Disney’s new CEO Bob Chapek has big shoes to fill

February 26, 2020, 4:00 PM UTC

I first interviewed Bob Iger in 2014, while working on a profile of the long-time Disney CEO for Fortune.

“I hate that guy,” a Hollywood agent friend of mine said when I told him I was writing about Iger.

“Why?” I asked, puzzled. From everything I knew about him, Iger didn’t seem like the type of CEO to elicit such a hostile reaction.

“He’s just so damn perfect.”

Iger isn’t and wasn’t perfect—obviously. But up until this week’s abrupt announcement that he was stepping down from the top job, he had led Disney through an impressive, 15-year run, both creatively and financially. Iger revitalized the beloved, iconic brand. He inked big, bold acquisitions like Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, and Lucasfilm. This translated to record-setting revenue and profit numbers for the entertainment juggernaut, and a share price that has jumped more than 400% over the course of his tenure. (It also translated to a hefty paycheck for Iger—his annual pay was more than 1,000 times that of the typical Disney employee, which has provoked the very vocal ire of some.)

As a leader, Iger achieved much more than these numbers. One of his most impressive feats is that he rarely put his foot in his mouth, at least in public, despite many, many opportunities to do so—the 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland or the 2016 alligator attack at Disney World could have felled many other CEOs.

He came across as thoughtful and quietly confident without seeming inauthentic or arrogant. (It’s a fine line.) He understood that, when it comes to Disney’s products, details matter. To that end, he was aware—and had a hand—in an extraordinary number of seemingly inconsequential decisions at the company, doing so without developing a reputation as an insufferable micromanager. Case in point: During a 2016 interview at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, Iger mentioned that those large turkey legs sold at Disney theme parks are sourced from Poland, illustrating his attention to minute details.

Lastly, at a company that employs more than 200,000 people, he made many employees feel that they were important. One of the more memorable moments of reporting my 2014 profile on Iger was speaking to his driver in Orlando—the man kept a personal letter from Iger in his glove compartment and pulled it out to read to me. It was a heartwarming and highly personal note written to the driver while he was undergoing cancer treatment, and it clearly meant the world to him.

What does all of this mean for Iger’s legacy? Again, he wasn’t a perfect leader—no one is. But, while his departure is abrupt, he is leaving Disney at a near-perfect time—much like the popular ’90s Seinfeld series, he is exiting on a high note. Whether he fails or succeeds at whatever he does next, his legacy at Disney is pretty much sealed, and it’s a legacy that should allow him to keep sleeping well at night. (Iger is known for going to bed early wherever he is in the world, and for always waking up at 4:30 a.m. for an early morning workout.)

The entertainment landscape has shifted significantly over the last few years, and Iger’s last bold moves at Disney reflect those shifts. Over the last few months, he has closed the $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox and launched the much-awaited Disney+, the Mouse House’s answer to streaming services like Netflix. Both of those wagers are far from a foregone success, but early signs seem positive. And either way, Iger will likely be remembered for placing these necessary bets. It’s up to the new guy to make sure they are worth the investment.

To be sure, the “new guy” isn’t new at all. Bob Chapek, who last served as the company’s head of parks, experiences and products division, has been at Disney for 27 years. And he already realizes the immensity of Iger’s shadow. “I obviously have huge shoes to fill,” he told CNBC during a TV interview on Tuesday. “Bob’s legacy in the company is just profound.”

Correction, Feb. 26, 2020: An earlier version of this story misstated the year of the Brainstorm Tech conference and interview. It has been changed to 2016.

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Should CEOs stay on the board after they step down?
—What happens to a company’s stock when there’s turnover at the top
—2019 was the year of the CEO exodus

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