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At Disney, Bob Chapek failed the 3-point test confronting today’s CEOs

November 22, 2022, 10:25 AM UTC
Former Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek
Former Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek attends Paley International Council Summit at Paley Museum on November 08, 2022 in New York City.
Steven Ferdman—Getty Images

Good morning.

I predicted here in April that Disney CEO Bob Chapek “will be out within a year”—so that’s at least one I got right. But the question remains: did Chapek get pushed out because of problems with his “stakeholders”—particularly in reaction to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill—or was his ouster a standard case of failing to meet the demands of shareholders?

I think the correct answer is: both. Shareholders were definitely agitated. Activist funds including Dan Loeb’s Third Point and Nelson Peltz’s Trian had bought into the company and were pushing for change. Disney’s most recent earnings report was lackluster. And the stock price was down 40% this year.

But Chapek’s mishandling of the Florida situation—first saying nothing, then stepping into a fight with the state’s politicians—surely played an important role. Chapek’s success as CEO depended on his skillful handling of a broad array of stakeholders, including the talented Disney creatives who were deeply offended by the Florida law; the politicians who passed that law; the preening activists like Peltz and Loeb who smelled blood in the water; a predecessor who didn’t make the job easy for his successor; and even the doubts of some of his own top executives. A CNBC report yesterday said the company’s CFO, Christine McCarthy, was one of those who expressed a lack of confidence in Chapek, helping to ensure his fall.

The lesson is that today’s CEOs face pressure from an ever-expanding roster of people whose support they ultimately need to succeed. It’s not an easy job. More than ever, it requires a mix of empathy—willingness to listen to disparate voices; humility—a recognition that you don’t have all the answers; and yet confidence—the ability to ultimately chart a clear and convincing course after listening and fully taking into account conflicting stakeholder views. Chapek failed the test on all three counts.

By the way, mid-term election results in the U.S. are likely to make the CEO job even more difficult, with congressional “oversight” heading into partisan overdrive, and CEOs stuck in the center. My friend Bruce Mehlman predicts that in the New Year, we will see “a CEO get subpoenaed by Senate Democrats asking ‘Why are you so slow in decarbonizing when the planet is melting,’ and then the next day get subpoenaed by House Republicans asking ‘Why are you so woke that you put ESG BS ahead of shareholders.’” That sounds right to me.  

More news below.

Alan Murray


Tesla rout

Tesla’s share price fell 6.8% yesterday, meaning its stock has lost nearly half its value in the last two months. Some of that is due to supply chain issues, rising raw material costs, and inflation and higher interest rates chipping away at demand. But analysts also say investors fear CEO Elon Musk is overly preoccupied with his new plaything, Twitter. (On which note, Musk is delaying his plans to relaunch the $8 Twitter Blue “verification” service, which pranksters predictably abused to impersonate prominent people and brands.) Fortune

OPEC decision

The OPEC oil production cartel is considering partly reversing its recent decision to cut output. The move would reportedly come just before the EU bans—and the G7 imposes a price cap on—Russian oil in early December. That would go some way to smoothing over ructions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, not to mention keeping enough oil flowing when those restrictions hit. But the Saudis could yet decide on further cuts, rather than production boosts. Wall Street Journal

Carbon offsets

Bloomberg has a big piece on junk carbon offsets, and how many companies use them to baselessly claim they have achieved carbon neutrality. Researchers say most renewable energy offset purchases are not credible as they don’t avoid or reduce emissions. Because renewable energy projects are now cheaper than new coal or gas-fired plants in most countries, they were going to be built anyway, and the offsets that are tied to them aren’t really displacing dirtier alternatives. Bloomberg


The Cashmere Prince is back: Bob Iger returns to Disney, but some say he never really left, by Michal Lev-Ram

Proposed $2.2 billion merger of two book publishing giants is officially over, by Associated Press

Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel says stocks will soar 20% next year as inflation fades—but legendary investor Bill Ackman says not so fast, by Will Daniel

Retiring baby boomers are getting wiped out by inflation and a volatile stock market: ‘It’s extremely scary’, by Megan Leonhardt

A surgeon and a former Meta exec left their prestigious careers for startups. They aren’t the only ones in search of purposeful work, by Paolo Confino

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer. 

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