First, he had to deal with taking the top job in February 2020, roughly when the coronavirus pandemic first became evident. Second, he took the top chair while former CEO Bob Iger moved down the hall to become chairman of the company.
Yes, Chapek was the CEO, but his well-loved predecessor still cast a major shadow and there were even calls for him to take the top job back until the pandemic passed. That never happened and Chapek stayed the Disney CEO, steering the company through a period when its theme parks were closed, movie theaters were shuttered, and streaming services became a lot more important, but shooting content for them became difficult due to Covid.
The new boss of the House of Mouse had a lot to handle, with near-immediate calls for his replacement. He literally had to deal with problems no CEO had ever seen anything like before. He did not come through the crisis unscathed -- he was criticized for handling Scarlett Johansson's issues with her pay for "Black Widow," which eventually became a lawsuit, and how he dealt with numerous other issues.
Chapek prevailed, however, and at the end of the year, Iger's retirement became official. That made the new boss more the unquestioned leader of the company and he celebrated by sharing his priorities -- his three pillars to set the company up for success for the next 100 years -- in a memo that he shared with employees (which Variety published).
Bob Chapek's 3 Pillars for Walt Disney
Chapek's three pillars cut to the core of what he thinks has made Disney successful for so long. He focused first on "storytelling excellence."
What makes Disney so unique is that the stories we tell mean something to people. They inspire, give hope, bring us together, illuminate the world around us, and create memories. That is Disney magic, and we must continue to set the creative bar higher and higher. To that end — and in addition to all my other creative meetings — I am establishing a new standing monthly meeting with our senior creative leaders to discuss the opportunities we face as a storytelling enterprise. This will encourage collaboration, sharing of best practices, and stimulate cross-studio ideation.
During the pandemic, the Disney+ streaming service became a major driver for the company. That wasn't an accident and Iger had laid the groundwork for that success for years. Yes, the pandemic was an acceleration, but it's Chapek's second pillar, "innovation," that actually paved the way for the streaming service's massive growth.
Since Steamboat Willie, we have been the world’s foremost innovative storytellers. That must continue as technology evolves, giving our creative teams new canvases like the metaverse on which to paint. We should be especially innovative as we seek to bring stories to life in new ways — particularly if they enhance what many call our “franchise ecosystem,” which is one of the things that sets us apart.
Chapek also made it clear that the first two pillars don't matter if Disney loses sight of the third, "relentless focus on our audience."
We are a big company with many constituents and stakeholders, all of whom have a place in our decision-making. But at the end of the day, our most important guide — our North Star — is the consumer. Right now, their behavior tells us and our industry that the way they want to experience entertainment is changing — and changing fast thanks to technology and the pandemic. We must evolve with our audience, not work against them. And so we will put them at the center of every decision we make.
Disney's CEO Believes He Has all the Tools
Disney, he explained to his staff, has the tools needed to be successful in a very crowded media landscape. He hammered home the idea that his company "stands alone" when it comes to competing.
"We have the world’s most creative storytelling engine along with the world’s most beloved brands and franchises — which we can bring to life in ways no one else can," he said. "We have a portfolio of distribution platforms across the world — including powerful streaming services — with the ability to reach audiences anywhere, anytime."
The CEO also lauded his ABC news division, and called ESPN, "the most trusted brand in sports," before he closed by commenting on his company's ability to entertain people who visit its properties.
"We bring people together and make magical memories that last a lifetime at our parks and on our cruise ships," he said. "We have a unique ability to impact culture and connect with people on deeply personal levels. And we have you — the best team in the business."
Daniel Kline has a long-term position in Walt Disney.