Disney CEO Bob Iger, who steered the company through successful purchases of Star Wars, Marvel and Fox's entertainment businesses and the launch of a Netflix challenger, is stepping down immediately, the company said in a surprise announcement Tuesday.
The Walt Disney Co. named as his replacement Bob Chapek, most recently chairman of Disney's parks, experiences and products business.
Iger will remain executive chairman through the end of his contract December 31, 2021.
"I will continue to conduct the company's creative endeavors while also leading the board," Iger said on a conference call with reporters and analysts.
His most recent coup was orchestrating a US$71 billion ($112.3b) acquisition of Fox's entertainment assets and launching the Disney Plus streaming service in November. That service gained nearly 29 million paid subscribers in less than three months.
Iger said he wanted to focus on the creative side of the business after getting those assets and strategies in place. He said he could not do that while running Disney on a day-to-day basis.
"It was not accelerated for any partiucalr reason other than I felt the need was now to make this change," he said.
"Did not see this coming -- Wowza," tweeted LightShed media analyst Rich Greenfield.
Iger became chief executive of Disney in 2005 after a shareholder revolt by Roy E. Disney led to the ouster of longtime chief Michael Eisner. Iger steered Disney through successful acquisitions of Lucasfilms, Marvel, Pixar and other brands that became big moneymakers for Disney.
Iger, a former weatherman, joined broadcaster ABC in 1974, 22 years before Disney bought the network.
At ABC, Iger developed such successful programs as "Home Improvement," "The Drew Carey Show," and "America's Funniest Home Videos" and was instrumental in launching the quiz show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." He was also criticised for cancelling well-regarded but expensive shows such as "Twin Peaks," "China Beach," and "thirtysomething."
Iger, 69, was the second-highest paid CEO in 2018, as calculated by The Associated Press and Equilar, an executive data firm. He earned US$65.6 million. The top earner was Discovery's David Zaslav who earned US$129.5m.
Susan Arnold, the independent lead director of the Disney board said succession planning had been ongoing for several years.
Chapek, 60, is only the seventh CEO in Disney history. Chapek was head of the parks, experiences and products division since it was created in 2018. He was previously head of parks and resorts and before that president of consumer products.