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Bob Iger is returning as Disney CEO in a dramatic shakeup

Mario Anzuoni / reuters

Bob Iger is returning as Disney CEO in a shocking leadership shakeup, with current CEO Bob Chapek stepping down, the company announced in a press release. Iger is set to return temporarily for two years, with a mandate for "renewed growth" and to find and groom his successor. Iger said he's returning "with an incredible sensor of gratitude and humility — and, I must admit, a bit of amazement."

"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," said Disney chairman Susan Arnold in a statement. "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."

Iger handpicked Chapek to follow him as CEO, but a clash in their styles quickly became clear. Iger was known as a talent- and creative-friendly CEO, while Chapek focused on streaming, particularly as the pandemic decimated Disney's theme park and theatrical distribution businesses.

Under Chapek, however, Disney initially failed to react to Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill and criticized Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson over her lawsuit involving streaming vs. theatrical distribution. And during a Disney retreat, Iger reportedly urged the company not to rely excessively on data to make decisions — seen by some as a dig at Chapek, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Under Chapek, Disney+ has grown to 235 million subscribers (including ESPN and Hulu), but the company lost $1.5 billion on streaming last quarter. Its market capitalization has also fallen from $257.6 billion in Iger's last full year to $163.5 billion. Much of that fall is pandemic related, though, as movie theaters and Disney's parks were forced to shut down.

The move comes as a surprise considering that Disney had renewed Bob Chapek's contract for three years (no comment from Chapek was available in the press release). Iger, meanwhile, has a near-mythical status at Disney CEO, having presided over the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox. That legacy will be put to the test, though, as Disney faces challenging times — the company recently announced plans to freeze hiring and said that layoffs are likely to come soon.