’s worth noting that Bob Chapek has made some controversial decisions over the last two and a half years that have left Disney Park visitors and Disney Plus subscribers frustrated.

For example, Bob Chapek hasn’t backed down from the decision to squeeze more dollars out of his most loyal customers, which has angered Disney Park’s most frequent guests. Most recently, Walt Disney World announced that annual passes would increase when sales resume: Incredi Pass: $1399 (was $1299) Wizard: $969 (was $899) Pirate: $749 (was $699) Pixie: $399 (no change). Annual Passes aren’t the only items we’ve seen see a price increase. A few weeks ago, Disney announced that Genie+ prices would be increasing at Disneyland in Anaheim.

chapek-before-stormtroopers
Photo credit: Disney

Guests understand that The Walt Disney Company is in business to generate profits for shareholders, but some of those increases are starting to cross the line, according to fans. As one family found out on their recent trip to Walt Disney World, Inside the Magic described how a $600 day at the most magical place on earth resulted in him revoking his Disney World fan status and vowing never to return. For Disney Park guests, the question arises as to whether their loyalty to the company is being exploited.

Aside from his strategic, operational decisions, the Disney public and workforce are questioning whether Bob Chapek is the right captain for the ship. Response to Chapek’s initial position on Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation earlier this year, which was not meant to take a position, contributed to growing unease among Disney employees, the creative community and Disney customers about Chapek’s leadership. According to employees, he is considered a top-down manager, more of a speaker than a listener. “It’s funny how many people have said to me, ‘It’s such a huge mess, but I’m not surprised,'” said a longtime Disney insider.

Walt Disney in front of Disneyland Castle
Photo credit: Disney

Despite the controversy earlier this year, Disney’s board of directors decided to extend the term of Bob Chapek’s employment contract with the company for an additional three years, beginning July 1, 2022.

The 100 year history of the Walt Disney Company?

In 1923, Walt Disney and his brother Roy founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. The tiny film studio now known as The Walt Disney Company is now one of the largest media companies in the world. Disney began its animation career by creating an animated series called Alice’s Wonderland‍. The two-and-a-half-minute, single-reel film was based on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‍ and combined live action with animation.

After the success of the Alice comedies and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney began work on its most famous creation, Mickey Mouse. Mickey was introduced to the world with the publication of Steamboat Willie in 1928. Of course, Mickey Mouse would become one of, if not the, most famous animated film in history. After the success of Mickey, Walt Disney soon produced another series – the Silly Symphonies. Silly Symphonies eventually won the Academy Award® for Best Cartoon in 1932, the first year the Academy offered such a category. For the rest of that decade, a Disney cartoon won an Oscar® every year.

As the cartoons grew in popularity, Disney employees found that character merchandising provided an additional source of income. Soon there were Mickey Mouse dolls, crockery, toothbrushes, radios, figurines – just about anything imaginable bore Mickey’s likeness.

Roy and Minnie statue
Photo credit: Disney

After a successful run of animations, Disney decided it was time to create an animated feature called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film debuted in 1937 and became an instant hit. Snow White soon became the highest-grossing film of all time. Now Walt Disney’s studio was on a firmer footing. The short cartoons paid the bills, but Walt knew future profits would come from feature films.

Walt Disney has always been fascinated by amusement parks. He felt parents and kids could go to the park and have a good time. This was the birth of Disneyland. After several years of planning and construction, the new park was opened in 1955.

After the success of Disneyland, Walt began considering another park on the east coast. Before his death, Disney bought land in Florida and the Walt Disney World project near Orlando was announced. It opened in 1971.

Walt Disney hosts the wonderful world of 1960s Disney on TV
Photo credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company would make thousands of famous boxes and open new Disney parks around the world. The legacy and creations of Walt Disney impact everyone’s lives in one way or another.

The list of Disney CEOs after Walt’s death.

ROY O. DISNEY – Roy became CEO after Walt’s death. When Walt died before Disney World could be completed, Roy postponed his retirement to complete the park, which he named Walt Disney World in honor of his brother. After the opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971, Roy retired for good. He died two months later, on December 20, 1971, from a seizure.

Roy O. Disney with Mickey Mouse, WDW Opening
Photo credit: Disney

DONN TATUM – Tatum was instrumental in helping Roy at Walt Disney World Resort, EPCOT Center and Tokyo Disneyland. After being CEO, he remained an integral part of Disney Company, serving as a director until his retirement in 1992 and then as director emeritus until his death.

E. CARDON WALKER – Walker served as President from 1972 to 1977, which overlapped with his responsibilities as CEO from 1976 to 1983. Although he officially ended his duties as CEO in February, he remained on the board until May to oversee the completion of Tokyo Disney. Although his time was relatively short, Walker made some significant contributions to Disney. In addition to establishing an international presence in Tokyo Disneyland, he helped develop Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center. In 1982 he also founded the Disney Channel.

Eisner poses with Mickey
Credit: Entrepreneur

RON MILLER – Miller was Walt’s son-in-law and was not a popular choice for CEO. He held the position from 1983 to 1984. During his time, he founded the Touchstone Label, which enabled Disney to make adult films without ruining the family-friendly brand Disney had created. He also established the Disney Channel as a brand and made the first attempts at computer animation. In many ways, Miller set the stage for Disney’s future success.

MICHAEL EISNER – Eisner took over the management in 1984 and set the Walt Disney Company on a new course. The ’90s would be the Disney decade, and Disney made a comeback with hit films including the series Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid. Disney also acquired ABC and ESPN during this period. Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, Disneyland Paris opened in 1992, followed ten years later by Walt Disney Studios Park and Disney’s California Adventure opened in 2001.

BOB IGER – Iger was a valuable asset for Disney, and one of his early moves as CEO was facilitating its 2006 acquisition of Pixar for $7.4 billion. He also acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for $4 billion and Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.1 billion. He opened Hong Kong Disneyland, Adventures by Disney, Aulani and the newest member of the Disney Parks family, Shanghai Disneyland. Iger also oversaw the launch of Disney Plus as Disney entered the streaming universe.

Bob Iger wears a suit and tie
Photo credit: Disney

BOB CHAPEK — Chapek has overseen Disney as it shut down theme parks, shut down cruise ship operations and laid off thousands of employees due to the pandemic. He also helped reopen the company as well as grow it with Disney Plus. Bob Chapek’s legacy is still being written as he continues his tenure.

Each Disney CEO has faced unique challenges. Despite Bob Chapek receiving tons of criticism from the public, there’s some debate that he wasn’t the worst CEO in Disney history.

Who is your favorite CEO of The Walt Disney Company?



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