Even Billionaires Need People Skills

Newsflash: Disney announced late Sunday evening that CEO Bob Chapek will step down and be replaced by former CEO Bob Iger. Even Billionaires Need People Skills.

So what went wrong to cause this train wreck?

There were many “events” that happened along the way to the train wreck. These were clear warning signs that all was not well.  In the end, though, the main problem can be summed up as “he had no people skills”.

Even billionaires need people skills.

The Backstory

There have been some major missteps under the leadership of Chapek.

So much damage has been done to the Disney brand in just a few short years. Iger has to immediately begin damage control by regaining the trust of staff and creatives.

A high-profile lawsuit by Scarlett Johansson did serious damage to morale in the company early on in the transition of power from Iger to Chapek. There were reports Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige felt the new boss had “bungled” it. This led to a discussion on ethical standards and bad practices that had never caught the public eye before.

The latest controversy is over Disney’s handling of VFX teams, with reports of burnout across the industry.


Chapek’s most visible misstep, however, came from his struggle to navigate politics. Specifically, his attempt to remain neutral over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

This aimed to limit LGBTQI+ discussion in schools, and large numbers of Disney staff were appalled at their employer’s attempt at neutrality, conducting mass walkouts.

Chapek seems to have been slow to recognize the scale of the problem internally. Even less so, the attention it would draw.  His spokesperson eventually issued a response on Disney’s behalf that was generally seen as too little, too late.

The Prodigal Son Returns

Iger should be able to swiftly regain employee trust in this matter, however, given he was much more openly critical of the bill.  “A lot of these issues are not necessarily political,” Iger insisted in an interview with CNN. “It’s about right and wrong.”

Chapek Misread The Power Of Disney's Culture

How can someone in such a powerful position not understand the basics of how the human psyche works?

That is the $64 thousand/million/billion question. 

“Bob Iger’s shoes were impossible to fill,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of USC’s Center for the Digital Future. “Chapek wasn’t as diplomatic or elegant or smooth as Iger.  He just wasn’t Central Casting’s idea of the CEO who would follow Bob Iger.”

In short, he was likely a victim of comparison with his predecessor in a competition that he could never win. People honed in on “what he wasn’t” as a person, e.g. diplomatic or elegant, or smooth.

Chapek had worked at Disney for 30 years. Hence you would expect him to recognize that Disney Executives, Staff, Partners, Suppliers, etc., were used to a more “visionary” style of leadership. Yet he seems to have imposed his more “autocratic” style of leadership on the company once he took over the top job.

In a way, you could blame Iger for not putting a better succession plan in place by selecting an executive that was closer in leadership style to himself.


I’m personally happy that the power of the people has won the day. Disney  Board realized that it does not matter how smart an Executive is, or how much money they’ve made for the company.  In 2022 and beyond, people expect to be treated with respect in a consultative way.

#ElonMusk could do well to take note. Although his ego is too large for him to see the error in his ways.

About the Author: James Spurway is an Angel Investor, Advisor, Mentor, Speaker, former Commercial Pilot, and Author specializing in raising debt and equity funds for pre-seed or early-stage seed rounds for Startups in the Fintech, DeepTech, AgTech, ClimateTech, and AgeTech verticles. He lives in Singapore and has spent the past 30 years living and building businesses in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Germany, Switzerland, Monaco, the USA, Thailand, the Philippines, and Australia, where he was born.

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